May 25, 2021

Second-Year NFL Players Ready to Break Out in 2021

The 2020 NFL rookie class had a great start to their careers as a whole. It was a loaded group filled with quality playmakers and defenders alike. It was one of the better collections of talent in recent years. 

Not every rookie played well, and not every first-year player was in the position to really strut their talent with a full-time opportunity. But there's still time for some players to make the leap in Year Two.

We've identified five players who are in the perfect situation to show out in a big year. Buy the stock of these players in your fantasy league while you can. 

D'Andre Swift, Detroit Lions

There's no question the Lions have seen a downgraded forecast after this offseason as a whole. Trading Matthew Stafford for Jared Goff and then losing their receiver room to free agency stung. But they've built a great situation for D'Andre Swift to star in. 

The second-year talent from Georgia was good while healthy last year. He accumulated just under 900 total yards and 10 touchdowns in 13 games. Now he'll have a quarterback more reliant on the run game, a system catering to one-cut moves, and an excellent offensive line.

It'll also help Swift's competition went from Kerryon Johnson and Adrian Peterson to Jamaal Williams. Williams is a good receiver but is a clear backup here. Swift is set up to have a great campaign.

Adam Trautman, New Orleans Saints

Speaking of opportunity, no player had to see their eyes widen more than Adam Trautman amid the Saints' cap crunch. Losing Jared Cook and Josh Hill left the Saints with limited competition. Their 2020 third-round pick should see a significantly bigger role now that the Saints' playmakers has been stripped down.

Having Jameis Winston start will also help Trautman produce. The gunslinger is more of a threat to attack deeper routes, opening everything up for the tight end underneath. Drew Brees simply wasn't bringing the same skill set to the team.

I'll be investing in Trautman in deeper leagues with two tight ends. He has a strong physical profile, and will undoubtedly see playing time due to his blocking. That should lead to targets as well.

Darnell Mooney, Chicago Bears

Darnell Mooney already had a great rookie season as a fifth-rounder last year. As good as Gabriel Davis is with the Bills, Mooney is the guy to buy in fantasy. He has almost no competition for his role and just saw a massive increase in QB quality with both Andy Dalton and Justin Fields acquired.

The Bears will pass more in 2021 and should see an expanded playbook. Both passers are capable of executing at a much higher level on a variety of levels than Mitch Trubisky was. This directly helps Mooney.

It wouldn't be surprising to see him get close to 1,000 yards. We'd have to see a massive leap by either Anthony Miller or Riley Ridley to prevent Mooney from seeing 100 targets. Neither of those two has shown that type of NFL readiness to this point.

Alex Highsmith, Pittsburgh Steelers

The reason the Steelers didn't blink when Bud Dupree hit free agency was that they had an in-house replacement already in last year's third-round pick Alex Highsmith. The Charlotte product delivered 48 tackles, two sacks and 12 quarterback pressures despite playing 43% of snaps. That's solid efficiency in a critical role.

Like Dupree, Highsmith is a great athlete who wins with speed and explosiveness. His skill set is still raw but he can develop in ways Dupree never did. Plus it helps T.J. Watt is lining up across from him, and Cameron Heyward in front of him.

At worst, he'll be a clean-up guy who creates the occasional splash play. This defense is starving for another impact starter. He may prove to be the biggest difference-maker among the second-year new starters in the division.

L'Jarius Sneed, Kansas City Chiefs

The best rookie cornerback in the 2020 class was a shocker considering it was a top-heavy class. L'Jarius Sneed took the crown despite playing in just nine games. His film showed a confident and athletic cover player with great ball skills.

The Chiefs must utilize his talent as a full-time starter in 2021. He's a dynamic force who can create turnovers. He allowed a QB rating of just 54.2 as well.

There's Pro Bowl upside in Sneed, which is an incredible return on a fourth-round value. The Chiefs will be in the spotlight a ton again in 2021, so watch for Sneed to make a star turn under the bright lights. 

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