- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
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.