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Breakout Candidates: Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

We continue our exploration into potential breakout candidates by looking at a few wide receivers and a couple of tight ends with a chance to become household names.  As I mentioned in the article on running backs, I’m not looking for extremely deep sleepers with slim chances to ever be relevant.  The goal is to find those players who have been benchwarmers in their careers, but now have a chance to provide starter value soon.  In other words, these are players whose value could dramatically outweigh their current cost as early as next season.

Wide Receivers

Vincent Brown, WR SD

Who is he?

Brown was the San Diego Chargers’ 82nd pick in the 2011 draft out of San Diego State.  Seeing limited playing time in his rookie year, he totaled 19 catches for 329 yards and two touchdowns.  He was viewed as a popular sleeper heading into the year until a preseason ankle fracture dashed any hopes for a breakout year.

What’s standing in his way?

A rapidly declining Philip Rivers could hamper the passing game in San Diego.  While he has always had an awkward throwing motion, this is the first season he frequently floated passes and was badly under throwing deep passes on a routinely.  Second, the presence of Danario Alexander could limit Brown’s target total.   Alexander’s knees are perhaps the shakiest in the NFL, but when he is healthy, there is no denying his talent.

Why could he have a breakout season?

He’s a very talented player on a team without a lot of wide receiver depth.  He tallied ten touchdowns and over 1,300 yards as a senior in college.  He displayed electric play making ability in the preseason prior to breaking his ankle.  There’s hope that a new coaching staff in San Diego will rejuvenate Philip Rivers.  If healthy, Brown is immediately the one of the most dangerous offensive weapons on the roster.

Greg Little, WR CLE

Who is he?

Drafted in the first round of most dynasty league rookie drafts in 2011, Greg Little has been a colossal disappointment.  He was picked by the Browns ahead of the aforementioned Vincent Brown thanks to his collegiate display of impressive open field play making ability and ideal build, as he stands 6’2’ and weighing 231 pounds.  He was selected as a raw talent, but he’s yet to flash any signs of development.

What’s standing in his way?

Little has dropped 23 passes in two seasons – that puts him behind only Brandon Marshall, Wes Welker and Victor Cruz for the most drops over the last two years, despite seeing far fewer targets.  Also, rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden struggled mightily in his debut season, completing just 57% of his passes with a 14/17 touchdown to interception ratio.  Selected in the second round of the 2012 supplemental draft, rookie Josh Gordon has overtaken Little as the primary receiver in Cleveland.  It’s fair to question if Little will have a place in an offense engineered by Norv Turner that will likely features tight ends and the power running game.

Why could he have a breakout season?

After dropping six passes in the first five games this year, he only dropped three more the remainder of the season.  Combined over the previous two seasons, 20 of his 23 drops occurred in the first 21 games with only three in the remaining 11.  Granted those numbers are far from exhilarating for disenfranchised owners, they do indicate some improvement in his focus.  He also struggled to make plays thought the first season and a half of his career.  However, over the final four games this seaso,n he started making plays by gaining between five and ten yards after the catch in all but one game.  The emergence of Gordon is a double edged sword as he will most likely see the majority of Weeden’s targets, but will also draw opposing defenses’ top corner.  Lastly, the addition of Rob Chudzinski as head coach and Norv Turner as offensive coordinator should result in progress in the passing game whether or not Weeden is the starter. Whether or not Little benefits from those coaching changes or not is difficult to project, but they certainly can’t hurt.

Joe Morgan, WR NO

Who is he?

Joe Morgan is a second year man signed as an undrafted free agent by the Saints in 2011.  His rookie season was cut short by a season ending knee injury early in the season.  Playing second fiddle to Devery Henderson this season, he made a name for himself as one of the league’s most dangerous deep threats.  He corralled just ten catches all year on a measly 19 targets, but turned those chances into 379 and three touchdowns.

What’s standing in his way?

Despite having the edge heading into next year, there is no guarantee he will have the WR3 role entirely to himself.  The Saints will get Nick Toon back following a rookie year that ended prematurely due to a foot injury.  Even if he does earn a prominent role on the offense he will still be no better than the third or forth option in the passing game behind tight end Jimmy Graham and wide receivers Marques Colston and Lance Moore.

Why could he have a breakout season?

While he will still have Marques Colston and Lance Moore ahead of him in the wide receiver pecking order, Devery Henderson is an unrestricted free agent heading into the off-season.  Fortunately, the Saints run a lot of three receiver sets.  Henderson played 720 snaps this season compared to just 390 for Morgan.  Also, this camp will be the first that he and Drew Brees will have a full summer to develop chemistry together.  Even the third wide receiver has value in an offense that has seen its quarterback throw for over 5,000 yards in five straight seasons. Just don’t say we never told you.

Tight Ends

Rob Housler, TE ARI

Who is he?

Rob Housler was a third round pick out of Florida Atlantic in the 2011 draft.  He stands at 6’5” and has good speed and a quick release making him an ideal pass catching tight end.  Now all he needs is a quarterback who can throw passes.  He has struggled as a run blocker, but is a capable in pass protection.  He caught 69% of his passes and considering the junior varsity quarterbacks throwing him the ball that is truly remarkable.

Why could he have a breakout season?

Opportunity is knocking for him.  He is clearly the most talented tight end in Arizona.  New Cardinals GM Steve Keim believes Housler creates mismatches all over the field and is a star in the making.  The Colts’ duo of rookie tight ends, Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener, combined for almost 900 yards and five touchdowns in 2012 playing under newly minted Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians.  Arians won’t have Andrew Luck to lead the offense, but it’s a given they’ll bring in more competition hopefully leading to better quarterback play in the desert next year.  It can’t be worse, right?

What’s standing in his way?

I played high school basketball for a tiny private school on a team with seven total players.  Three of our players were actually middle school students, but we needed them to fill the roster.  They couldn’t have been more than five feet tall.  They tried hard, but they didn’t belong on the court with the six and a half footers we were playing against most of the time.  That is basically how I feel about Ryan Lindley, Kevin Kolb and John Skelton.  Not one single player on the Cardinals’ roster is a safe bet unless the quarterback play improves.

Jordan Cameron, TE CLE

Who is he?

Selected by the Cleveland Browns in the fourth round of the 2011 draft, Jordan Cameron is another tight end of the athletic, former basketball player mold.  While he was originally picked as a developmental player and buried on the depth chart behind Benjamin Watson and Evan Moore, he is likely to find himself in a prominent role next season.  He stands six feet five inches tall and weighs 250 pounds while possessing adequate athletic ability.

What’s standing in his way?

As our own Tim Stafford noted in his January 21st mailbag responses, there are two big questions facing Cameron.  First and foremost, will the Browns bring in competition via trade or the draft? The upcoming draft class has some intriguing options at the TE position including Zach Ertz (Stanford) and Tyler Eifert (Notre Dame).  Secondly, even if truly elite options are not brought in, can the quarterback play sustain a fantasy relevant tight end?  Cleveland’s passing game has some good things going for it with the new coaching staff and the emergence of Josh Gordon. However, Trent Richardson is still going to be the premier option moving forward. 

Why could he have a breakout season?

Several signs point towards a breakout season in 2013.  First, Evan Moore is no longer on the roster after being signed by Seattle and eventually ending up a reserve in Philadelphia.  This season’s starter, Benjamin Watson, will be an unrestricted free agent heading into the off-season and is unlikely to be back.  Interestingly, new head coach Rob Chudzinski started his NFL coaching career as a tight ends coach in Cleveland before spending several years in the same role coaching Antonio Gates in San Diego.  In addition to his extensive tight end coaching history, he has done well getting Cam Newton to look Greg Olsen’s way more in Carolina.  Lastly, new offensive coordinator Norv Turner has proven mediocre as a Head Coach, but has led several years of explosive vertical offenses throughout the course of his career.  Exciting physical ability, improved coaching and the potential growth of Weeden create a potential perfect storm for a breakthrough season, but watch the NFL draft closely.

I didn’t list every name that comes to mind, but the ones I felt had the best chance or had the best potential production to current cost ratio.  Who are you rooting for to break out next season?

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wheelholder
9 years ago

you have two cleveland players listed here. i like them both and i do have a way of getting either this of season. which one do you think has the most potential, or does the answer lie within the cost of ownership. cameron is a free agent thus costing a draft pick. little has been offered to me along with the 1.5 for bryce brown.

Reply to  wheelholder
9 years ago

I would take Little and the 1.5 for Brown in a heartbeat. Little is just now getting into his third year, and for those who have already dismissed him, his rookie numbers were eerily similar to those of Kendall Wright. I’m not sold on Brown as anything better than a Bernard Pierce role next year (and subsequent years), so the 1.5 is the cherry on top.

Mark Rockwell
Reply to  Eric Hardter
9 years ago

Yeah as I was making this list I realized it was a long shot both happen. I like Cameron a lot but have been hearing they may draft a TE. Little on the other hand I’m more excited about. I think he has a chance to be a valuable asset with even average qb play. I wouldn’t give up much for Cameron, but maybe try to get him as a throw in or grab him of waivers. Little I’d give up more for. He’s still a question mark, but has all the size and ability you could ask for. If you have the rb depth, I’d do that deal, but maybe try for a 2014 1st instead.

Rich Smudz
Reply to  Mark Rockwell
9 years ago

I would be very surprised if the Browns got Ertz or Eifert. They have the 6th pick and no second rounder. Switching to a 3-4 defense leaves a HUGE need for rushing OLB’s… They can move Jabaal Sheard to OLB but I would expect them to take Mingo and retain Alex Smith (TE) as the back-up more blocking focused tight end.

Mark Rockwell
Reply to  Rich Smudz
9 years ago

Thanks for the insight Rich! I hope you’re right. I’d like to see Cameron get a shot.

wheelholder
Reply to  Mark Rockwell
9 years ago

you mentioned the 2014 pick,,,, i am not in love with this years draft for the offensive side of the ball,,, any opinions on the 2014 offensive draft class

Mark Rockwell
Reply to  wheelholder
9 years ago

Really too soon to say and every year people talk about the next years class as the best ever. With that said I think of players like WR M. Lee and Sammy Watkins at Clemson. There are some difference makers in this class. Either of those guys would be the top pick in this draft IMO.

Frank The Tank
9 years ago

Pretty happy about my Paris Lenon for V. Brown trade more and more these days.

Ryan Brown
9 years ago

What are your thoughts on a solid season coming from the former DE Taylor Thompson with the possible departure of Jared Cook in Tenn?

Mark Rockwell
Reply to  Ryan Brown
9 years ago

Actually wanted to put him on the list, but at about 2000 words I had to stop somewhere. I think he has the build, speed and athleticism to be great. If cook does go, Thompson (arguably) moves to the top of the list.

Kent McClanahan
9 years ago

Any thoughts on Charles Clay? Fasano was highly targeting in Miami but is a free agent. Clay seemed to be taking minutes later in the season and only converted to playing TE two years ago after being drafted as a DE. I have been stashing him on some of my rosters and think that he could get an opportunity in the youth movement in Miami.

Mark Rockwell
Reply to  Kent McClanahan
9 years ago

Depends on who you talk to. I’ve seen smart people compare his upside to D. Walker. I’ve seen other people who think he could be a top tier option. All I read during the preseason was how gifted he was and how he looked like one of the best offensive players. Then the season started and the coaches were frustrated by his lack of mental focus. I’m ready to call it quits on him, but he really needs to show something. while they’re both (Fasano/Clay) listed as TEs, they play different roles. Fasano is more of an inline TE while Clay is you’re move tight end. They may try to make Clay a jack of all trades or they may bring in another option to fill Fasano’s role. More questions than answers.

George Najm
9 years ago

Jordan Cameron – Fool me once, shame on you.. fool me twice shame on me.. fool me three times.. well… maybe I’m just a sucker…

gond13
9 years ago

Sorry but i’m not drinking the kool-aid on Greg Little. It is very rare that a colossal disappointment turns it around. There used to be a time when rookies were not expected to contribute for 3 years. Now with the impact that we are seeing rookies have for their teams I think the rule of thumb is that if a rookie hasn’t figured it out in 3 years he never will. When someone shows you who they are….believe them.

Mark Rockwell
Reply to  gond13
9 years ago

Not a bad rule John…Thanks for reading. My only real argument for him is hopefully improving QB play and that he seems to have improved his ability to catch the football recently, but you have just as good a chance at being right as me.

James Young
9 years ago

Titus Young should be on this list. Opportunity, average QB, focused Coaching and a mental turnaround could easily lead to a 900-1000 yrd season. Hes obv talented, hes just a screwball.

Same goes for AJ Jenkins. He needs to be here. How much talent that guy has is unreal. But for whatever reason hes pined away on the bench the entire year. I havent heard any bad news about his practicing and plus hes headed down with Kaep to work on some routs this spring. Add in the fact all other SF receivers except Crabtree and ACL tears Manningham and Williams are headed out of town, what else could u ask for.

Honestly i dont see anyone on here whos starting material on my roster. At least both of these guys have a chance to ascend fairly easily and quickly to starter/bye week material. If your talking WR5/6 with upside, here u go..

Reply to  James Young
9 years ago

I get your point about Young, but the Rams were the ONLY team to put a waiver claim on him! That goes to show you how he’s currently viewed amongst the NFL community. I think you’re underselling his propensity for being a knucklehead, and his potential is definitely lowered with Bradford at QB instead of Stafford.

As for Jenkins, if he was that talented, why didn’t he play this year? Crabtree is a legit, but the 49ers other WR’s were the pedestrian Manningham, ancient Moss, and one-trick ponies in Kyle Williams and Ted Ginn Jr. I’m not saying he lacks upside, but he had one target this year….and dropped it. I’d much rather have the WR’s listed here than Jenkins…

Adam Franssen
Reply to  James Young
9 years ago

I would like to see an article on AJ Jenkins. What is the deal there? Crowded WR house? Mental issues? He was a guy we all wanted during the draft…

James Young
9 years ago

V.Brown missed his chance last year. Everything was lined up perfectly: Same offense/playbook for another year, void at the team’s WR1 slot, reported dynamic ability in the off-season, high coaches praise… and then he freak breaks his leg.

Dude, the ship may have passed on him. I’d still love him if he’d came back at all last year to get a good look at his injury progress. But now his leg is still a question mark. I want to see him have some good practice reports before I invest (A LOT of folks are still plenty high on him). Not to mention said void could have already been filled by Darnario. Also, although highly unlikely, new coaching staff may even try to figure out ways to use Meachem (if hes not cut).

Could be dicey. I’d like some good news first. I do like his pre-injury talent tho. hopefully thats still him.

James Young
9 years ago

Also, again not to be nitpicky…

But even if you hate my two guys of Young, Jenkins… there still should be a spot for Emanuel Sanders.

Hes practically being handed the starting role in a good offensive situation. Hes healthy, been in the offense before and there is likely no one else to turn to but him. Hes been a bench-warmer… Honestly, hes tailor made for this list. I see no argument of not at least some mention of him here.

Mark Rockwell
Reply to  James Young
9 years ago

Not that I disagree with any of your other ideas (Young, Jenkins or even Sanders). However, if Brown lost his chance can’t you say the same for Sanders. He had lots of chances in Pittsburgh with Wallace’s post lock out slow start or back when Ward retired. He’s had his chances and has been decent, but not great. Does he have a shot? Sure, but no better than Brown.

David Spinks
9 years ago

AJ Jenkins is talented. He didn’t play this year because he was extremely raw, and was reportedly lost when training camp started. If I remember correctly he didn’t show up in NFL shape and was overwhelmed by the playbook.
This redshirt season seems to have lit a fire underneath him after reading his comments about this off season and what he needs to do to be the player the Niners expected him to be when they drafted him in the first. More thank anything else, I trust Trent Baalke’s ability to draft and Harbaugh’s ability to put players in a position to produce.

Johnny D
9 years ago

Good article & insights. Love the outside of the box thinking. Fringe upside players who could explode are what dynasty FF is all about. Having said that, I snagged Cameron Jordan late in the year, hoping he gets a better coaching staff for next year, less competition and a legit shot. So far 2 out of 3 have happened. I can’t help but wonder,though, why he hasn’t produced more with his opportunities over his first 2 years. He does have the physical talent. Here’s to hoping for a 3rd year breakout

Mark Rockwell
Reply to  Johnny D
9 years ago

Playing behind Ben Watson in 2012 he only played 338 snaps (36.3%). He didn’t get a lot of opportunities. With that said I’ll acknowledge that Watson is no Gronk, so if he was progressing well he should’ve earned more playing time. I hope I’m right, but only time will tell.

Adam Franssen
9 years ago

Perhaps I’m quibbling here, but fantasy owners have not been deprived the right to vote.

In the sentence on Greg Little, “Granted those numbers are far from exhilarating for disenfranchised owners…”, I think you mean “disENCHANTED”.

It’s nice to read that others are suckers for Little too. I don’t know what my problem is, but I think he’s got a shot to turn things around. And besides, he’s dirt cheap to acquire.

Mark Rockwell
Reply to  Adam Franssen
9 years ago

Yeah disenchanted would be better, but another meaning would be marginalized or deprived of power. You could make a case that those owners who spent a first round pick on them have been weakened? A stretch maybe, but you’re right disappointed would’ve made better sense.

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