Picks to eclipse: Players we like to beat early fantasy projections

Don't look now, but the NFL draft is quickly approaching, and we're already thinking about the 2024 fantasy football season. And with a total solar eclipse coming Monday for several states across the nation, we thought what better time to take an early look at players we expect to "eclipse" their projections for the upcoming season.

It's never too soon to get ahead of the game, and fantasy analysts Liz Loza, Matt Bowen, Eric Karabell, Tristan H. Cockcroft and Eric Moody are here to offer some preliminary thoughts on whom the sun could shine on in 2024.

Be sure to also check out our sortable player projection page, as well as Mike Clay's detailed 2024 NFL Projection PDF Guide, which is routinely updated throughout the offseason.


Kirk Cousins, Atlanta Falcons

Cousins joins his third franchise coming off a truncated season due to a torn Achilles, but he threw for 2,331 yards and 18 TDs in his eight games. The Falcons don't have Justin Jefferson, but Drake London will be great. RB Bijan Robinson is great. TE Kyle Pitts is great. Cousins has thrown for more than 4,000 yards seven times and surpassed 25 TD passes seven times. He would have gotten there in 2023. He will get there with Atlanta in 2024. -- Karabell

Clay's 2024 projection: 3,993 yards passing, 25 TDs, 11 INTs; 118 yards rushing, 2 TDs
2023 stats: 2,331 yards passing, 18 TDs, 5 INTs; 25 yards rushing, 0 TDs (8 games)

Running Backs

De'Von Achane, Miami Dolphins

Achane enjoyed a phenomenal rookie campaign, averaging 17.3 PPR fantasy points per game while establishing himself as the centerpiece of the Dolphins' running game for the foreseeable future. That's an important distinction, being that Raheem Mostert, who served in the starting role for much of 2023, enters this season 32 years old, meaning the sensible strategy would be for the Dolphins to begin shifting some of his duties in Achane's direction. Injuries are really the question -- Achane missed six games as a rookie -- but if he's able to stay on the field, he should breeze to 200 carries and 50 receptions. -- Cockcroft

Clay's 2024 projection: 739 yards rushing, 6 TDs; 47 receptions, 395 receiving yards, 3 TDs
2023 stats: 800 yards rushing, 8 TDs; 27 receptions, 197 yards, 3 TDs (11 games)

Aaron Jones, Minnesota Vikings

Jones spent much of last season hobbled by a hamstring injury that he suffered in Week 1. Given that the former Packer is on the wrong side of 27 years old, Clay's projection makes sense. Still, I think the chip on his shoulder, in combination with a relatively open backfield, should provide the 29-year-old with robust opportunities. The talent under center likely won't result in an explosive offense, but that should be offset by the field-stretching talents of receivers Justin Jefferson and Jordan Addison. Plus, if tight end T.J. Hockenson -- who tore an ACL late last year -- isn't ready to go in September, Jones could emerge as an early-season safety valve for whomever stars under center. -- Loza

Clay's 2024 projection: 766 yards rushing, 4 TDs; 43 receptions, 340 yards receiving, 2 TDs
2023 stats: 656 yards rushing, 2 TDs; 30 receptions, 233 yards receiving, 1 TD (11 games)

Saquon Barkley, Philadelphia Eagles

In his six pro seasons, Barkley has averaged 98.8 scrimmage yards per game, and now he gets to work behind an upgraded offensive front in Philadelphia. I expect the Eagles and new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore to scheme for Barkley as a dual-threat back, maximizing his explosive traits in the run game and as a receiving target. Look for Barkley to eclipse both his rushing and receiving projections. -- Bowen

Clay's 2024 projection: 1,046 yards rushing, 9 TDs; 46 receptions, 359 yards receiving, 2 TDs
2023 stats: 962 yards rushing, 6 TDs; 41 receptions, 280 yards receiving, 4 TDs (with Giants)

Zamir White, Las Vegas Raiders

White's fantasy outlook has improved following the departure of Josh Jacobs, who averaged 22.1 touches per game over the past two seasons. The Raiders signed Alexander Mattison, but I don't view him as a true threat to White. Head coach Antonio Pierce prioritized the running game once he took over, and White averaged over 23.3 touches and 15.2 fantasy points over the final four weeks of last season. When you combine all of these factors and a 2024 NFL draft class without elite running backs, the stage is set for White to exceed Clay's projection. -- Moody

Clay's 2024 projection: 869 yards rushing, 5 TDs; 35 receptions, 247 yards receiving, 1 TD
2023 stats: 451 yards rushing, 1 TD; 15 receptions, 98 yards, 0 TDs

Wide Receivers

Calvin Ridley, Tennessee Titans

Forget the ground game, these new-look Titans should be fast paced and flying high. With Brian Callahan calling the plays and Will Levis slinging the rock, Ridley figures to match the 1,000 yards he posted as a Jaguar in 2023. DeAndre Hopkins will certainly remain a focal point, but given the veteran receiver's predictable usage and durability issues, Ridley is likely to emerge as the team's target leader. While his production might not be consistent, his versatility makes him a WR2 for fantasy purposes. -- Loza

Clay's 2024 projection: 74 receptions, 986 yards receiving, 7 TDs; 20 yards rushing, 0 TDs
2023 stats: 76 receptions, 1,016 yards receiving, 8 TDs; 23 yards rushing, 0 TDs (with Jaguars)

Drake London, Falcons

To this point, London has shown fantasy managers only glimpses of what he's capable of. On a run-heavy Falcons team coached by Arthur Smith and with suboptimal quarterback play, he still finished with more than 1,200 air yards and 905 receiving yards (albeit with only two TD catches) last season. Now, London finds himself with upgrades to his head coach, offensive coordinator and at quarterback with Kirk Cousins, who led the league in on-target passes last season. London is firmly on the breakout radar and is well positioned to beat projections. -- Moody

Clay's 2024 projection: 84 receptions, 1,033 yards receiving, 7 TDs; 0 yards rushing, 0 TDs
2023 stats: 69 receptions, 905 yards receiving, 2 TDs; 0 yards rushing, 0 TDs

Jameson Williams, Detroit Lions

This could be a breakout season for Williams, who will see a bump in target volume. Williams has the third-level ability to stretch defenses down the field, and he can get loose after the catch. In Detroit's play-action based concepts, which can create both vertical matchups and open voids in the middle of the field, I expect Williams to eclipse his projected totals, posting more than 800 yards receiving. -- Bowen

Clay's 2024 projection: 47 receptions, 674 yards receiving, 4 TDs; 34 yards rushing, 0 TDs
2023 stats: 24 receptions, 354 yards receiving, 2 TDs; 29 yards receiving, 1 TD (12 games)

Tight Ends

Jake Ferguson, Dallas Cowboys

Ferguson logged 71 receptions for 761 yards last season in Dallas, displaying his seam-stretching ability and a rugged play style after the catch. He's a prime target in the middle of the field for quarterback Dak Prescott and an underneath outlet on boot/play-action. Given those numbers and his role in the Dallas route tree, I see Ferguson finishing with 75-80 receptions in 2024. -- Bowen

Clay's 2024 projection: 65 receptions, 670 yards receiving, 5 TDs
2023 stats: 71 receptions, 761 yards receiving, 5 TDs

Zach Ertz, Washington Commanders

Ertz, 33, is past his prime, but let us not forget his 47 catches for 406 yards and 4 touchdowns in only 10 games for the Cardinals in 2022. He produced with Kliff Kingsbury, and now they are reunited. I have a soft spot for Ertz, and nobody is calling him a top-10 fantasy tight end, but he can matter in deeper leagues as long as he is healthy and the quarterback is competent. Fifty catches are in play again! -- Karabell

Clay's 2024 projection: 40 receptions, 399 yards receiving, 3 TDs
2023 stats: 27 receptions, 187 yards receiving, 1 TD (7 games; with Cardinals)

Michael Mayer, Las Vegas Raiders

Sam LaPorta might have excelled as a rookie tight end, but he's the exception rather than the rule, as first-year tight ends more commonly endure the kind of struggles that Mayer did. Still, Mayer seemed to get more comfortable with each week, averaging 22 routes and four targets over his final nine games of 2023, and his Raiders vacated a fair amount of targets in the offseason (Josh Jacobs, Hunter Renfrow and Austin Hooper all left). I see Mayer exceeding 60 catches and 600 yards. -- Cockcroft

Clay's 2024 projection: 51 receptions, 545 receiving yards, 3 TDs
2023 stats: 27 receptions, 304 receiving yards, 2 TDs

Mike Gesicki, Cincinnati Bengals

There has yet to be a ROI on the measurables Gesicki wowed (and wooed) fantasy managers with back in 2018. His Griddy notwithstanding, the 28-year-old's raw talent remains hard to quit and could very well be uncapped in Cincinnati. The Bengals have been without an elite TE since Tyler Eifert departed after 2019. Tyler Boyd's exit also could make room for Gesicki's slot-esque skill set, creating an opportunity for the tight end to shine as the team's third receiving option. -- Loza

Clay's 2024 projection: 28 receptions, 286 yards receiving, 3 TDs
2023 stats: 29 receptions, 244 yards, 2 TDs (with Patriots)