Cordarrelle PattersonWesley Hitt/Getty ImagesCordarrelle Patterson is poised to be the Vikings' top receiving threat, no matter the quarterback.
It's true that last summer Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon was on my list of potential breakout performers, along with the Pittsburgh Steelers' Antonio Brown and the Baltimore Ravens' Torrey Smith. (Well, two outta three isn't too bad, though Smith wasn't necessarily bad.) One didn't need to be Nostradamus to realize the talent lurking in Gordon, but his second season provided the critical opportunity he needed to produce major numbers, as he ended up as fantasy's highest-scoring wide receiver. It doesn't appear he'll get the same chance to do that again in 2014, leaving opportunity for someone else on the Browns to step up.

With breakouts for fantasy having been analyzed at quarterback and running back, let's move on to the wide receivers. As with the other positions, we're excluding all rookies for these purposes and dividing the options into two sections. The goal is to identify players perhaps under the radar in terms of value -- regardless of their age and prior failed chances -- who could break out into true or truer fantasy relevance. Some of the choices are going to be selected in all leagues, like the Ravens' Smith was in 2013, for example, the obvious top-40 wide receivers that you might not have considered a team building block. Others are far more off the radar -- like the Chicago Bears' Alshon Jeffery was last summer! -- but perhaps shouldn't be. Time to break out the options, and you can share your thoughts in the comments section!

Andre EllingtonChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesAndre Ellington gained 10 or more yards on 24 of his 118 carries last season (20.3 percent).

The top running back for the Denver Broncos last season was supposed to be hotshot rookie Montee Ball, but instead, forgotten veteran Knowshon Moreno stepped up in August, showed he could block effectively and produced by far the greatest season of his NFL career, thanks in no small part to the presence and ability of quarterback Peyton Manning. Still, it was a major surprise. Moreno was a 14th-round selection in ESPN average live drafts, but he finished a stunning fifth at his position in standard scoring. Moreno, now on the Miami Dolphins and certainly not expected to achieve the same success, was a clear and surprising breakout, seemingly near the end of a disappointing career in his fifth season. Instead, he posted career bests across the board. So, who's next?

After focusing on the breakout quarterbacks, it's time to check out the most important of fantasy positions, the running backs. Whereas most fantasy teams aren't even looking for a breakout quarterback, because there are certainly more than 10 capable starters for 10-team formats, the running back depth is weak, and we're all looking for help. Several running backs will break out, and your job is to identify them in the middle to late rounds. As with quarterback, I'm leaving out all rookies. We're not so much concerned with age -- could be 22, could be 29 -- but we're searching for those who might have previously been incapable of earning opportunity or failed to seize it when it arrived. Perhaps you're not thinking about them much, and that's precisely the point, because past disappointments and complete unknowns do shock us on occasion.


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EJ ManuelMelina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsEJ Manuel is ready to make a big leap in his second NFL season.
I admit that much of the time when asked about potential breakout fantasy performers -- and this is a perfect week, as August approaches, to discuss it -- I keep it to running backs and wide receivers. After all, to me those are the key positions at which depth is paramount and leagues are generally won and lost. There are so many top-notch quarterbacks to start with -- probably 15 or so capable of being a legitimate starter in a 10- or 12-team standard league -- why bother examining the likes of Buffalo Bills sophomore EJ Manuel, right? Andy Dalton of the Cincinnati Bengals and Philip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers finished sixth and seventh, respectively, among all players in standard scoring last season, and neither of them is regarded as close to that valuable this year. They're reserves. It's deep!

Still, there will be several quarterbacks who do “break out” and become far more relevant than most expected, so while it’s a bit silly to predict the next Peyton Manning or Drew Brees, the standard we’re looking at for these breakout purposes is pretty much precisely what Dalton and Rivers achieved during their tremendous 2013 campaigns. They weren’t highly thought of prior to Week 1, it quickly changed, and now to some degree they’ve been cast aside again. Who replaces them? Good question! While some rookies will break out, I’m disregarding them from consideration. Talk about Johnny Manziel all you like -- and many have -- but what are these guys breaking out from, college? I’m looking for players of various ages who are finally healthy and earning a new opportunity, or something changed around them to affect value. Look for upside, but that doesn’t mean disregarding someone who is 27. Basically, don’t forget some of last season’s popular sleepers, for the ability likely remains.

Let’s separate the breakouts into two classes: First, we have the ones regarded as borderline fantasy starters or obvious backups, as Dalton was last summer. Perhaps one or two take that Dalton/Rivers leap. Then we have quarterbacks who aren’t really regarded much at all, outside the top 20 at the position. For those in deeper formats -- like multi-quarterback ones -- the difference in winning and losing could be a fellow like this. Predicting breakouts at quarterback isn’t like forecasts for the other positions, but we’ll get to running back and wide receiver during the week.


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Summer is here, and the NFL preseason games will be underway before you know it. As teams train and hold camps, let’s analyze what fantasy owners should be looking for in the next few months. Join the conversation on Twitter: #FantasySnapshot

What’s new? Well, certainly the February battle against the Seattle Seahawks couldn’t have gone more wrong for Peyton Manning & Co., but the Broncos have renewed interest in that return trip to the biggest game of the year. The Broncos made several upgrades on defense, but what about the record-breaking offense, which will rely on a few new members? Wide receiver Eric Decker got big money from the Jets and was replaced by veteran Emmanuel Sanders, while running back Knowshon Moreno also made the decision to follow the money to the AFC East, heading to Miami. Second-year man Montee Ball should do just fine replacing Moreno. The Broncos realize Manning won’t be around forever -- two more years? -- and the sense of urgency around the organization is good for fantasy production.

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Summer is here, and the NFL preseason games will be underway before you know it. As teams train and hold camps, let’s analyze what fantasy owners should be looking for in the next few months. Join the conversation on Twitter: #FantasySnapshot

What’s new? Well, the second offseason of the Andy Reid era was a pretty quiet one, leading many observers to predict the Chiefs are due for major regression this year. After all, the Chiefs went from two wins and the first overall draft pick to 11 wins and a playoff berth (watch out for this year’s Houston Texans!), but even that was misleading since the team lost six of its final eight, including the playoff game, after a 9-0 start. The offensive line protecting Alex Smith lost several key pieces and wide receiver help was not brought in. If the Chiefs are going to win double-digit games again, others will have to step up. The team did draft a few interesting defensive pieces -- the Chiefs figure to boast one of the top fantasy defenses again -- but offensively if new running back De’Anthony Thomas or quarterback Aaron Murray are needed this fall, then that’s a problem.


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Summer is here, and the NFL preseason games will be underway before you know it. As teams train and hold camps, let’s analyze what fantasy owners should be looking for in the next few months. Join the conversation on Twitter: #FantasySnapshot

What’s new? Well, the San Diego Chargers added running back Donald Brown! Isn’t that enough? The Chargers didn’t make many changes in the offseason, as the former Indianapolis Colts running back was pretty much the only fantasy-relevant addition, but barely. Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt bolted for Tennessee, with Frank Reich promoted to the job, but the organization expects a seamless transition. So what’s new in San Diego? The Padres might be the worst offensive team in baseball history. The Chargers won’t be, but not because of any changes.

Something to prove:

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Summer is here, and the NFL preseason games will be underway before you know it. As teams train and hold camps, let’s analyze what fantasy owners should be looking for in the next few months. Join the conversation on Twitter: #FantasySnapshot

What’s new? Well, the last time an Oakland Raiders team won more games than it lost was the 2002 season, which is a really long time ago. Hall of Famer Jerry Rice was on that Super Bowl team! So these Raiders would like the "something new" to be a nine-win season, at the least. It doesn't seem likely based on the talent and personnel at hand, though it appears to have been upgraded this spring with veteran options. Former Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub, Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew and Green Bay Packers wide receiver James Jones get perhaps their final opportunities to start, as Terrelle Pryor, Rashad Jennings and Jacoby Ford have moved on, but the fantasy value for the new fellows seems muted, if not barely existent. The franchise quarterback was drafted, so the main story around this franchise will be about when Derek Carr finally sees opportunity.

Something to prove:


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Summer is here, and the NFL preseason games will be underway before you know it. As teams train and hold camps, let’s analyze what fantasy owners should be looking for in the next few months. Join the conversation on Twitter: #FantasySnapshot

What’s new? Well, the Colts won 11 games a year ago in a weak division and didn’t make many changes at all this offseason, perhaps believing new isn’t always an improvement. If anything, the offseason news here was more about excellent linebacker Robert Mathis being suspended the first month of the season and about owner Jim Irsay getting his life back together. Anyway, a wide receiver who didn’t turn any of his 53 receptions last season into a touchdown pass was signed, a brittle running back who used to play with that wide receiver in New Jersey was re-signed, but neither of them is expected to even get the chance to be fantasy stars. Basically quarterback Andrew Luck has the same personnel in place, and it’s going to be up to him to turn it into a Super Bowl contender. Hey, Luck is off to a good start. It took predecessor Peyton Manning six seasons to win his first playoff game. Luck has already achieved this feat.

Something to prove:


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Summer is here, and the NFL preseason games will be underway before you know it. As teams train and hold camps, let’s analyze what fantasy owners should be looking for in the next few months. Join the conversation on Twitter: #FantasySnapshot

What’s new? Well, it’s a new era for Titans football because longtime running back Chris Johnson is now a member of the New York Jets. Titans fans don’t seem like they’ll miss him, realizing that any chance for another 2,000-yard season is a ship that clearly has sailed. Plus, the next 2,000-yard running back -- well, let’s see 1,000 yards first -- was drafted a few months ago! The Titans also brought in Ken Whisenhunt to be the head coach and parted ways with maddening wide receiver Kenny Britt and veteran kicker Rob Bironas. One of those fellas was consistently productive, the other, not so much. This qualifies as a new start for the franchise -- youngsters were drafted at several key offensive positions and a few should contribute right away -- and perhaps the last chance for quarterback Jake Locker to start.

Something to prove:


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What’s new? Well, there’s a new coach, a new quarterback and a new stud defensive end in town, so yeah, quite a bit has changed. The Texans went from 12 wins and a division title in 2012 to somehow losing their final 14 games of the 2013 season, and massive adjustments were warranted and executed. Former Penn State coach and New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien gets his first NFL head coaching chance. He’s serious and intense, and he's brought in a bunch of other new coaches getting their first opportunities. It’s all new here, except at running back and wide receiver where a few older gents try to stay healthy and perhaps more importantly, happy.

Something to prove: Where do we begin?

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Summer is here, and the NFL preseason games will be underway before you know it. As teams train and hold camps, let’s analyze what fantasy owners should be looking for in the next few months. Join the conversation on Twitter: #FantasySnapshot

What’s new? Well, for the past eight seasons, running back Maurice Jones-Drew was for the most part the face of this franchise, as he succeeded Fred Taylor, outlasted David Garrard and Blaine Gabbert, and struggled to stay on the field the past few seasons as new coaches were filtered in and out as losses piled up. Now Jones-Drew is out, joining the Oakland Raiders. The Jaguars and second-year coach Gus Bradley made quite the statement by selecting quarterback Blake Bortles from Central Florida with the No. 3 overall pick, and this will be his team. Eventually. The Jaguars reloaded offensively in free agency (running back Toby Gerhart) and the draft (Bortles and wide receivers Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson), but nobody expects a playoff run this fall. Not yet. What’s new is that by 2016, things should be much improved.

Something to prove:


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Summer is here, and the NFL preseason games will be underway before you know it. As teams train and hold camps, let’s analyze what fantasy owners should be looking for in the next few months. Join the conversation on Twitter: #FantasySnapshot

What’s new? Well, from a fantasy perspective, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been pretty quiet since their disappointing 8-8 campaign concluded, and remember, the team won six of its final eight, sending fans into the offseason thinking positively. The draft centered on the defense while adding youth and speed; the Steelers' defense used to be a fantasy asset but finished nowhere near the top 10 for the 2013 season. The Steelers brought in some veteran helpers on offense who don’t figure to put up relevant fantasy numbers -- LeGarrette Blount, Lance Moore, Darrius Heyward-Bey -- or harm what the incumbent top fellows achieve. The Steelers clearly believe that what they’ve got on offense will be good enough, especially with recovering center Maurkice Pouncey healthy again. It’s tough to argue.

Something to prove:


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What’s new? Well, you might have heard about this at some point, but running back Ray Rice is in some legal trouble. We don’t need to get into it here -- this is a fantasy football blog -- but since Rice was coming off a miserable statistical season, what’s also new is that nobody would call him a surefire first-round pick in fantasy anymore. Rice had been a consensus top-five fantasy running back for years. Last year, while averaging a poor 3.1 yards per carry and scoring only four touchdowns, he was barely top-30. Yep, Donald Brown, LeGarrette Blount and Rashard Mendenhall scored more standard fantasy points than him. Rice has reported to camp a bit lighter, healthier (had a hip injury) and certainly motivated, but will the league allow him to play in all 16 games? A suspension could be looming. In addition, Gary Kubiak was brought in to run the offense and a few veteran performers were signed, led by former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith and former Houston Texans -- where Kubiak was coach for eight seasons -- Owen Daniels and Justin Forsett. Still, this offense needs Rice to play well. Last season, the Ravens were 29th in total offense and 25th in scoring. Talk about a Super Bowl hangover!

Something to prove:


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Summer is here, and the NFL preseason games will be underway before you know it. As teams train and hold camps, let’s analyze what fantasy owners should be looking for in the next few months. Join the conversation on Twitter: #FantasySnapshot

What’s new? Well, this is the first head-coaching gig for Mike Pettine, and let’s just say that while he has yet to coach a game, it certainly hasn’t been boring so far. Former Houston Texans RB Ben Tate is the new lead running back. Magical cornerback Joe Haden is sticking around, and the team eschewed offense early in the draft to get another shutdown corner, Justin Gilbert. QB Johnny Manziel came later in that first round, and that’s going to be an adventure for sure, on and definitely off the field. It has been already. And then there’s the organization’s No. 1 fantasy player and last year’s No. 1 fantasy wide receiver. What’s new is unfortunately nothing new for Josh Gordon, as he might not be permitted to play at all.

Something to prove:


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Summer is here, and the NFL preseason games will be underway before you know it. As teams train and hold camps, let's analyze what fantasy owners should be looking for in the next few months. Join the conversation on Twitter: #FantasySnapshot

What's new? Well, the Bengals franchise and their starting quarterback seem to be a bit too much-maligned from a real and fantasy aspect. After all, this team won 11 games and the division title last season and has qualified for the playoffs three consecutive seasons and quarterback Andy Dalton, for all his faults, did end up as the No. 6 overall fantasy performer last season and fifth at his position. Is that enough? Can he and the team do it again? Certainly these questions are debatable. Each coordinator has bolted the Queen City for a head -coaching job, with the Jay Gruden offense now in the hands of former Oakland Raiders head coach Hue Jackson and the Mike Zimmer defense being managed by Paul Guenther. There are repercussions in each case, as Jackson figures to run a quicker-tempo offense that should help everyone, while Guenther's defense is likely still top-10 for fantasy owners. Oh, and the Bengals added a notable quarterback and seemingly impactful running back in the draft to cause some fuss, too.

Something to prove:


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