Three Breakout Candidates to Target in 2024 Fantasy Football Drafts - Zay Flowers, Tyjae Spears, Diontae Johnson (2024)

Three Breakout Candidates to Target in 2024 Fantasy Football Drafts - Zay Flowers, Tyjae Spears, Diontae Johnson (1)

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We are just several weeks away from the start of 2024 NFL training camp. The sun's out, the grills are hot, and NFL teams will be fine-tuning their squads -- just as fantasy football managers will soon be doing. With the heart of draft season just around the bend, now's the time to sharpen your pencils as well as your wits for the upcoming fantasy season.

This magical time is when you need to start scouting out the under-the-radar talents poised to explode onto the fantasy scene in 2024. These are the players you snag in the mid-to-later rounds who can deliver the most bang for your buck, propelling your team to championship glory. As training camps open, it will be important to keep an eye on local reporters from each team to get an idea of what players might be rising to the top of the depth chart.

Remember last season's breakout players like C.J. Stroud, Kyren Williams, and Puka Nacua? Well, I've got my eyes on a few potential studs who could be this year's fantasy darlings. Now, let's dive into the hidden gems of the 2024 fantasy season.

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Zay Flowers, WR - Baltimore Ravens

Flowers is locked in as a top-two target on the Ravens in just about every major analyst's projections out there. Offensive coordinator Todd Monken returns for his second season and has made it pretty clear that he wants Baltimore to become a more potent passing offense and get away from its run-heavy ways.

As a rookie in 2023, Flowers impressed with 77 receptions for 858 yards and five TDs. According to PFF, Flowers did so while playing 69.2% of his snaps out wide while TE Mark Andrews primarily played in the slot. Any concerns about Flowers having a low aDOT in 2023 were alleviated after his aDOT for the season was 8.8. His skill set as a deep-threat receiver who can also work in the underneath areas of the field is a nice complement to Andrews.

Zay Flowers deep outs 🤌

— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) June 3, 2024

The Ravens were 31st overall in team pass attempts with just 494 in 2023 and their season came to a screeching halt in the AFC Championship Game against the Kansas City Chiefs when they fell behind early and could not pass the ball effectively enough to make a comeback. NFL teams often overcorrect in their approach for the upcoming season based on what happened last year and it's pretty obvious that Baltimore needs to get better through the air if it wants to get through the rest of the AFC and to the Super Bowl.

This reality should only benefit Flowers as Andrews is his only primary competition for targets in 2024. After featuring a 24.4% target share as a rookie, imagine if that number were to go up as well as the Ravens' number of pass attempts were to rise in 2024. Second-year wide receivers who were solid as rookies tend to be great bets in fantasy, and Flowers feels like a good player to bet on for the upcoming season. According to Fantasy Data, Flowers' ADP currently stands as the WR25 and 42.0 overall player in full PPR leagues. Expect him to beat that in 2024.

Tyjae Spears, RB - Tennessee Titans

A third-round rookie in 2023 who was mostly stuck behind veteran RB Derrick Henry, Spears was limited in the amount of work he saw last season. However, when he was on the field, Spears looked pretty good. He finished with 100 rush attempts for 452 yards (4.5 avg) and two TDs while adding 52 receptions for 385 yards and another score.

#TitanUp RB Tyjae Spears. Electric with the ball in his hands.

— Kyle Lindemann (@LuckIsMadeFF) June 20, 2024

With Derrick Henry now in Baltimore, the path for Spears to ascend to fantasy football stardom in the Titans backfield got a lot easier. Veteran RB Tony Pollard was signed to a three-year, $21.75 million contract and will be sharing backfield duties with Spears. The Titans coaching staff has said that they view both running backs as interchangeable and that they will both be heavily used this season.

Tennessee signed free-agent wide receiver Calvin Ridley to a massive deal this offseason, as well as center Lloyd Cushenberry III before spending the No. 7 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft on left tackle JC Latham from Alabama. Quarterback Will Levis has plenty of help around him to succeed as the Titans quarterback in 2024 and all of these additions are also good for Spears' ability to find the end zone.

Spears has multiple paths as a runner and a receiver to score fantasy points. He was one of the top receiving backs in the 2023 NFL Draft class and featured a 14.7% target share last season, which was seventh among all running backs. While the threat of Pollard looms to take away touches, my belief is that Spears is the more explosive of the two running backs and it will become more evident to the coaching staff as the season goes along.

Right now, Spears is being drafted as the RB32 with an overall ADP of 102 in PPR leagues. Given his upside and potent receiving ability, he is a good later running back to draft for your fantasy team given his standalone value and contingent upside. While we aren't rooting for anyone to get injured, if Pollard were to miss any time, Spears likely becomes a must-start RB1 every week.

Diontae Johnson - WR, Carolina Panthers

Wait a minute, do you mean to tell me that a player going into his sixth year is due for a breakout? While we've already seen a mini breakout of sorts for Johnson in Pittsburgh, his career was derailed by the retirement of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger after the 2021 season. The inability of any of the other QBs to get him the ball consistently made his stats, as well as his mood, suffer, and Johnson found a new home in Carolina this offseason.

Johnson's best season came in 2021 with 107 receptions for 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns. He will turn 28 years old in July, but could easily become quarterback Bryce Young's No. 1 target in 2024. The Panthers receiving corps features the likes of Johnson, rookie Xavier Legette, veteran Adam Thielen, and second-year wideout Jonathan Mingo. Most early bets are on Johnson seeing the most receptions in Carolina this year.

Per ESPN Analytics: since 2021, new Panthers WR Diontae Johnson ranks first in the league in “Open Score”, measuring WR’s “likelihood to complete a catch, conditional on if he were targeted.”


— John Ellis (@1PantherPlace) June 19, 2024

Young was taken No. 1 overall ahead of C.J. Stroud in the 2023 NFL Draft but had a disastrous rookie campaign. Now that the Panthers have made several upgrades on the offensive line, brought in new WRs in Johnson and Legette, and made former Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Dave Canales their new head coach, there is a lot of optimism about the Panthers offense this season.

Johnson is currently going off the board as the WR36 in PPR leagues with an overall ADP of 67.0. While his numbers suffered in 2022 and 2023, a lot of it can be attributed to bad quarterback play. Johnson has shown an elite ability to get open against coverage and if Young can start to live up to some of the promise that made him the No. 1 overall pick, Johnson could easily shatter his ADP in 2024. While there is some risk, there is also plenty of reward.

Stay tuned here at RotoBaller all offseason and don't forget to give me a follow on X. Always happy to answer any potential questions you might have about the 2024 NFL season.

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