Late season breakouts are vital to winning championships in fantasy football. Perhaps the most valuable player in all of fantasy is the late season breakout who provides elite production while coming at little to no cost. One of the best examples of what can happen when you hit on an under the radar player who has a strong end to the season is Amon-Ra St. Brown in 2021. ARSB tied with Davante Adams as the third most rostered players in the BBM2 finals and was part of Liam Murphy‘s $1 Million winning squad.
In traditional redraft leagues these guys are usually found on the waiver wire, but in best ball we have the unenviable task of attempting to identify these players many months in advance in order to draft them with late round picks. This context is important because we must remember that these are low probability bets. I’ll be spreading my late round exposures across many different players but the ones featured in this article are the unheralded rookie WRs that I believe have the best chance at a late season breakout.
If you’re looking for rankings to use in your NFL Best Ball draft, we’ve got you covered! We’ve got both overall and positional rankings for each major best ball site:
- Underdog Top 250 Overall
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- DraftKings Top 250 Overall
- DraftKings Positional Tiers
- Drafters Top 250 Overall
- Drafters Positional Tiers
For Playoff Formats like Underdog and DraftKings, the playoffs become extra important, so we’ve got a Playoff Schedule Cheat Sheet for you to pair with some of the players here to maximize your playoff upside.
Romeo Doubs – Green Bay Packers
I wrote about Doubs in my deep rookie sleepers article and I am going to double down on him as a potential late season breakout. Doubs is often available in the last round of best ball drafts despite playing with back-to-back MVP Aaron Rodgers in an offense with 248 vacated targets to redistribute. He will likely start the season behind Christian Watson, Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, and Robert Tonyan; but none of those guys are guaranteed to receive a massive target share.
Much of the discussion around the Packers this offseason has focused on replacing Davante Adams, but this offense is also missing Marquez Valdes-Scantling who is now in Kansas City. Only the two rookies, Watson and Doubs, profile as potential replacements for the role that MVS played as a consistent deep threat. Watson will get a chance to win that job first, but he struggled with drops in college and is not a polished receiver. Meanwhile, Doubs had the most deep touchdowns (15) of any player in college football over the past two seasons. If Watson disappoints it could create an opportunity for Doubs to grow into a larger role as the season progresses. Any player earning consistent targets from Aaron Rodgers has a chance to be valuable in fantasy and if Doubs ability as a deep threat and red zone weapon translates to the NFL he could be in line for huge production as a rookie.
Tyquan Thornton – New England Patriots
The Patriots traded for DeVante Parker and then drafted Tyquan Thornton in the second round which makes me believe that they want to improve their vertical passing game. Thornton has elite speed and a surprisingly good prospect profile for someone who received minimal hype in the pre-draft process. The Patriots track record of drafting WRs is abysmal but that may help to keep Thornton’s ADP suppressed all summer and I don’t want to completely write him off based on the performance of other players. He is unlikely to open the season in a starting role but should serve as the primary backup to Parker and Kendrick Bourne. This gives him multiple paths to finding playing time, whether through injury or simply outperforming one of the guys ahead of him. His speed should make him a big play threat anytime he is on the field, and if Thornton can earn consistent playing time in the later part of the season he should provide significant weekly upside.
Khalil Shakir – Buffalo Bills
Another player featured in my deep rookie sleepers article, Shakir landed on one of the best offenses in the league when he was drafted by Buffalo. The Bills let Cole Beasley walk in free agency and signed Jamison Crowder to be their starting slot receiver. Shakir should begin the season as the primary backup to Crowder but he is talented enough that he could win the starting job over the course of the season. Additionally, Crowder has missed at least 4 games in each of the last two seasons. Shakir brings good athleticism and has reportedly always been a coach’s favorite for his work ethic and attention to detail. There is a good chance Shakir gets an opportunity to prove himself as a rookie and I believe he will capitalize on that to earn a bigger role in the offense. Don’t be surprised if Shakir is an important player for the Bills down the stretch.
Danny Gray – San Francisco 49ers
Kyle Shanahan loves speed and Danny Gray has that in spades. After spending two years at Blinn College, Gray transferred to SMU where he had decent production. He ran a 4.33 second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine which helped him earn day two draft capital as a third round pick by San Francisco. He is capable of running beyond defenders on deep routes as well as creating YAC on short receptions, a staple of the San Francisco offense. He struggles a bit with physical coverage but should be a perfect fit for the Shanahan system which schemes open touches for their playmakers as well as anyone. The 49ers don’t have much depth at receiver behind Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk so there should be opportunities for Gray to get on the field and make his case for a bigger role. There have already been positive reports out of 49ers camp on Gray, and while we don’t want to make too much of those, it is still encouraging to see. I expect Gray’s ADP to rise at some point this offseason so he is the guy on this list that I am most prioritizing getting exposure to in early best ball drafts.
Kyle Philips – Tennessee Titans
The Titans overhauled almost all of their pass catching options by trading away A.J. Brown, releasing Julio Jones, trading for Robert Woods, drafting Treylon Burks, and signing Austin Hooper. Another move which has received considerably less attention was their draft pick of Kyle Philips in the 5th round. Philips is a quick slot receiver with good footwork and above average route running ability. He is a good enough athlete to succeed in the NFL and is a very good punt returner which is both a positive indicator for his ability after the catch, and should also help ensure he is active on game days. He is never going to be a dominant #1 receiver but he could develop into a highly effective slot option for the Titans. He brings a bit of a different skill set from the other receivers on the team and could thrive in the Titans’ play action passing game. Anytime there is as much turnover as the Titans have experienced there is the possibility for someone unexpected to emerge. Philips ceiling may be the lowest of all the players on this list but that makes his cost unlikely to rise much throughout the summer and I believe he is worth mixing in as a last round pick in Titans stacks or as a cheap bring-back with Cowboys stacks for those targeting week 17 matchups.