Spin’s Fantasy Factory: Preseason breakout predictions 

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At long last, the prodigal son has returned. And alas, he’s here to cure all of the problems for the fine people of the charming land… Well, that’s if your problems are putting together a formidable fantasy football lineup as draft season approaches. And that prodigal son? Well, that’s Spin, your noble, hard-working, and passionate fantasy analyst for the 2022 NFL season. 

Corny and awkward introductions aside, my name is Spin and a personal interest of mine for some time now has been fantasy football. In fact, I’ve grown so attached to it that I’ve taken the liberty of deeming myself UConn’s “fantasy expert.” While that may not quite be true, it’s still fun to make predictions on upcoming matchups, player predictions and more, with the ending result being the publication of Spin’s Fantasy Factory. Strap in and get ready for the ride! 

As the NFL season continues to draw near, there has been growing speculation in training camps over which players may outplay their current value in fantasy football. With the roster moves and the changes to player and staff personnel that took place during the offseason, a few names are now in position to outplay their projected fantasy values this year. After looking into some of these players and analyzing their projections compared to how fantasy managers are valuing them in drafts, I’ve compiled a solid list of three skill players you can expect to breakout in fantasy football this season. 

Michael Pittman Jr. WR, Indianapolis Colts 

While this may not exactly be a pick that surprises some fantasy managers, it seems to me that people still haven’t fully grasped just how valuable of an asset that Pittman can be to fantasy rosters. After finishing last season as the overall WR16 in standard leagues and WR17 in PPR leagues, Pittman is currently being selected as the 12th wide receiver off of the board in ESPN drafts. Though he’s receiving WR1/2 treatment in fantasy this draft season, there’s reason to believe that Pittman can take the next step and become an elite WR1 option. 

The biggest difference between this year and last is the addition of a new quarterback in Indianapolis. People seem to forget that Pittman was a consistent fantasy option last season despite catching passes from Carson Wentz, who is long removed from his MVP-caliber season that came when he was still a Philadelphia Eagle. The addition of Matt Ryan gives the Colts a signal-caller who has been a steady veteran presence for years, not to mention he’s been the head honcho for many elite offensive units during his tenure in Atlanta. Reports from training camp indicate that Pittman has become far and away Ryan’s go-to target in the passing attack, and it isn’t even close. 

Given that Indianapolis has shown a desire this training camp to take some of the burden off of star running back Jonathan Taylor in favor of a more balanced offensive approach, these reports should only make fantasy managers more eager to add Pittman to their roster. It’s not every day that a borderline WR1 gains an upgrade at the quarterback position in addition to likely seeing an uptick in targets per contest. Everything that can go right this offseason for Pittman has, and the result could be that his breakout is bigger than anyone expected. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Pittman turn in a top-6 fantasy performance at the wide receiver position, outplaying guys like Mike Evans, Tee Higgins or even Tyreek Hill, all of whom are currently being drafted before Pittman in fantasy drafts. The talent, the situation in Indianapolis and the presence of Matt Ryan give Pittman the tools to fantasy stardom in 2022. 

AJ Dillon, RB, Green Bay Packers 

I’ve been a big fan of Dillon and his play style ever since he was drafted by Green Bay in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Unfortunately, he’s mostly played second fiddle to Aaron Jones for his entire time in the league. 

Despite playing in this limited role, Dillon has continued to show flashes of tremendous potential when his name has been called. Both his production and usage have seen increases when Jones has been unavailable, though with Green Bay losing the focal point of their offense in Davante Adams in the offseason, the Packers may look to a few different places in order to replicate his production. We’ve seen in the past that Jones plays his best when he’s put to work as a receiver despite being labeled as a running back, and there’s no reason for them to shy away from that concept. If this is true and the Packers shift the bulk of Jones’ work to the passing game, then the opportunity is there for Dillon to prove that he is indeed an elite rusher in the NFL. 

As it stands, Dillon is being selected from draft boards as the RB34, a figure that is appalling to me especially, considering he ended up 20th among backs in carries and was more productive than expected as a receiver last season, posting the second-best catch rate (92%) and yards per target (8.5) at the position. Now that Dillon is in his third season, the Packers would be wise to continue to expand his role as they did last season. At the very least, he should be considered one of the best handcuffs in fantasy football and will slide in automatically as a RB1 if Jones misses any time this season. That’s exactly how he’s being treated in drafts, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see the New London native carve out a more prominent role in Green Bay’s offense as they look towards reinforcements in order to replicate the production of their former offense weapon. Dillon is easily a top-30 running back (higher than his average draft position) with the potential to creep inside the top 20 in the new season. 

Austin Hooper, TE, Tennessee Titans 

Sure, I could’ve gone with names like Irv Smith Jr., Albert Okwuegbunam or Cole Kmet, all of whom are viable picks to breakout at the tight end position, but few to none are talking about Hooper and his situation in Tennessee. Hooper is three years removed from back-to-back TE6 finishes with the Falcons from 2018-19, and at the ripe age of 27, there’s reason to believe that Hooper still has some gas left in the tank. 

Two lost seasons with the Cleveland Browns put a damper on Hooper’s production, so when he signed with the Titans this past offseason, very few thought to bat an eye. The result has been Hooper being treated as the 22nd best tight end in fantasy as evident by his average draft position. Well, I’m here to tell you that not only can Hooper find a valuable role in this Titans offense, but he could become a sneaky weekly streaming option for fantasy managers that missed out on any of the big names at tight end. 

After losing AJ Brown to Philadelphia in the offseason, Tennessee has added Robert Woods and Treylon Burks via free agency and the NFL Draft, though beyond those two, Tennessee has few inspiring names at the receiver position. That bodes well for Hooper, especially since head coach Mike Vrabel’s scheme has resulted in a 24% target share for his tight ends in his four years with the team. The targets will be there for Hooper, especially if the Titans soften the workload of workhorse running back Derrick Henry. 

Not to mention, Hooper’s already developing a positive relationship with quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who has proven to not be shy about targeting his tight ends in the past. All in all, Hooper is a player with tremendous upside potential yet is being severely overlooked in fantasy due to his dry spell in Cleveland. I believe that he could become a plug-and-play type of player despite being drafted as a back-end TE2. For a guy that’s rostered in a minuscule 15% of ESPN leagues, there’s reason to be optimistic about his production and you should consider taking a flier on him with one of your late-round picks in drafts this year. 

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