With the fantasy football preseason nearly upon us, our ESPN Fantasy Football experts are here with their top sleepers, busts and breakout players for the 2019 campaign, as defined here:
Sleeper: A player who will far surpass his average draft position (ADP) in standard ESPN leagues for the 2019 season.
Bust: A player who is expected to be a solid starter in standard ESPN leagues but will fail to live up to those expectations this season.
Breakout: A player who will leap into or close to the upper echelon of players at his position for the first time because of a dramatic increase in production compared with his previous seasons (or a rookie who will burst onto the scene).
Each analyst named a sleeper and a bust for each of the major offensive positions, as well as one breakout candidate. You can find their picks in the charts below, and then analysis and insight on a selection of players they felt most passionate about in each category.
These are the players our panel believes will exceed their 2019 average draft position and provide value for those who take a chance on them.
Name the only quarterback other than Patrick Mahomes to score 15 or more fantasy points each of the final seven weeks last season. Here is a hint: The other one did not get there with gaudy passing numbers. Jackson starred as a rookie thanks to his legs, but few seemed to realize it. His rushing floor is so high that he does not need to throw for 250 yards per week. By the way, he can throw a lot better than most realize. The Ravens drafted wide receivers, and Jackson will become a bit more statistically balanced. — Eric Karabell
Henry was well on his way to a bust season in 2018, splitting time ineffectively with Dion Lewis, who saw a lot of the field in passing situations. Through 12 games, Henry was averaging only 10.7 rushing attempts for 39.5 yards (3.7 YPC) and 0.4 touchdowns. That all changed during the last quarter of the season, during which Henry averaged 21.8 attempts for 146.3 yards (6.7 YPC) and 1.8 touchdowns over the last four games. Henry is an old-school, pounding running back who needs bunches of touches to be effective, and the Titans seemed to recognize that down the stretch. Titans coach Mike Vrabel and general manager Jon Robinson have both stated that this season the team plans to get Henry a lot of carries from Day 1, which bodes well for him having a breakout season. — André Snellings
Make no mistake, it’s not always going to be pretty. But even in an ugly year last season, Winston still averaged 4.6 deep completions and 11.1 deep attempts per game. Both would have led the NFL if he qualified, and now he gets head coach Bruce Arians, whose quarterbacks were second in air yards per pass attempt during his time in Arizona (2013-17). Over the past two seasons, Winston has thrown for more than 300 yards in half his games. Half. And all the elements that allowed Tampa Bay’s quarterbacks to average 22.6 PPG (second-most) last season are in place once again this season: a core of talented pass-catchers, a suspect defense, a good offensive playcaller and no established running game. — Matthew Berry
Why is everyone so certain that James Conner is the clearly superior running back in the Steelers’ backfield? Not to take anything away from Conner’s season, but Samuels’ 16.9 PPR fantasy points per game in his three starts in Conner’s stead last season bested Conner’s 16.8 in his own starts, and Samuels was competitive with Conner in yards per carry (4.6 for Samuels, 4.5 for Conner) and yards after contact per rush (1.88-1.89). I expect some sharing of the load and think Samuels would perform just as admirably as Conner did in 2018 if pressed into full-time duty. — Tristan H. Cockcroft
The formula for instant fantasy success at quarterback often demands a healthy inclusion of rushing skills from behind center. From Cam Newton to RG III to Russell Wilson to Josh Allen and so on, there is a growing legacy of professional freshman quarterbacks thriving as fantasy forces, thanks to what the cool kids call the Konami Code — the ability to run for value. Murray is arguably the most dynamic dual-threat rushing talent we’ve seen at the position since Michael Vick left Virginia Tech, and he should thrive in Arizona’s quick-hitting spread scheme. Don’t be surprised if Murray is a top-eight fantasy quarterback come December. — Jim McCormick
Mark Andrews, TE, Baltimore Ravens
Yes, Andrews didn’t see monster target volume as a rookie, but I like the pairing here with Lamar Jackson in the Baltimore system. With Jackson as the Ravens’ starter in Weeks 11-17 last season, Andrews caught 13 of 19 targets for 308 yards and one score, good for 23.69 yards per catch (No. 1 among tight ends during that stretch). And the play-action numbers pop even more, with Andrews grabbing 9 of 12 targets for 243 yards (27 yards per catch). Those middle-of-the-field throws give room for Andrews to run in the open field. And the big boy can move. I anticipate a similar script in 2019, but with more volume. That could put Andrews in a position to jump into the lower-tier TE1 mix in deeper leagues. — Matt Bowen
Over the past two seasons, there are just two players who have more rushing touchdowns than Howard’s 18: Todd Gurley II and Alvin Kamara. The crown jewel of the Philly backfield right now appears to be Miles Sanders, the exciting second-round pick out of Penn State, but Eagles football czar Howie Roseman knows value when he sees it and swooped in to grab Howard from Chicago. The path to success for Howard doesn’t need to be as a workhorse; if he could earn a backfield share comparable to LeGarrette Blount in 2017 (~12 carries a game as the lead red zone threat), he’ll return value. — Field Yates
Coleman performed well in my good blocking yards per attempt (GBYPA) metric last season, ranking tied for fifth with a 9.5-yard average. He was an RB2 the last time he played in a Kyle Shanahan offense in 2016, so Shanahan is likely to try to get as much workload out of Coleman as possible. Add that the 49ers have the most favorable rush-defense schedule per my schedule strength metrics and it indicates there are many scenarios whereby Coleman should be able to far outperform his RB3/RB4 ADP ranking in ESPN leagues. — KC Joyner
In 2018, Miller quietly posted seven touchdown grabs for the Bears in Matt Nagy’s offense — with five coming from a slot alignment — while catching 33 of 54 targets. And don’t sleep on his big-play ability, as Miller led all Bears receivers on deep-ball receptions, catching nine passes of 15-plus yards. The explosive traits jump on the film, and Nagy loves to set up quarterback Mitchell Trubisky on throws up the seam. In addition to what I see with the wide receiver as a quick-game target underneath, his ability to stretch the defense inside of the numbers — Miller caught a team-high 45% of his deep-ball targets in 2018 — and win matchups in scoring position put him in the discussion as a possible WR3 in 12-team leagues. — Matt Bowen
With Jared Cook moving on, the 6-foot-6, 255-pound former college wide receiver who ran a 4.46 40 at the combine now gets a chance at a starring role in an offense that last year was top-seven in both overall tight end targets and red zone tight end targets. Now sure, with Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams and Josh Jacobs, this offense will look a lot different, but the opportunity should be there for Waller to be a strong TE2 with some upside. Don’t believe me? Will you listen to Antonio Brown? When I interviewed AB a few weeks ago, he said this about Waller: “Big, fast, explosive guy. Catch and run. Can run like a receiver. He’s tall like Calvin Johnson. He’s a freaky guy.” — Matthew Berry
Derek Carr, QB, Oakland Raiders
The evidence to support Carr’s case is in large part circumstantial, as no wide receiver group underwent a more significant facelift this offseason than Oakland’s, which now boasts Antonio Brown at the top with key addition Tyrell Williams and likely complementary pieces in Hunter Renfrow, Ryan Grant and J.J. Nelson. Carr had a strong 2016 campaign (28 touchdowns and just six interceptions), with a body of work that shows he can be a capable player when surrounded by the right pieces. They’re there in Oakland. — Field Yates
The issue here is the health of star Todd Gurley II. We saw last season how the Rams handled him when they signed an unemployed running back who starred down the stretch while Gurley, with his arthritic knee, occasionally watched. Remember the playoffs? Those with Gurley in dynasty formats do. The Rams could make this a backfield timeshare, so perhaps I am better off naming Gurley a bust, but Henderson was so wonderful at Memphis in all phases, and he was a coveted draft pick. I think he rocks right away. — Eric Karabell
As the second-most coveted fantasy option at his position on his own team heading into the new season, it’s fair to consider Doyle a sleeper of sorts. This isn’t even an indictment of Eric Ebron‘s fantasy profile, but rather an appraisal of Doyle’s that suggests though he might not have the touchdown equity his peer claims, he enjoyed a third more passing routes run per game than Ebron in the six games both were active together last season. Which is to say, Doyle is likely to…