How valuable are breakout players to winning a fantasy football championship? Just ask anyone who landed David Johnson, Ezekiel Elliott or Jay Ajayi last season. All exceeded expectations and helped fantasy owners take home a league championship. So, which NFL players are in the best position to make the leap to stardom and emerge into the next generation of fantasy football behemoths?
1. Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars: You're going to see several rookie runners on this list, not because they're going to be this season's Ezekiel Elliott, but because I like them to emerge as their respective team's featured runner. Fournette, the fourth-overall choice in the NFL draft, should pass Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon on the Jaguars depth chart and push for high RB1 value. Look for him to be the first rookie selected.
2. Isaiah Crowell, RB, Cleveland Browns: Crowell finished 14th in fantasy points among running backs a season ago, and he's now in a position to be even better in 2017. While the quarterback situation is still a question mark, the additions of Kevin Zeitler and JC Tretter to an offensive line that also features Joe Thomas and Joel Bitonio makes Crowell a better bet to rush for 1,000 yards.
3. Kareem Hunt, RB, Kansas City Chiefs: The 2017 fantasy football season could be the "Year of the Rookie Running Back," and Hunt could be one of the top players at the position. A versatile three-down runner, Hunt vaulted up the fantasy rankings when Spencer Ware went down with an injured knee. Coach Andy Reid has had more than his share of fantasy stars at running back, too.
4. Terrelle Pryor, WR, Washington Redskins: You could argue that Pryor broke out last season, finishing 18th in fantasy points among wide receivers. Still, he found the end zone just four times and is now the No. 1 wideout in one of the league's most effective passing offenses. That means there's room for improvement and a chance for Pryor to move near the top 10 players at his position.
5. Carlos Hyde, RB, San Francisco 49ers: There was talk that Hyde could lose his starting job to rookie Joe Williams in camp, but that's simply not going to happen. The Ohio State product will lead the Niners in backfield touches, and he'll be motivated to put up big numbers in a contract year. He could turn into a steal if he falls into the fourth round in your fantasy drafts.
6. Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings: Cook has competition with Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon in the mix, but the team did trade up to land him in the second round. He's also the most talented back of the trio, and he opened the preseason atop the depth chart. While he will be a fourth- or fifth-rounder in seasonal formats, Cook is a top-five selection in dynasty leagues.
7. Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals: Mixon has a lot of competition with Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard on the roster, but he should grab the top spot on the depth chart. A first-round talent, Mixon fell in the NFL draft due to off-field issues. If he can keep his head on straight, he should lead this trio in touches while adding a new dimension to what should be an explosive Bengals offense.
8. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers: A potential future superstar in PPR leagues, McCaffrey figures to lead the Panthers backfield in touches due to his combination of skills as both a runner and receiver. He's not afraid to run between the tackles either, as he did that plenty in college despite also being so good on the edges. He's a viable No. 2 back in all PPR formats.
9. Ty Montgomery, RB, Green Bay Packers: Montgomery is a wideout turned running back, so his breakout potential in PPR formats is obvious. In fact, he's a good bet to post career bests in targets and receptions as a receiver out of the backfield. Defenses can't stack the box against him with Aaron Rodgers under center either, so Montgomery will be in a good position to succeed for owners.
10. Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs: You can argue that Hill broke out last season, and I can see that argument. But with the release of Jeremy Maclin, I can now argue that Hill's ceiling for receiving yardage (he had just 593 in 2016) has increased by leaps and bounds. While he isn't likely to score another nine touchdowns, Hill is still a versatile playmaker with a lot more value in fantasy drafts.
11. Martavis Bryant, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers: He's back! After a lost 2016 season, Bryant projects to start opposite Antonio Brown in what will be an elite Steelers pass attack. Before his suspension, Bryant averaged 17.4 yards per catch and scored 15 times in 21 contests.
12. Stefon Diggs, WR, Minnesota Vikings: Diggs has looked dominant at times, but he's been slowed due to injuries and is still waiting for that true breakout season. That could come in 2017, as he'll enter training camp in great shape and has major potential.
13. C.J. Anderson, RB, Denver Broncos: The addition of Jamaal Charles has some fantasy fans down on Anderson, but not me. I see him as the obvious lead back in an offense that couldn't run the ball when he went down last season. You can probably steal Anderson somewhere near Round 6.
14. Bilal Powell, RB, New York Jets: Powell should see more work than Matt Forte, who is no longer an elite fantasy running back at his extended age. Powell played well last season and could be worth as much as a top-50 pick for fantasy fans in PPR formats.
15. Ameer Abdullah, RB, Detroit Lions:Fantasy fans might be scared of Abdullah due to his proneness to injuries, but he's worth drafting as a flex starter as Detroit's projected No. 1 runner. He could become one of the better fantasy draft bargains if he avoids the trainer's room.
16. Mike Gillislee, RB, New England Patriots: How can there be a breakout player in what is a crowded Patriots backfield? Well, I see Gillislee being the early-down and goal-line back for coach Bill Belichick. Eight-plus touchdowns on the ground is a distinct possibility.
17. Marcus Mariota, QB, Tennessee Titans: Mariota showed flashes of fantasy stardom last season, but a broken leg cost him what would have been a potential top-10 fantasy finish among quarterbacks. Now that he's back at 100 percent, Mariota could become a real stud.
18. Paul Perkins, RB, New York Giants: The G-Men didn't add any real competition for Perkins in the offseason, so the UCLA product should see plenty of opportunities. Even if it's based on just volume alone, Perkins is in play as a viable flex starter this season. He's a middle-rounder.
19. Jameis Winston, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Buccaneers added DeSean Jackson and rookie O.J. Howard in the offseason, so Winston will be one of the more popular breakout candidates in fantasy land. Owners will draft him as a No. 2 quarterback, but Winston has major potential.
20. Willie Snead, WR, New Orleans Saints: The departure of Brandin Cooks will open up more chances in the passing attack for Snead, which makes him a far more valuable asset in fantasy land. A three-game suspension will drop him into the later rounds of most fantasy drafts, however.
Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com and NFL Network and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Have a burning question on anything fantasy related? Tweet it to **@Michael_Fabiano** or send a question via **Facebook**!