Sleepers, busts and breakouts for 2024

As we enter into the heart of fantasy football draft season, it’s time for our annual predictions of sleepers, busts and breakout players. Interpretations of the terms can vary for each, but here are the definitions for our purposes:

  • Sleeper: A player who is being overlooked and will outperform his average draft position (ADP) in 2024.

  • Bust: A highly regarded player who will underperform in 2024, relative to his ADP/ranking.

  • Breakout: A player who will put up career-best numbers in 2024 and make a huge impact.

Stephania Bell, Matt Bowen, Mike Clay, Tristan H. Cockcroft, Daniel Dopp, Eric Karabell, Liz Loza, Eric Moody, Field Yates and Tyler Fulghum each contributed a sleeper and a bust for each of the major offensive positions, as well as one breakout candidate. You can find their picks below, as well as their analysis and insights on a selection of players they felt most passionate about in each category.

Editor’s note: This story will be updated throughout the offseason.

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Quarterback sleepers

Stephania Bell: Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars
Matt Bowen: Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams
Mike Clay: Bryce Young, Carolina Panthers
Tristan H. Cockcroft: TUA TAGOVAILOA, Miami Dolphins

Fantasy managers seem to be forgetting Tagovailoa so far, perhaps because he hasn’t realized his full potential through four seasons, and perhaps because he’s a so-called injury risk. Nevertheless, he finished 15th and 11th at his position in fantasy scoring the past two seasons, respectively. He scored 300-plus points over a 16-game span from Week 8 of 2022 to Week 8 of 2023, demonstrating his statistical ceiling and, most importantly, he has two of the game’s most talented receivers at his disposal. If you like drafting high-upside weekly scorers and piecing the position together, as I do, Tagovailoa delivers great value among that group of candidates.

Daniel Dopp: Jayden Daniels, Washington Commanders
Tyler Fulghum: Kirk Cousins, Atlanta Falcons
Eric Karabell: Caleb Williams, Chicago Bears
Liz Loza: JAYDEN DANIELS, Commanders

Daniels is a dual-threat talent who has an ideal skill set for the modern NFL. During his record-breaking Heisman season, the 23-year-old led the FBS in both yards per pass (11.66) and yards per rush (8.4). Not dissimilar in playing style to Kyler Murray, Daniels’ throwing traits are a keen fit for Kliff Kingsbury’s offense. With Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson leading the receiving corps, as well as a solid run game available to establish a rhythm, Daniels has found himself in a sneaky-productive situation. Given his elite rushing instincts, the rookie could end his inaugural campaign inside the top 15 fantasy producers at the position.

Eric Moody: Will Levis, Tennessee Titans
Field Yates: Jayden Daniels, Commanders

Quarterback busts

Stephania Bell: Aaron Rodgers, New York Jets
Matt Bowen: Deshaun Watson, Cleveland Browns
Mike Clay: Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers
Tristan H. Cockcroft: Aaron Rodgers, Jets
Daniel Dopp: Deshaun Watson, Browns
Tyler Fulghum: Caleb Williams, Bears
Eric Karabell: Deshaun Watson, Browns
Liz Loza: Kirk Cousins, Falcons
Eric Moody: JUSTIN HERBERT, Chargers

Herbert has shown why he’s one of the league’s most talented quarterbacks, averaging 274.1 passing yards per game over the past three seasons, the third highest in the league in that span. However, Herbert now finds himself without key players in Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Gerald Everett and Austin Ekeler. Instead, he’s left with unprovens Quentin Johnston, Joshua Palmer and rookie Ladd McConkey. On top of that, Herbert has a new head coach in Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator in Greg Roman who rely heavily on the run game. It doesn’t look promising for Herbert in 2024.

Field Yates: AARON RODGERS, Jets

While I am of the belief that Rodgers will bounce back in a major way this season after playing just four snaps in 2023, his days as one of the absolute best fantasy quarterbacks are likely done. At his peak, Rodgers was an elite fantasy quarterback by virtue of gaudy passing statistics (he had 85 passing touchdowns in 2021-2022 when he won consecutive NFL MVPs), miniscule turnover production and moderate rushing production as the icing on the cake. I expect Rodgers to have very good, but not elite, passing numbers, and after back-to-back seasons with just 195 total rushing yards, his legs are a virtual nonfactor (especially coming off a torn Achilles). There’s simply too much depth at the position and higher upside players to consider.

Running back sleepers

Stephania Bell: Jerome Ford, Browns
Matt Bowen: D’Andre Swift, Bears
Mike Clay: Brian Robinson Jr., Commanders
Tristan H. Cockcroft: JALEEL McLAUGHLIN, Denver Broncos

Despite being an undrafted free agent, McLaughlin has generated nothing but raves from his coaching staff and the team’s beat reporters since Day 1. He made the Broncos’ 2023 roster, then topped all running backs (minimum 75 attempts) in yards after contact per rush (2.26) and was second in yards per carry (5.4) and fourth in big-play runs (15.8%). Denver’s depth chart is similarly cluttered as last year’s, but it also lacks an elite, rock-solid No. 1 back to block McLaughlin’s path to playing time. If he keeps wowing the staff, he might begin the season as Javonte Williams’ primary backup, with a good chance at pressing Williams for regular duty.

Daniel Dopp: Zamir White, Las Vegas Raiders
Tyler Fulghum: David Montgomery, Detroit Lions
Eric Karabell: Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys (Don’t overlook him.)
Liz Loza: Jaleel McLaughlin, Broncos
Eric Moody: Tyjae Spears, Titans
Field Yates: TREY BENSON, Arizona Cardinals

One thing I believe we don’t focus enough on during the offseason is players who aren’t likely to have season-long value — but will have value for a pocket of games. Benson fits into that category, as he enters as the backup to a very capable starter in James Conner, but a starter who has never played a full season. I believe Benson will have a role when Conner is healthy and available, but if a situation occurs in which Benson is needed for spot duties for a few games, I have zero doubt he’ll shine as a starter. He has a lot of dynasty value. He’s a baller with a real path to a starting role in 2025.

Running back busts

Stephania Bell: Kyren Williams, Rams
Matt Bowen: TONY POLLARD, Titans

Pollard handled an increased workload in 2023 as the Dallas Cowboys’ lead back, seeing a career-high 307 touches, but the overall production (13.1 PPG) fell short of expectations. Pollard lacked efficiency as a runner, averaging 4.0 yards per carry while converting just three of 13 carries inside the 5-yard line for touchdowns. Yes, Pollard’s receiving skills (52 receptions last season) give him a bump as a potential lower-tier flex, but he now joins a backfield share in Tennessee with Tyjae Spears. And I see more value in targeting Spears, who also has dual-threat traits, at a lower ADP.

Mike Clay: De’VON ACHANE, Dolphins

Achane as a second-round fantasy pick is wild to me. His rookie-season efficiency was nowhere in the vicinity of sustainable (7.8 yards per carry and 11 TDs on 130 touches), and it’s no lock that he’ll see a substantial boost in usage. Achane cleared 12 touches only three times as a rookie and will still be sharing work with Raheem Mostert and rookie Jaylen Wright. At 5-foot-8, 188 pounds, Achane was always expected to be a situational back and, especially after his injury woes as a rookie, that doesn’t figure to change any time soon.

Tristan H. Cockcroft: Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
Daniel Dopp: Aaron Jones, Minnesota Vikings
Tyler Fulghum: Aaron Jones, Vikings
Eric Karabell: Tony Pollard, Titans
Liz Loza: RACHAAD WHITE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

White was fantasy’s RB4 overall at the close 2023. Volume was key to White’s fantasy success, as he recorded 272 carries (RB2) and hauled in 64 grabs (RB4) last year. The Bucs’ primary ball carrier was an ultraefficient receiver (8.6 YPR, RB5). As a rusher, however, his efforts weren’t nearly as impressive, as he registered an alarming 3.6 YPC (RB36). After handling such a hefty workload, it’s unlikely that White’s efficiency will improve in 2024. The addition of fourth-round selection Bucky Irving (who is an ace pass-catching RB) also figures to cut into White’s opportunities. For fantasy purposes, consider White more of a high-end RB2 than an RB1 in his third NFL campaign.

Eric Moody: Javonte Williams, Broncos
Field Yates: Rachaad White, Buccaneers

Wide receiver sleepers

Stephania Bell: Ladd McConkey, Chargers
Matt Bowen: George Pickens, Pittsburgh Steelers
Mike Clay: JAXON SMITH-NJIGBA, Seattle Seahawks

Smith-Njigba was extremely overvalued in 2023 drafts, but now is the time to take the late-round discount. Though he wasn’t a good fantasy option as a rookie, JSN quietly put together a solid 63-628-4 receiving line. It’s reasonable to think he’ll overtake 32-year-old Tyler Lockett on the target totem pole in Seattle’s new-look offense, which would vault the 22-year-old into, at least, the WR3 discussion.

Tristan H. Cockcroft: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Seahawks
Daniel Dopp: Jayden Reed, Green Bay Packers
Tyler Fulghum: DIONTAE JOHNSON, Panthers

Investing in the Panthers’ offense after 2023’s disaster is not for the fantasy faint of heart. Consider it an opportunity to buy the cheapest clear-cut No. 1 wide receiver in the league. Johnson is the unquestioned WR1 in this offense. He has earned 8.3 targets per game in his career. Over the past two seasons, his Open Score of 94 ranks best in the NFL (for every route run, Open Score assesses the likelihood a receiver would be able to complete a catch, conditional on if he were targeted.). Isn’t that exactly what Bryce Young needs? Someone who just gets open? We saw Adam Thielen have a dominant stretch of football as the Panthers’ WR1 in 2023, and he was 33 years old. Add in Dave Canales as the new head coach and playcaller — considering what he did for Geno Smith’s career in Seattle and Baker Mayfield’s in Tampa years prior — and this passing attack should be significantly better. The Panthers likely won’t be playing with a lead very often, so Johnson could be a “Garbage Time King,” as well.

Eric Karabell: DeAndre Hopkins, Titans
Liz Loza: Rashid Shaheed, Saints
Eric Moody: Jameson Williams, Lions
Field Yates: Ladd McConkey, Chargers

Wide receiver busts

Stephania Bell: DK Metcalf, Seahawks
Matt Bowen: Calvin Ridley, Titans
Mike Clay: Jayden Reed, Packers
Tristan H. Cockcroft: Amari Cooper, Browns
Daniel Dopp: AMARI COOPER, Browns

Last season, Cooper saw 8.4 targets per game, the highest of his career, but the Browns just committed over $40 million in guaranteed money to Jerry Jeudy, who is five years younger than Cooper, and issued lofty expectations for the talented, young WR. They’re still committed to David Njoku’s 8.3 targets per game (just 0.1 less than Cooper) and unfortunately have a quarterback who has looked like a shell of his former superstar self, clocking in as QB25 in passing touchdowns and QB30 in passing yards since returning from his 11-game suspension in 2022. Bad QB play and increased target competition means I’m staying away in 2024.

Tyler Fulghum: Ladd McConkey, Chargers
Eric Karabell: Malik Nabers, New York Giants
Liz Loza: George Pickens, Steelers
Eric Moody: KEENAN ALLEN, Bears

Allen’s impressive stats (9.4 targets and 16.6 fantasy points per game) over the past 11 seasons with the Chargers are well-known. However, he’s now 32 and will be catching passes from rookie quarterback Caleb Williams in a crowded wide receiver room that includes D.J. Moore and rookie Rome Odunze. It’s also worth noting that only 11 wide receivers since 2000 have scored 225 or more fantasy points during their age-32 season. With that in mind, Allen’s best fantasy days are probably behind him.

Field Yates: Calvin Ridley, Titans

Tight end sleepers

Stephania Bell: KYLE PITTS, Falcons

How does one go from a bust one year to a sleeper the next? For starters, change the head coach, bring in a new offensive coordinator in Robinson (of the Sean McVay coaching tree), replace middling QB play with one of the most savvy veteran throwers in the league and, above all, start the season healthy. This was never about Pitts’ talent; he proved that in his rookie season when he amassed over 1,000 receiving yards. Unfortunately, last year appeared doomed before it even began, as his recovery from a surgery that turned out to be more complex than initially reported (MCL/PCL) lingered into the season. His delayed return to performance coupled with a frustrating (lack of) utilization of his skill-set left him as TE13 at the end of 2023. But with offensive weapons such as Bijan Robinson and Drake London to occupy defenders, an anticipated increase of 11 personnel deployment and a QB who can distribute the ball efficiently, Pitts could finally see numbers reflective of what he was projected to be all along.

Matt Bowen: Jake Ferguson, Cowboys
Mike Clay: David Njoku, Browns
Tristan H. Cockcroft: LUKE MUSGRAVE, Packers

Sam LaPorta was much more the exception than the rule in terms of rookie tight end development. The jump to the NFL is a significant one, and often you get outcomes like Musgrave’s, in which he averaged 7.3 PPR fantasy points and missed six games because of a lacerated kidney. Nevertheless, the Packers saw enough in him that they kept the positional status quo (Tucker Kraft is Musgrove’s only competition) in an offense whose arrow is pointing up. Musgrave is the tight end you’ll get at the draft’s very end who could sneak in there with borderline top-10 numbers if everything clicks.

Daniel Dopp: Kyle Pitts, Falcons
Tyler Fulghum: Jonnu Smith, Dolphins
Eric Karabell: Pat Freiermuth, Steelers
Liz Loza: Ben Sinnott, Commanders
Eric Moody: Cade Otton, Buccaneers
Field Yates: BROCK BOWERS, Raiders

There is a pragmatic case to be wary of Bowers’ rookie season fantasy impact. The Raiders have a quarterback question mark, a megastar receiver in Davante Adams and an excellent No. 2 wideout (Jakobi Meyers) that are sure to command plenty of targets (Adams ranked second in the NFL with 175 last season), and also of note is rookie tight ends’ general lack of fantasy stardom (LaPorta had other ideas in 2023). The case for Bowers being a sleeper is that he joins Pitts as the two most impressive rookie tight end prospects we’ve seen in a long time (and remember, Pitts had the second-most receiving yards by a rookie tight end ever). It’s a talent play here, but I’m willing to throw a late-round dart on a player as impressive as Bowers.

Tight end busts

Stephania Bell: Dallas Goedert, Philadelphia Eagles
Matt Bowen: David Njoku, Browns
Mike Clay: Dallas Goedert (reluctantly), Eagles
Tristan H. Cockcroft: David Njoku, Browns
Daniel Dopp: TRAVIS KELCE, Chiefs

Kelce has been the king of the tight end position for the better part of a decade, finishing as TE1 in FPPG for six consecutive seasons. But all good things must come to an end. Kelce saw his production slip by almost 100 fantasy points in 2023, and in 2024 the position is as deep as ever. LaPorta, Trey McBride and Dalton Kincaid are here to usher in a new wave of pass-catching tight ends, Oh, and Evan Engram just set the record for the most receptions in a season (116). And don’t forget Mark Andrews, Pitts, Bowers, etc. It’s not hard to envision a scenario where the 34-year old, who turns 35 in October, could fall from the top of the position to middle or even back of the top 10, which makes him a major bust candidate given his current ADP as one of the top two tight ends off of the board.

Tyler Fulghum: Trey McBride, Arizona Cardinals
Eric Karabell: KYLE PITTS, Falcons

As productive as Pitts was a rookie, he still has only six touchdown catches in 44 NFL games, and it feels too convenient to blame this all on bad luck and rotten quarterback play. No doubt he is skilled, but Atlanta has better players who must touch the football. Counting on Pitts to deliver TE1 stats is no sure thing.

Liz Loza: Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
Eric Moody: Cole Kmet, Bears
Field Yates: Kyle Pitts, Falcons

2024 breakout players

Stephania Bell: Bijan Robinson, Falcons
Matt Bowen: ZAY FLOWERS, Baltimore Ravens

As a rookie in 2023, Flowers averaged 12.9 PPG, and he closed out the season with 19 or more points in four of his final games. He’s a dynamic, three-level target with ball-carrier vision to produce in the open field, as 45.1% of his receiving yards came after the catch. In Todd Monken’s passing scheme, which creates space both vertically and horizontally, Flowers is set up to post consistent numbers in his sophomore season, which will put him in the mix as a WR2.

Mike Clay: Marvin Harrison Jr., Cardinals
Tristan H. Cockcroft: Dalton Kincaid, Buffalo Bills
Daniel Dopp: George Pickens, Steelers
Tyler Fulghum: Jameson Williams, Lions
Eric Karabell: Zamir White, Raiders
Liz Loza: Dalton Kincaid, Bills
Eric Moody: DRAKE LONDON, Falcons

London is finally free from Arthur Smith’s run-heavy scheme, where he couldn’t even crack the top 20 in targets during his first two seasons, and is now in a prime position to hit career highs across the board, catching passes from Kirk Cousins in Robinson’s new offensive scheme. Robinson, who was the Rams’ quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator, should get the most out of his receivers. Cousins’ top receiver with the Vikings averaged 9.1 targets and 18.1 fantasy points per game, providing a glimpse of what London could achieve.

Field Yates: Anthony Richardson, Indianapolis Colts

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