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Third Year Wide Receiver Breakdown

They say the wide receiver position is the single most difficult position to learn in the NFL, outside of the quarterback. As a result, many fantasy owners draft shiny new rookies, only to see them on the sidelines or underperforming their likely unrealistic expectations during the start of their careers.

For many wideouts, their third year production is a key barometer in forecasting their future production. After all, the “light goes on” for many of these players during their third season and that’s where we’ve historically seen the most common breakouts.

With this idea in mind, this Premium Content installment takes a look back at the third year wide receivers of last season to grade their progress and assess their future value. In addition, we’ll take a look to the future at this season’s group of players entering their third year in the league and discuss how they’re progressing in relation to their fantasy value.

Last Year’s Group

Danny Amendola, WR STL

Amendola was fantastic in 2010, catching 85 passes for 689 yards and scoring three times. Unfortunately, a torn triceps muscle ended his season after just one game in 2011. Amendola is a restricted free agent at this point, but it looks like the Rams will match any reasonable offer.

What we’ve seen so far of Amendola has been pretty positive. He lacks any type of game breaking ability, but he has shown he can at least get open and be a nice asset in PPR leagues. This next season will be pivotal for him in his development.

GRADE: B+
OUTLOOK: 
Could be a WR2 in a PPR league, but is likely no better than a future WR3.

Ramses Barden, NYG

It seems like every New York wide receiver has broken out, but Barden is proof that’s not true. In his three years, he’s only posted 15 total catches for 174 yards. It seems like Barden is a hot topic entering every season, but has had his share of setbacks, including a broken ankle.

Barden gets a little bit of a boost with Mario Manningham signing in San Francisco, but he’ll still need to beat out Jerrel Jernigan for playing time behind Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz.

GRADE: D+
OUTLOOK: 
Barden could develop into a red zone target, but there are likely better flyers on your waiver wire.

Kenny Britt, TEN

Britt was about to become the poster child for the third year breakout until a torn ACL did in his season after just three weeks. Still, he did post 17 catches for 289 yards and three scores in just three games.

There is risk with Britt in regards not only to his recovery, but for his off the field behavior as well. The last thing anybody needed with Britt last season was to see him have some free time. To his credit, it’s been pretty quiet thus far. He’s now married and from all reports, he seems to have finally settled down. His owners have to be crossing their fingers it’s true because he has simply looked dominant when everything is going for him.

Time will tell.

GRADE: A-
OUTLOOK: 
Future WR1 or inmate

Deon Butler, SEA

We’re starting to see a theme developing with injuries here, eh? Butler is still recovering from a brutal leg injury suffered in December of 2010 – one that had his teammates quoted as saying, “something was sticking out of his leg.” Ouch. He was able to land on the PUP list for most of last year, thus salvaging a roster spot.

Going into 2012, the future of Butler is pretty murky. He’s shown some ability, but there are no guarantees he’ll make the team in 2012. If he can show he’s healthy and fully recovered, there could be some upside here.

GRADE: C-
OUTLOOK: Seems to be roster worthy in deep leagues, but the shine is fading quickly.

Austin Collie, IND

The most important number for Collie last year was 16 – that was the number of games he played in. While that wouldn’t be so significant to some others, it was big for him since he has a history of nasty concussions. And when I say nasty, I mean NASTY.

Collie’s production wasn’t great last year as he posted 54 catches for 514 yards and one score. On the bright side, Collie was able to post 9 catches for 96 yards and his lone score during the last week of the season, ending it on a high note. Considering the quarterback play of the Colts in 2011, it’s hard to fault Collie for having a bit of a down season.

While the concussions are always going to be a concern, the Colts lost Pierre Garcon in the offseason. With Garcon out of the picture, Collie will likely be the starter opposite Reggie Wayne as the Colts open the season.

Grade: B
Outlook: Could be a WR3 based on Andrew Luck’s development.

Quan Cosby, IND

Cosby hasn’t developed into anything more than a special teams player, and he’s a fringe one at best.

Grade: D-
Outlook: Not worthy of a roster spot.

Michael Crabtree, SF

This is a big year for Crabtree.

While he’s increased his receptions and yards in each of his three seasons, it still seems like there’s something missing and he hasn’t looked the part of anything close to a WR1. With Randy Moss and Mario Manningham joining the squad, it’s going to be interesting to see just how he’s used.

The problem for Crabtree is also the offense itself. The 49ers finished 29th in passing offense in 2011, averaging only 183 passing yards per game. If Alex Smith isn’t asked to do more, there just aren’t a lot of yards to go around to all the players on the roster.

Grade: B
Outlook: Could be a future WR2, but is best served as a WR3 at the moment.

Jarett Dillard, JAX

The Jaguars had arguably the worst set of receivers in football last year, and unfortunately, Dillard still wasn’t able to break through and make many people question that fact. He was a nice sleeper a couple of years ago, especially after posting a monster college career, but he’s been pretty slow to develop. He was able to record 29 catches for 292 yards and one touchdown, but he was barely a blip on the fantasy radar.

It’s hard to see Dillard breaking through at this point.

Grade: D+
Outlook: Not worthy of a roster spot.

Harry Douglas, ATL

It seems Douglas is always good for one highlight reel play or game each season. He’s also seemingly good for long stretches of total mediocrity that follows. Douglas re-signing in Atlanta solidifies his role as a third or fourth option on offense. He’s likely going to be good for 400-500 yards and a score or two each season. It’s highly doubtful he’d be a viable long-term replacement for Roddy White and he’s certainly no threat to Julio Jones’ targets.

Grade: C-
Outlook: Only worth of a roster spot in a deep, deep league as a WR5 or so.

Brandon Gibson, STL

Gibson was a bit of a sleeper coming out of Washington State, but he just hasn’t developed. His three year numbers aren’t awful (123 catches, 1,399 yards, four touchdowns), but you get the feeling that’s more a product of just how bad the Rams have been at receiver. His career may be a short one.

Grade: C-
Outlook: Not worthy of a roster spot.

Brian Hartline, MIA

Hartline was a popular sleeper going into 2011, based on his 2010 campaign that featured him catching 43 passes for 615 yards and a touchdown in just 12 games. Unfortunately, both his receptions and yards took a downturn.

The Dolphins have traded away Brandon Marshall, so the depth chart seems to be wide open. With Clyde Gates, Legedu Naanee and Davone Bess to battle, there’s still some upside with Hartline as a potential spot play in a deeper PPR league.

Grade: B-
Outlook: A possible WR4 with some upside

Percy Harvin, MIN

When Harvin was drafted by the Vikings, there seemed to be lots and lots of questions.

He’s answered all of them.

Simply put, Harvin is one of the most dynamic players in football. His ability to run and catch are tough to match by any other player in the league. In his three years, he’s posted 218 catches, 2,625 receiving yards and seventeen scores. When you throw in his 587 rushing yards and three more touchdowns, along with his special teams ability, you have fantasy’s ultimate swiss army knife.

There are still some concerns regarding Harvin’s issues with migraines, but the positives outweigh the negatives after he made it through the season healthy.

Grade: A
Outlook: A low-end WR1 in deep leagues and a solid WR2 in others

Darrius Heyward-Bey, OAK

DHB seems to be the poster child for the concept behind the third year breakout. After looking like a classic Al Davis combine wonder bust, Heyward-Bey rebounded for a nice season in 2011 that featured 64 catches for 975 yards and four touchdowns. His breakout was rather shocking considering how inept he looked going into the year.

The Raiders receiving corps is one of the most difficult to project going into the season. You could make a case for Denarius Moore, Heyward-Bey or Jacoby Ford being the most valuable. While my money is put squarely on Moore, it’s really too tough to call, especially prior to the draft. Regardless, Carson Palmer has added an element of legitimacy to the Oakland wideouts, so this year will be key in their development.

Grade: B-
Outlook: Best served as a WR4 or Wr5 with some upside

Johnny Knox, CHI

Knox put together a nice 2010 campaign that saw him nearly become the first 1,000 yard receiver for the Bears since Marty Booker in 2002. His 960 yards and 51 catches gave hope to his owners going into last season.

Sigh.

A back injury has sidelined Knox indefinitely as he was forced to have surgery to stabilize his vertebra after being injured during play last season. At this point, the future is very cloudy for Knox. While his recovery is said to be going well, back injuries are nothing to sneeze at and it’s been suggested that he may miss the entire 2012 season.

Grade: C-
Outlook: Barely holding on to a roster spot

Jeremy Maclin, PHI

Maclin’s 2011 season was nothing short of a mess. After battling a mono-like illness that had doctors testing him for lymphoma, he battled hamstring and shoulder injuries throughout the season, limiting his effectiveness. It’s actually a tribute to Maclin that he was able to catch 63 passes for 859 yards and score five touchdowns on the year with everything he had to endure.

This year should produce the breakout we’ve been looking for from Maclin. He’s going to be the Eagles number one option in the receiving game (sorry DeSean), and sits poised to make good on his enormous potential.

Grade: A-
Outlook: Solid WR2, with WR1 potential

Mohamed Massaquoi, CLE

Massaquoi has seemingly been a sleeper every year, but he’s yet to make good on his opportunities. At this point, he looks very pedestrian and the chances of him emerging as a viable contributor in fantasy or reality are fading quickly.

Grade: D
Outlook: Not worthy of a roster spot

Louis Murphy, OAK

At one point, Murphy looked like a nice young player who could develop into a good dynasty league stash. After all his rookie season yielded 521 yards and four scores.

That seems like a long time ago.

Murphy was limited to 11 games by a groin injury and caught just 15 passes for 241 yards during the year. With DHB, Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore all ahead of him on the depth chart, it’s hard to see him making any type of impact.

Grade: C-
Outlook: Not worthy of a roster spot in shallow leagues.

Hakeem Nicks, NYG

Nicks has delivered for his owners time and time again, when healthy. In his 32 career games for the Giants, Nicks has delivered 202 catches, 3,034 yards and 24 touchdowns. He even comes off a Super Bowl win where caught ten passes for 109 yards.

Not bad.

While Victor Cruz commands a lot of attention from Eli Manning, there’s little doubt that Nicks is the best weapon the Giants have on offense. Of all the third year receivers from last year, Nicks has shown the best combination of upside versus risk. Simply put, he’s a safe bet to be a WR1 for a long, long time.

Grade: A
Outlook: WR1, with the potential to be in the top 3 in any given year.

Kevin Ogletree, DAL

Ogletree is yet another player who finds himself on deep sleeper lists every season and never seems to deliver. After Miles Austin was hurt last year, it was Laurent Robinson, not Ogletree who took advantage.

The Cowboys seem to like him, but we’ve yet to see anything tangible translate to the playing field. With Robinson off to Jacksonville, Ogletree may have one more chance to nail down the third receiver job in Dallas, pending what the Cowboys do in the draft.

There aren’t too many offenses who would merit rostering a player who would be the team’s fourth option, but Robinson showed Dallas is one of them.

Grade: C-
Outlook: Worth a roster spot as a flyer at the moment, but droppable if Dallas adds a wideout in the draft.

Brian Robiskie, JAX

Robiskie came in with the right pedigree (his Father is a Coach in the NFL), but he just doesn’t have enough talent to stick and has already been jettisoned by the team who drafted him in Cleveland.

Grade: F
Outlook: Not worthy of a roster spot

Sammie Stroughter, TB

Stroughter was another player many thought could break out in 2011. With the emergence of Preston Parker, it just didn’t happen. After a lot of preaseason hype, he was only able to muster four catches and 52 yards, while battling a foot injury.

Yuck.

Grade: D-
Outlook: Not worthy of a roster spot

Brandon Tate, CIN

Of all the players who disappointed owners over the last three seasons, Tate is at the top of the list. Once being billed as the replacement for Randy Moss in New England, Tate now finds himself strictly a special teams player. It’s amazing to think it was Tate, not Hakeem Nicks, who was once the more highly regarded pro prospect at the University of North Carolina.

Grade: D-
Outlook: Not worthy of a roster spot

Mike Thomas, JAX

Talk about a buzzkill!

Thomas entered the season being looked at as a possible WR2 in PPR leagues. After all, he was poised to be the number one target in Jacksonville and had proven that he could be a volume catcher in the league. His 44 catches, 415 yards and one touchdown left owners scratching their heads.

Sure, Blaine Gabbert wasn’t great. However, Thomas proved he’s not worthy of being a significant weapon in reality or fantasy. After starting every game, he wasn’t able to surpass 73 yards in any one of them and actually averaged just 26 yards per game, despite having a catch in all sixteen.

Ouch.

Grade: C-
Outlook: Barely hanging on to a roster spot

Mike Wallace, PIT

Wallace burst on to the scene as a rookie, with a very respectable 756 yards on just 39 catches, good for a yards per catch average of 19.4.

That was just the beginning.

His next two seasons tallied a total of 132 catches, 2,450 yards and 18 touchdowns, emerging as possibly the best deep threat in football, outside of Calvin Johnson. Pittsburgh has an absolute steal in Wallace, who was amazingly drafted in the third round.

Wallace had the opportunity to sign an offer sheet during the free agent period, but teams strayed away, knowing the Steelers would just match any offer they made. Eventually, the Steelers should lock up Wallace long term and cement his place among the league’s best receivers.

You’d like to see him catch a few more passes and a few more touchdowns, but that’s just being picky.

Grade: A
Outlook: Low-end WR1, with the chance of landing in the top 5 in any given year, especially in non-PPR leagues.

This Year’s Group

There are a bunch of talented receivers who we’ll be hoping for big things from in 2012. Some of have already shown us they have major potential, while others will see 2012 as being pivotal for their future success in both reality and fantasy.

Danario Alexander, STL

You have to love this kid’s heart, courage and will. You also have to hate his knees. Alexander enters 2012 as a supremely talented receiver, but one who has a very difficult time staying on the field due to his constant struggles with his knees.

DX has shown ability, but has also shown the tendency to drop some passes. The Rams will no doubt upgrade the receiver position in the draft, but Alexander is still on the radar at the moment.

Arrelious Benn, TB

The addition of Vincent Jackson is going to limit Benn’s opportunities. It’s really too bad he tore his ACL so early in his career because he had shown a lot of promise in his rookie season. He attempted to come back strong last year, but was only able to post 30 catches for 441 yards and three touchdowns in 14 games.

Benn still has a lot of ability, but the chance of his breakout coming now are really dwindling. If Mike Williams continues to struggle, he’ll get some chances. However, it’s just tough to see him being a viable weapon in fantasy any time soon.

Dezmon Briscoe, TB

Briscoe finds himself in the same spot as Benn – the Tampa Bay sidelines. Briscoe actually outplayed Benn for much of last year, recording 35 catches for 387 yards and six touchdowns. However, with Benn, Williams AND Jackson ahead of him on the depth chart, Briscoe is going to have a very tough hill to climb to find any type of fantasy relevance.

Antonio Brown, PIT

On occasion, a player will play so well in his second season that the third year breakout seems like total nonsense.

Enter Antonio Brown.

Brown was a playoff hero during his rookie season, then simply blew up last year. Everyone knew Mike Wallace was great, but the emergence of Brown was a sight to see. The former Central Michigan star was a fantasy revelation last year when he was able to record 69 catches for 1,108 yards and two scores.

Make no mistake, Brown is here to stay. Hines Ward is out of the picture and he still has to battle Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders for targets, but Brown looks the part of a possible WR2, with a lot of upside.

Dez Bryant, DAL

Where do you even start?

On one hand, Bryant has shown elite ability and athletic prowess you simply cannot coach. He came very close to his first 1,000 yard season last year, despite missing one game and increased his touchdowns from six to nine last year as well. He can make a tough catch in traffic and is one of the toughest receivers in football to get to the ground.

On the other, you feel like Bryant hasn’t come close reaching his full potential. He’s shown his immaturity at times and has yet to show the focus and work ethic the truly great receivers seem to have.  He has a nasty habit of disappearing for incredibly long stretches of games.

This year is huge for Dez. Will he finally become the elite receiver his owners have been hoping for? Will he surpass Miles Austin and Jason Witten as THE top target in Dallas? Will he finally grow up enough to be counted on each and every week?

The questions with Dez are plenty. This year will go a long way in showing us if he can ever be more than a WR2 in dynasty leagues.

Eric Decker, DEN

Very rarely is the hype train moving at such a rapid pace of a player who just came off a season with 44 catches and 612 yards.

Hello Peyton Manning!

Decker is going to be squarely on top of virtually every sleeper list across the web. We at DLF focus more on the real sleepers than mainstream players like Decker because our followers are simply a little too good for anything else (we’ll be focusing on 32 sleepers this Summer exclusively for all of you premium content members). Regardless, Decker is a prime candidate for a breakout season with Manning in tow.

While Demaryius Thomas is undoubtedly going to be the first option for Manning, Decker has the ability and the quarterback to post some very impressive numbers.

Of all the players on this list, there aren’t many who we’re more excited to see produce than Decker.

Marcus Easley, BUF

Easley has been a favorite around these parts for the past two seasons. Unfortunately, his second season ended the same way his first did, with  no games played and a trip to the injured reserve list. After knee surgery in 2010, he was out all last year because of a heart ailment.

The Bills have liked what they’ve seen from Easley in camp both years, but he has an uphill climb to make a difference any time soon. One saving grace for Easley is the lack of quality depth at receiver for the Bills.

Regardless, he’s worth monitoring again this Summer.

Jacoby Ford, OAK

Ford had a great rookie season, exploding late in 2010 by posting 470 yards with most in the final month. He took a step back last year as Denarius Moore started to emerge. Couple that with the sudden productivity of Darrius Heyward-Bey and a foot injury and it really wasn’t the best Sophomore campaign for Ford.

He’ll likely enter the season with both Moore and DHB ahead of him on the depth chart, thus limiting his chances. While he still has a lot of value in leagues that reward return yardage, Ford has a lot of ground to make up if he’s going to be an impact player for the Raiders or in dynasty leagues.

David Gettis, CAR

Gettis was solid as a rookie with 508 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Like so many others on this list, injuries hit him last season as a torn ACL derailed a strong camp and preseason.

Before he got hurt, Gettis was playing ahead of Brandon LaFell on the depth chart. He was poised to start opposite Steve Smith and one has to wonder what kind of numbers he could have put up with Cam Newton at the helm.

The Panthers haven’t done much pre-draft to address the wide receiver position, so Gettis will be squarely in the mix during camp, pending the Panthers draft results. He seems to be a forgotten man in many dynasty leagues, but he shouldn’t be disregarded so quickly.

Brandon LaFell, CAR

The aforementioned David Gettis went down early in the year, leaving the door wide open for LaFell to produce last year.

The results were mixed.

The numbers weren’t awful (36 catches for 613 yards and three touchdowns), but he just didn’t develop as fast as the Panthers were hoping. He did emerge as a bit of a deep threat, but LaFell just lacked consistency and had a hard time beating out Legedu Naanee for playing time.

This is a very big year for LaFell. If the light doesn’t go on this season, we’re likely looking at someone who will be waiver wire fodder at this time next season.

Taylor Price, JAX

Price was a popular late round grab in leagues the past two seasons, but he’s really fizzled. In fact, the Patriots cut him last season after he failed to make any type of an impact. The Jaguars picked him up off waivers, but he didn’t produce much for them, either.

When you can’t climb the depth chart in Jacksonville, it doesn’t bode well for your career.

Andre Roberts ARI

We’ve been looking for a receiver to step up for the Cardinals opposite Larry Fitzgerald for years. Early Doucet, Stephen Williams, Roberts and others have all had their shot at replacing the departed Anquan Boldin, but none have really emerged into anything reliable in fantasy or reality.

Roberts looks like our best hope yet. His 51/586/2 line from last season was respectable and he showed flashes of some real ability. Owners of Fitzgerald have to hope he continues to progress and can take some of the defensive heat away from him.

Like so many on this list, 2012 is huge for Roberts.

Emmanuel Sanders, PIT

Lost in the emergence of Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown is the presence of  Sanders.

With Ben Roethlisberger still in his prime, each of the Steeler receivers will have their opportunities. With touchdowns so hard to predict, it’s hard to say exactly who will lead the team in scoring. While Wallace and Brown seem to have higher upside, Sanders shouldn’t be forgotten.

Jordan Shipley, CIN

Shipley had a surprisingly solid rookie year in 2010 with 52 catches for 600 yards and three touchdowns. Going into 2011, there was a lot of hope for him, especially in PPR leagues.

Guess what happened?

This list seems to be littered with injuries and Shipley joins it with a torn ACL suffered last year. It’s a little more concerning with him because this is his second torn ACL (though the other was on a different knee).

Going into 2012, Shipley is projected to be the slot receiver in Cincinnati. If he can regain the form he had in 2010, he could be a very good asset, especially in PPR leagues.

Golden Tate, SEA

Tate looked lost in his first season with the Seahawks, but really started to emerge late in 2011. While his two year totals aren’t mind boggling (56/609/3), you can see him making progress.

What works in Tate’s favor is the lack of depth with Seattle. It’s very tough to know what to expect from Sidney Rice and Mike Williams took a major step back last year. If Tate can continue his progression, he could work himself into WR3 status, especially if Matt Flynn can develop quickly and jump start an anemic passing game.

Demaryius Thomas, DEN

Much will be expected from Thomas next year as Peyton Manning takes the helm. Owning Thomas has provided quite the ride over the past two years. After being taken over Dez Bryant in the draft, Thomas looked pretty good until tearing his Achilles tendon. To his credit, he’s one of a very short list of players who were ever able to come back from that type of an injury.

Thomas was great over his last seven games. In fact, if you were to multiply them over a full season, he would have been a top three fantasy receiver in 2011 in many leagues.

There are health concerns with Thomas, as he’s dealt with that Achilles tear, but also a foot injury and a broken finger already. If he can stay healthy over a full 16 games, we could be looking at a future WR1 as soon as this season.

Damian Williams, TEN

Williams took a big step forward for the Titans last year as he posted 45 catches for 592 yards and added five touchdowns. Much of his damage took place after Kenny Britt was injured, but Williams showed he had the ability to be a legitimate NFL receiver.

The trouble Williams will have is in relation to targets. With Britt coming back and Nate Washington still in the mix, Williams isn’t exactly going to have a lot plays drawn up for him. Add into that the emergence of Jared Cook and you’re simply looking at too many mouths to feed for new quarterback Jake Locker.

There’s no doubt that Williams has potential – let’s just see if he can muster enough attention to remain relevant in fantasy leagues this season.

Mike Williams, TB

Much has and will be written about Tampa Mike. When he arrived after being drafted, he impressed the coaches to no end and followed up the hype with a Randy Moss-like rookie season that featured 65 catches, 964 yards and 11 touchdowns.

It goes down from there.

Last year was a disaster for the Bucs offense, most notably Josh Freeman and Williams. While his 65 catches stayed the same, his 771 yards and three touchdowns were a big step down.

With Vincent Jackson in town, the future of Williams is very, very cloudy. Thoughts of him being a future WR1 are starting to give way to hope that he can be a future WR2.

You could make a case that this next season is pivotal for every player on this list, but it’s hard to say any of them need a bounce back campaign more than Williams.

Make sure to check out all the initial premium content:

Pre-Draft Rookie Rankings with Extended Commentary
Pre-Draft Rookie Tiers
Extended interview with Matt Waldman
Free Agency Winners
Free Agency Losers


Ken Kelly
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superman13732
10 years ago

Great article! As a Victor Cruz owner I would be interested to hear your thoughts on him heading into his third year. Do you think last year was an anomaly? Repeatable?

kc1919
10 years ago

Donald Jones Buf WR: Is not really worthy for what you are doing here, but in all honesty he has the skill set if healthy to be a V Cruz type. His agility and strength/speed ranks off the charts. Just a thought…

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