Every year in the NFL, players from all positions have breakout years that tell the world they are among the best at their position in football. Every breakout year matters for every type of player, but in dynasty, the focus is on skill players like a wide receiver, tight end, linebacker, safety, and so on. When dynasty breakout seasons occur, it could win dynasty players their league if they correctly acquired the player before the season started. You got a lot of value by buying players like James Conner or Dalton Schultz before they break out. Getting the right dynasty breakout players before or very early in the season can change how your entire season goes. Here are some names to keep in mind for the NFC West.
Cam Akers, RB LAR
Akers proved he was extremely talented back in 2020 when he had a good rookie year. Then, he proved he was an alien when he recovered from a torn Achilles in time to play Week 18 of the NFL season. While I get that he did suffer a torn Achilles, modern medicine has come quite a way. Plus, no running back has ever returned in the span that Cakers did. I feel it unjust to compare him to all the prior running backs. Clearly, he’s not entirely human to return that fast and be successful in the passing game. Playing behind an awful offensive line, his rushing was not good, but not much worse than a healthy back like Sony Michel.
Yet, everyone keeps downgrading Akers. They say he won’t do much. They think he’ll bust or not be good at all this year. I’m here to say that they are wrong. As long as Akers stays healthy, he will produce decent fantasy numbers simply by being on the Rams. He might not be an RB1, but he’ll be a good RB2. Buy the dip, folks, since it’s not every day you can buy a 23-year-old running back on a great offense for cheap. My projection for Akers in 2022 is that he has 722 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns, 178 attempts, 37 targets, 31 receptions, 269 yards, and two more touchdowns while playing in 16 games for 12.9 PPR ppg. That’s his floor, in my opinion. I wouldn’t be surprised if you told me that he would have 1,200 total yards at the end of the season. See if you can’t buy him if you need a running back.
Zaven Collins, LB ARI
Collins is one of my breakout players for the year, especially in IDP. He’s taking over for Jordan Hicks as the main linebacker for the Arizona Cardinals. This is especially true since the Cards are moving Simmons to a “star backer” position where he plays both safety and linebacker. Collins is a first-round talent that you can get extremely cheap, thanks to his poor rookie year, where he didn’t play much. Yet he’s following the same path as multiple other Cardinals defenders who don’t do much their rookie year before breaking out in their sophomore year.
During his Tulsa career, Collins had over 230 tackles, seven sacks, five interceptions, and multiple forced fumbles. He is extremely athletic for his massive 6’4″ and 260-pound frame. I would expect Collins to be an LB2 in 2022. He can be an LB1, but I’m unsure if he reaches that level. Still, to go from barely getting 50% snaps to being an LB2 is a massive breakout. See if you can’t get Collins for a second-round pick or so in an IDP-only league. He’s worth the price.
Cody Barton, LB SEA
Barton is pure upside as he is set to replace tackling machine Bobby Wagner in Seattle. I would be shocked if he doesn’t reach 100+ tackles and be an LB3 come to the end of the season. He’s not a long-term play unless he proves he can do more than tackle, but he’ll get many chances on a rebuilding defense. Barton’s a cheap add for a contender. He’ll give you valuable flex numbers and could explode if he can improve his coverage skills. A guy walking into a position with 170+ tackles last year is definitely a buy. How often can you buy a guy for a third or lower that will get at least 100 tackles and is very young? Not very often, and Barton is one of those rare exceptions.
Brandon Aiyuk, WR, SF
Aiyuk was working with Trey Lance on developing chemistry all off-season, and it appears to have paid off significantly so far this preseason. Aiyuk has been a hot/cold player in his two years with the 49ers, but in his third NFL season, I expect him to deliver in his best season yet. He has deep play ability that will mesh well with Trey Lance’s big arm. Jimmy G just wasn’t the best quarterback for someone like Aiyuk. I believe Lance will unlock Aiyuk if Lance doesn’t bust.
If Lance ultimately busts, then there’s no way Aiyuk will have a breakout year. At his floor, my projections for Aiyuk are 59 rushing yards, 95 targets, 56 receptions, 820 yards, five touchdowns, and 10.9 PPR ppg. His ceiling is that of a WR2. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him play all 17 games and have an excellent finish to the season that sets up an extremely good 2023. The 49ers don’t have many breakout candidates that aren’t Lance, and I didn’t want to name an obvious player. However, the San Francisco 49ers will only go as far as the young quarterback takes them.
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As always, May the Force be with You…