Scout's 2016 Breakout Player of the Year

This player is expected to have a huge 2016! That's why we've picked him to be our Scout Fantasy Breakout Player.

From my point of view, there are two types of Fantasy Football owners. On one side, you have the guys who enjoy diving deep into the numbers. A complex mixture of macro- and microanalysis. They measure a player’s combine numbers, college production, stats, rates, and percentages; then they slice these figures up further to create unique stats that you’ll never find in a box score or game log. We’re talking about articles with footnotes & a works cited list. Graphs, charts, and tables! Oh my! All-22 screenshots with arrows pointing at players like how John Madden used to do on one of those old TV monitors in the booth.

On the other side, you’ve got the old-school types, and they’re operating solely on their gut. Sure, these Fantasy owners read articles, but most of the time, they’ve already formed an opinion. It is enough for them to watch a guy play. Why overthink it? A player is good, or he isn’t, right?

All that said, if you’ve played Fantasy Football for a few seasons, you know even the best-constructed arguments and logically sound conclusions don’t mean a thing once those pads go on. You also know sometimes a guy just has “it.”

Last season, Cam Newton was supposed to be dead on arrival for Fantasy owners after losing Kelvin Benjamin to injury. Experts decried the entire Panthers’ season. They’d say, “That was his No. 1 WR! Who’s going to get the targets instead? Ted Ginn? Philly Brown? Yeah, right.” Newton finished as Fantasy’s No. 1 QB in a landslide and won the NFL MVP.

Entering 2015, Larry Fitzgerald hadn’t eclipsed 1,000 yards in his last three seasons. He looked to be slowly riding off into the sunset with Michael Floyd and John Brown nipping at his feels statistically. Did you know Fitz’s 109 receptions last year was a career-high? It was his 11th season and still managed to easily exceed expectations.

Do these unlikely outcomes mean that all “expert” advice is meaningless given the fickle nature of the sport? Of course not, because sometimes, many times in fact, the hive mind is correct. What we expect to happen does happen! Both your intuition and all those highfalutin numbers can point toward the same outcome and that outcome can occur. A player can be thought of as an obvious choice and perform obviously. The on-the-nose prediction can still be bold because we simply can’t forget the unpredictability of sports. The world does not operate solely on the unthinkably improbable.

With this 2016 Breakout Player though, we can confidently point to his name already in bright neon lights because it’s his time to shine. “Coming soon to a championship-winning Fantasy Football team near you!”

http://www.scout.com/player/134530-donte-moncrief?s=532

Scout Fantasy’s 2016 Breakout Player is Indianapolis Colts WR Donte Moncrief.

As of this article’s publishing, our senior expert Shawn Childs is projecting 85 receptions, 1,100 receiving yards and 11 TDs for Moncrief. To provide some context, those numbers would’ve made him the ninth-highest scoring WR in standard and the 13th-highest in PPR leagues last season.

Such a dominating season would be a tremendous value in Fantasy drafts. His latest average draft position (ADP) is 71.8 (WR30) over at ESPN, which places him in the mid-to-late sixth round. In Scout’s high-stakes drafts, which typically draft WRs at a fast and furious pace, Moncrief is drafted much earlier with an ADP of 48.5 (WR28).

If you want to get technical, you could argue that Moncrief already broke out. Through Week 7, the former Ole Miss standout collected 34 passes for 381 yards and five TDs. This put him on track for 77 receptions, 870 yards, and 11 TDs. Not a true breakout perhaps, but very close indeed. The hype train was derailed though. Unfortunately in Weeks 8 and 9, he faced two stout defenses (Carolina and Denver) and they promptly shut him down. By the time Indy returned from their Week 10 bye, Andrew Luck was already out for the rest of the season. Matt Hasselbeck filled in about as well as you might expect.

So how does Moncrief go from a borderline top 35 WR season in 2015 to a real breakout candidate in 2016?

BREAKOUT INDICATOR #1: QB Andrew Luck

Maybe you’ve heard of him? Look, I don’t want to beat around the bush. We can be honest with each other, right? If Luck wasn’t the Colts’ QB or if Moncrief was on the Kansas City Chiefs, he wouldn’t be our choice for Breakout Player of the Year. That’s just a fact.

Indianapolis just ponied up $140 million over six years to secure their QB, and they did that for a reason. Most would agree that Luck was experiencing a good, but not great season last year before his injury. In just seven games, he did have 15 passing TDs though. That’s a pace of 34 or 35 TDs in a 16-game season. So in a down year, let’s say he throws, what, 30 or 31 TDs? That's still good enough to rank him around 10th in the league in passing TDs. You get the point. Luck is an elite QB at his best and superb at his worst. Furthermore, a bounce-back season is an absolutely reasonable expectation. Last year after Luck was injured, the Colts were forced to give playing time to Matt Hasselbeck, Charlie Whitehurst, Josh Freeman and Ryan Lindley. Call me crazy, but I have a gut feeling Moncrief can post better numbers with Luck. Maybe that’s just me!

And while this is probably pure conjecture, consider the following: Russell Wilson, on paper, is the best QB from Luck’s draft class when considering postseason success, Super Bowl trips, and victories. Cam Newton won last year’s MVP. You know what accolades Luck has so far? He’s a three-time Pro Bowler. That’s it!

Like the man he replaced, the Hall of Fame-bound Peyton Manning, we can find some similarities in how some analysts might frame their careers. For years, Manning was criticized for being a numbers QB, a QB that would excel in the regular season and dominate for Fantasy owners, yet would come up short in the postseason. After all this time off due to injuries and with the pressures of being the highest-paid player in the NFL, expectations are sky high, and it would be foolish to bet against Luck.

BREAKOUT INDICATOR #2: Targets & Opportunity

It’s all about volume! Well, maybe some intersection of volume, opportunity, talent, and luck. Not Andrew, but the kind that can come from a rabbit’s foot or a four-leaf clover.

Based on last season’s numbers, 188 targets have been vacated. There were technically more if you include some rarely utilized players but let’s stick with 188. What I mean here is that Andre Johnson (77 targets, 11 in the red zone), Coby Fleener (85, 11 in the red zone) and Griff Whalen (26) are gone. That’s over a third of the targets from last season up for grabs. And although it’s impossible to divide accurately how these targets will divvy up between Moncrief, Phillip Dorsett, Dwayne Allen, T.Y. Hilton, etc.; it’s not unreasonable to simply assume Moncrief will be even more involved. All that said, Moncrief accounted for 7.7 targets per game when Luck was healthy last season and just 4.8 targets per game when Luck did not play. Hypothetically, if you give Moncrief an additional three targets per game and keep his catch/yards/TD rates all the same, he of course improves significantly (this hypothetical season is labeled 2015+ below).

Targets

Rec.

Rec. Yards

TDs

FP - standard

FP - PPR

2015

105

64

733

6

109.3

173.3

2015+

132

80

917

8

139.7

219.7

If we add even more playing time in 2016 and Andrew Luck performs more efficiently, we can certainly mentally bridge the gap between Moncrief’s 2015 production and our 2016 projections.

BREAKOUT INDICATOR #3: Age, Game Score & Other Factors

Moncrief is entering his third season and will turn 23 just before the season begins. Even at such a young age, he has a ton of experience. We’re talking about a very young WR2 that suffered through half of a season with Matt Hasselbeck and still managed to produce like a top 35 Fantasy WR.

Let’s also not forget some of those sexy combine numbers. His 4.40 40-yard-dash time was tied for the third-best WR in his 2014 draft class (behind only Brandin Cooks and John Brown). His 39.5-inch vertical also tied for third-best at his position. His 11-foot broad jump was the best of any WR. Here we see strong indicators of his athletic prowess, but don’t get it twisted. Moncrief is not merely some workout warrior making a living off of some unreached potential. He was undeniably productive in college, playing for an only recently above-average SEC program. He went toe-to-toe against high-caliber cornerbacks and defenses knew he was going to get the ball. He wouldn’t be denied!

Number-crunching, film-watching wunderkind Matt Harmon at NFL.com did an in-depth breakdown of Moncrief’s route-running improvements in 2015 versus various coverage types. Let me summarize his analysis for you: Moncrief is LEGIT. What Harmon expounds on in his piece is that from Year 1 to Year 2, Moncrief showed growth as a route-running technician in spite of the Colts’ struggles. When you couple this improvement with his athleticism and a full 16-game slate from Andrew Luck, it doesn’t necessarily take a 2,000-word analysis to earn such a lofty endorsement like 2016 Breakout Player of the Year.

At 6’2” and 220 pounds, Moncrief can be the Andre Johnson and Hakeem Nicks the Colts sought out in the last few years. They’re going to put the third-year WR on the line, one-on-one and ask him to beat press coverage. To get off the line and make plays at every level whether it’s a short yard dig route or asking him to take the top occasionally off the defense. This is also a Colts’ defense that is aging. Led by D’Qwell Jackson and Trent Cole are on the wrong side of 30. Indy ranked 26th in yards allowed, 24th in pass yards allowed, 25th in rush yards allowed and 25th in points allowed. Point being, there are going to be offensive shootouts because the Colts simply don’t have a formidable defense. There will be games where Luck may need to put it up 45 times per game, if not more. Also, consider this offense is anchored by Frank Gore, a running back with over 3,000 career touches and coming off a season with his fewest yards per carry average ever. The Colts will be objectively at their best when Luck is throwing it on a healthy majority of plays.

CONCLUSION

Sorry, have I not been clear? Moncrief is the 2016 Breakout Player of the Year, book it! The 2015 season could have been Moncrief’s coming-out party. Instead, we only saw a preview of what is yet to come.

This is a textbook example of a third-year WR breakout. Moncrief will provide extraordinary value across all formats in Fantasy drafts and auctions.

Even when catching passes from Hasselbeck a year ago, Moncrief was sufficiently Fantasy-relevant. He is more than a possession receiver because he is a big target in the red zone with enough speed to run deep routes and enough precision to master his routes. With Luck dropping back to pass where he belongs, we at Scout Fantasy anticipate Moncrief will significantly outperform his average draft position and provide low-end WR1 production for a mid-WR3 asking price. That’s a breakout!

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