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The Potential Breakout Offenses to Keep an Eye on in Fantasy Football

Which teams could blow by the rest of the NFL and score point after point in 2020? The Chiefs and Ravens, sure. But beyond the powerhouses, a few surging teams could produce fireworks.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Fantasy draft season kicks off in the next month or so, and you probably already have an idea of which NFL teams you plan to pluck players from. You’re probably itching to pull names from the usual suspects—the record-setting Ravens offense, the Patrick Mahomes–led Chiefs, and the steady Saints. The problem is that your buddies, rivals, and those random people in the league your friend convinced you to join are all likely targeting those same squads and players.

So that leaves you with the task of determining which other teams may end up being fantasy gold mines. These are the teams that could break out on offense and deliver an edge to fantasy GMs who invest in their playmakers ahead of time. Below, we take a look at four underrated offensive units you might want to consider plundering when you select your team this year.

Arizona Cardinals

Notables: RB Kenyan Drake (no. 11 in The Ringer’s half PPR rankings), WR DeAndre Hopkins (no. 20), QB Kyler Murray (no. 84), WR Christian Kirk (no. 78), RB Chase Edmonds (no. 138)

The Cardinals enter the 2020 season as one of the NFL’s most fascinating teams. Coming off a sub-.500 year, Arizona has the tools to make a big leap in 2020. The team’s offensive nucleus of Murray (the reigning Rookie of the Year), Drake, Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald, and Kirk provides coach Kliff Kingsbury a full gamut of skill to incorporate into his Air Raid offense.

Hopkins’s arrival should continue the growth of an offensive unit that was the NFL’s most improved last year and jumped from last in Football Outsiders’ offensive DVOA in 2018 to no. 13 in the metric in 2019. Pairing Murray (the no. 6-ranked fantasy QB) with a bona fide superstar wideout who’s entering his prime at 28 years old will open up Arizona’s passing attack. Hopkins is reliable (in the past three years, he’s registered the fourth-most contested catches, per Pro Football Focus) and durable, having missed just two total games throughout his seven-year career. The three-time All-Pro has recorded 1,000-plus receiving yards in each of the past three years and should draw plenty of attention from opposing defenses. Simply put, he’s one of the best receivers in the league and he’s joining an extremely pass-happy team. This should be a match made in heaven.

Hopkins’s presence could boost the team’s other players. In 2019, the Cardinals ran out of four-wide sets on a league-high 27 percent of plays, so Fitzgerald and Kirk should each see a healthy share of targets. Fitzgerald is entering his age-37 season and declining. But he registered more catches and yards last season than he did in 2018, despite earning three fewer targets. It’s highly unlikely that Fitzgerald recaptures All-Pro form, but he will benefit from having Hopkins on the field—Hopkins will relieve Fitz of being the passing game’s primary option. Kirk could be the biggest beneficiary of Hopkins’s addition. Last season, the Texas A&M product caught 68 passes for 709 yards and three touchdowns. Kirk led the Cardinals in percentage share of team air yards (27.13), per NFL Next Gen Stats. Those stats suggest that despite missing three games last year, Kirk was the team’s most successful deep playmaker, and that’s a skill set that Kingsbury could look to further exploit next season. According to Football Outsiders, Murray led all passers in deep ball accuracy last season, completing 30-of-49 attempts (61.2 percent) thrown 21-plus yards. On passes thrown 31-plus yards, he was even more accurate, connecting on 12-of-14 such throws (85.7 percent).

The potential of Arizona’s passing game tends to steal the attention away from how efficient its rushing attack was last season, specifically after Drake’s arrival. The former Dolphin tailback amassed 643 yards and eight touchdowns on 5.2 yards per carry across eight starts for the Cardinals. Murray and Hopkins will draw headlines, but Drake should certainly be considered as a breakout candidate for 2020. Arizona finished the year second in rushing DVOA, behind only the Ravens—despite owning PFF’s no. 22 offensive line unit.

Murray posted very strong debut fantasy numbers, but also frustrated with bad tendencies. Murray led all QBs by being at fault for 23 of his own sacks last year, according to PFF. Despite finishing ninth in passing attempts (541), Murray finished tied for 21st in passing touchdowns (20) and 15th in pass yards (3,713). No Cardinals players caught more than four receiving touchdowns last season, and Arizona ranked 29th in red zone touchdown percentage (45.3 percent). If Arizona can turn some of those missed opportunities into scores in 2020, it’ll be a profitable development for several of its offensive players.

Dallas Cowboys

Notables: RB Ezekiel Elliott (no. 3), WR Amari Cooper (no. 27), WR Michael Gallup (no. 67), QB Dak Prescott (no. 82), WR CeeDee Lamb (no. 114), RB Tony Pollard (no. 141)

The Cowboys return almost all key parts of an offensive unit that finished in the top five of most statistical categories, including second in Football Outsiders’ DVOA. But it doesn’t seem like this team has hit its ceiling just yet. Jason Garrett is gone, Mike McCarthy is in, and the team added even more talent this offseason. The Cowboys boast one of the best units in the league, and if there’s any candidate to dethrone the Ravens as the NFL’s top group, Dallas isn’t a bad bet.

The Dallas offense still runs through Elliott. In 2019, Elliott was once again difficult to bring down, tallying 679 of his 1,357 total rushing yards after contact (sixth most). He finished tied for ninth among ball carriers in broken tackles (24). Elliott, who missed training camp and the entire 2019 preseason because of a holdout over his contract, was still one of the NFL’s most productive players, posting 1,777 total yards from scrimmage (second most). He’s entering his fourth season with three Pro Bowls and two rushing titles. As The Ringer’s fantasy experts have properly explained, Elliott is “the most consistent running back at the top of draft boards.”

Prescott finished as a top-five QB in fantasy, and is expected to do so again, if not because of his own talent, then at least due to what’s surrounding him. Cooper sits just outside the top 10 of the receiver rankings at no. 12, and he should once again produce at a meaningful rate. He’s breached the 1,000-yard mark twice during his time in Dallas. Gallup, entering his third season, is coming off his first 1,000-yard season—a threshold he hit in just 14 games. With Randall Cobb out of the mix, both Cooper and Gallup have a chance to duplicate their 2019 success. They could also help open the door for Lamb, a consensus All-American whom the Cowboys drafted at no. 17. Lamb isn’t a burner, but he’s nifty after the catch (he averaged 9.2 YAC during his last two seasons at Oklahoma, according to PFF) and can break plenty of tackles (38). Even if Lamb isn’t an immediate difference-maker, Dallas could have a fascinating, high-volume pass-catching group, especially given McCarthy’s experience with a deep receiving corps during the height of his Packers tenure.

In addition to Dallas’s obvious talent, tight end Blake Jarwin could be a player to keep an eye on. The fourth-year pro started seven games last season, recording 31 catches for 365 yards and three touchdowns, and is due to assume full-time starting duties following the (second) departure of Jason Witten. During McCarthy’s time in Green Bay, Jermichael Finley—whose career was hindered by injuries—was among the NFL’s most productive tight ends when healthy. A handful of players appeared at the spot for Green Bay in the final five seasons of McCarthy’s tenure, but most played a noticeable role in the passing game and the Packers averaged 39.2 receptions per year. Jarwin could carve out a meaningful role for himself on an offense where the sky’s the limit.

Denver Broncos

Notables: RB Melvin Gordon (no. 31), WR Courtland Sutton (no. 43), RB Phillip Lindsay (no. 99), WR Jerry Jeudy (no. 109), TE Noah Fant (no. 115), QB Drew Lock (unranked)

The Broncos have an exciting collection of young talent. The biggest question: Can Drew Lock maximize it? Denver went 4-1 in his five starts at the end of the year, but QB wins are fool’s gold—Lock’s victories came against the Chargers, Texans, Lions, and Raiders. (Houston was a playoff team, but it ranked 29th in total pass defense last year, making its defense far from a good litmus test for a young passer.) Whenever the Broncos take the field next, all eyes will be on Lock.

Denver did well by surrounding Lock with young players with exciting potential. Sutton, entering his third season, isn’t a household name yet, but he appears to be on the path to becoming one. After a solid rookie season (42 receptions, 704 yards, and four touchdowns), Sutton took an impressive step in his second year (72 receptions, 1,112 yards, and six touchdowns) en route to earning a Pro Bowl nod. The 6-foot-4 SMU product was PFF’s 11th-highest-graded receiver (minimum 40 targets), commanded 23 percent of Denver’s target share, and led the NFL in percentage of team air yards (42.9). And he did all that catching passes from Joe Flacco and a rookie QB. He’ll be the Broncos’ no. 1 receiver and has a chance to leap into the top 10 at the position.

Jeudy and second-round pick KJ Hamler are intriguing pieces to pair with Sutton. Jeudy is expected to line up on the outside, while Hamler could replace Emmanuel Sanders in the slot. The presence of the rookies could potentially help Fant, who led tight ends in yards after catch (8.3) in 2019. Fant flashed exciting potential when he had the ball in his hands. It’s unclear how established his rapport is with Lock. Across Lock’s five starts, Fant recorded 10 catches for 188 yards and one touchdown, with four catches, 113 yards, and the score occurring in the win against Houston.

Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur is known for relying on his rushing attack. That’s why Gordon, who rushed for 612 yards and added 296 receiving yards in 2019, is a notable addition. Gordon missed four games with the Chargers following a holdout last year, but he has previously shown he can be a lead ball carrier. Lindsay is coming off his second consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season. Third-year tailback Royce Freeman combines with the pair to form one of the NFL’s deeper backfields. Gordon and Lindsay should receive the lion’s share of the work and help ease Lock into things. Lock could become the latest in a recent trend of quarterbacks taking tremendous leaps in their sophomore year, joining the ranks of Jared Goff, Lamar Jackson, and Patrick Mahomes. The Broncos could become a must-watch offense.

Detroit Lions

Notables: WR Kenny Golladay (no. 22), RB D’Andre Swift (no. 65), WR Marvin Jones Jr. (no. 68), RB Kerryon Johnson (no. 88), QB Matthew Stafford (no. 112), T.J. Hockenson (no. 126)

Stafford was off to quite the start prior to a back injury that ended his 2019 campaign. Stafford played only eight games, but still ranked ninth among passers (minimum 200 attempts) in defense-adjusted yards over replacement and finished fourth in QB DVOA, according to Football Outsiders. Stafford’s 19 touchdowns were the most he’d thrown through a season’s first eight games since 2011. His 2,499 passing yards were the most he’d amassed in that span since 2013. The veteran will return to offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell’s system with a chance to build on what he started last year. Stafford may not earn the praise that top-tier signal-callers enjoy, but he still boasts one of the best arms in the league. The system and the receivers around him complement his skill set very well. The 32-year-old could be poised for a career year.

Golladay, entering his fourth season, led the NFL in receiving touchdowns last year. He was highly effective on deep passes, tying for the most receptions of 20-plus air yards (16) and finishing second in yards on such receptions (628). His average depth of target last year was more than 16 yards, according to PFF. Even without Stafford under center last year, Golladay thrived, registering 1,190 yards (seventh most). He earned his first Pro Bowl nod and appears well on his way to stardom. Jones wasn’t quite as dynamic as Golladay, with his output (779 yards and nine touchdowns) hindered by Stafford’s departure. But the 30-year-old is still adept at making catches in traffic and is a reliable second option.

While Detroit’s passing game will certainly be worth monitoring, the selection of Swift in the second round is noteworthy. Swift is an outstanding playmaker with some pass-catching ability, but during his Georgia career, he was never given the responsibilities of a typical lead back. He could form a partnership with Johnson, who started seven games and rushed for 403 yards last season. The Lions rushing attack was abysmal last season, ranking 27th in Football Outsiders’ rush offense DVOA. Swift could be the dynamic mainstay that Detroit’s backfield has lacked for several years.

The Lions have also tried reloading at tight end following Eric Ebron’s departure by drafting T.J. Hockenson in 2019. He flashed potential in his rookie season, posting 32 receptions for 367 yards and two touchdowns across 12 games (seven starts). He suffered a concussion and a shoulder injury, and he played without Stafford for a large portion of the year. Hockenson has upside in Detroit’s revitalized passing attack, but he’ll need to stay healthy. If the Lions are to find offensive success, it will probably come down to whether Stafford can stay upright and whether those around him can excel within the scheme.