One of the many rules of thumb in fantasy football is to make sure you are fully aware of the many receivers entering their third year of play. The reason for this is because the third year of play often becomes the player’s potential “breakout” season.
One shining example of this theory is Minnesota Vikings receiver Percy Harvin, who broke out last season—with a rookie quarterback, mind you—posting career numbers in catches (87), yards (967) while tying his record in TDs (6) from his rookie campaign back in 2009.
This theory does, however, come with its fair share of risk involved.
One example that many fantasy owners still seer over is Tennessee Titans WR Kenny Britt, who tore his ACL and MCL in his third year of play (2011) after only three games. Britt had already caught 17 balls for 289 yards and three touchdowns before going down, which prorates out to roughly 90 catches for 1,538 yards and 16 TDs had he played a full 16.
That’s Calvin Johnson territory right there.
We’re going to take a sneak peek at this season's third-year receiver class, and try to disseminate just who is in line for a breakout season, and why.
So everyone knows, I have left out Steelers receiver Antonio Brown, who is already covered in my last piece: Must Own Receivers Who Aren’t Number One Selections and I have also left out Giants receiver Victor Cruz who already broke out last season—I don’t think you need me to tell you that Cruz is among the elite class of receivers this season.
Let’s take a look.
Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys
2011 Stats: 63 catches, 928 yards, 9 TDs
2012 Proj: 75 catches, 1,148 yards, 12TDs
Initial Outlook: Bryant is an above average receiver to begin with, and now he becomes a more featured part of the Cowboys offense with the exodus of Laurent Robinson to Jacksonville. Bryant is also enjoying his first full offseason program since joining the Cowboys which can only add to his potential. There’s very little reason to disbelieve in Bryant’s potential breakout season and you would be wise to target him early before someone else beats you to him.
Mike Williams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2011 Stats: 65 catches, 771 yards, 3 TDs
2012 Proj: 75 catches, 1,098 yards, 11 TDs
Initial Outlook: Think I’m crazy? When opposing teams defend against Tampa Bay’s passing game, who are they going to focus their attention towards; The apparent No. 2 receiver in “regression” (Williams) or one of the most explosive outside receivers in the NFL (Vincent Jackson)? Look, sometimes a receiver is made to look better than perhaps he is simply because of situation, and Williams may wind up being that guy. This isn’t to say that Williams has no talent—that would be silly—but with Jackson on the other side of the field, and Doug Martin in the backfield, it’s gonna be real difficult to dedicate more than one cover man on Williams in any one given game.
Eric Decker, Denver Broncos
2011 Stats: 44 catches, 612 yards, 8 TDs
2012 Proj: 65 catches, 988 yards, 12 TDs
Initial Outlook: The Broncos discovered Decker was just as valuable in the short passing game as he was in the vertical attack in 2011. Because of which, Decker was awarded around 30 routes per game in 2011; a number that is supposed to increase significantly in 2012. Decker would’ve had a much better season last year if the Broncos didn’t run the ball 50 percent of the time, but you can bet that will not be the case this season with Peyton Manning under center—catch my drift?
David Nelson, Buffalo Bills
2011 Stats: 61 catches, 658 yards, 5 TDs
2012 Proj: 80 catches, 1,001 yards, 9 TDs
Initial Outlook: Nelson is the sort of player who could be viewed more as a PPR option than a Standard format one simply because Nelson’s primary role was a possession receiver, but let’s not discount his potential to hold more value in other formats this upcoming season. Stevie Johnson will undoubtedly attract more defensive attention after posting career numbers in 2011 while Fred Jackson returns to hopefully finish what he started in 2011. If Donald Jones is as serviceable as he was in 2011, the slot will simply be unmanned from a defensive standpoint. Another year under his belt, and worlds of opportunities—yup, I smell a breakout.
For more information on third-year receivers, check Greg Brosh's Third-Year Receivers To Target. These articles will become increasingly popular in the coming months, so make sure you check back regularly, and take in as much information as possible :)