Offseason Extra: Third-year WRs for 2013

by | Senior Fantasy Writer
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Torrey Smith doesn't expect to become a star just because this will be his third season in the NFL. But the Ravens receiver is hoping his third year leads to a breakout campaign.

"I keep hearing about it," Smith said in an interview with CBSSports.com about the third-year receiver theory. "I hope it's right. I don't look at it that something magically happens. I just have to keep going out and do what I've been doing the past two years."

Smith has been good but not great during his first two seasons, but this could be the year his production improves. It's a combination of opportunity (Anquan Boldin is gone) and experience, and Smith could be in line for a standout year.

He is one of several receivers from the Class of 2011 poised to have a breakout season. Many pundits might downplay the third-year receiver theory, but every year we have examples of receivers taking the next step at this point in their career.

Last season, Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker all had monster years in their third season. While those might be obvious -- Bryant was destined for stardom and Thomas and Decker inherited Peyton Manning in 2012 -- we also got breakout years from Danario Alexander, Andre Roberts and Golden Tate.

That doesn't mean every third-year receiver will shine. It also doesn't mean every rookie or sophomore receiver will struggle, and two members from this class in A.J. Green and Julio Jones might find it hard to improve on past performance. But the third season for a receiver has been when breakouts tend to happen.

The theory is based on players at the position having a breakout campaign after two full seasons in the NFL. What some receivers have said is it takes at least two years to develop. They have to learn how to hone their craft, develop a rapport with their quarterback and also understand defenses better.

Some of the best receivers in the NFL, past and present, have had a breakout year in their third season, including Roddy White, Reggie Wayne, Greg Jennings, Steve Johnson, Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, Cris Carter, Terrell Owens and Keyshawn Johnson. Over the years I've had the chance to speak with many receivers about this theory and gotten many different responses.

Carter said "there are so many things you have to learn" to play receiver, and it takes "three to five years to understand the position." Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice told me that in his third season he finally "felt comfortable." As Rice said, in his third year he "finally knew what to do."

But not all receivers believe in the theory. Carolina receiver Steve Smith told me that even though he had his first dominant season in his third year, he said that's because it was the first year he got to play offense after spending two seasons on special teams. He said it had nothing to do with his service time in the league.

Smith called the third-year receiver theory "a myth." He added that "if you have a good player and a baller there, that's going to happen, no matter what year it is."

Smith is correct that your time in the league is not a direct correlation to your success, but there is still a skill that needs to develop with receivers, which likely takes two years. It may not lead to a breakout performance, but some players from this class will emerge, with the leading candidates likely Torrey Smith, Denarius Moore and Greg Little. Jones and Randall Cobb should also see an uptick in production, and Green is the only star of this class who might not dramatically improve since he was a standout as a sophomore.

Still, you should plan on targeting as many of these receivers as possible -- from Jones and Cobb with early-round selections to Little or Vincent Brown with a late-round pick -- since you never know who the next breakout could be.

A look ahead ...

Here is a look at the Class of 2011. It will be hard for some receivers -- like the guys in Category 1 -- to improve in their third year, and not everyone on this list is due for a breakout season. But don't be surprised if someone we didn't mention comes out of nowhere this year to be a star.

Category 1

These are the third-year receivers who have already had at least one big season with 150 Fantasy points in a year. It will be difficult for them to have another breakout campaign, but they can still be successful Fantasy options.

A.J. Green, Bengals

If Green takes a statistical leap this season then he will challenge Calvin Johnson for the No. 1 receiver spot based on his performance last year when he had 97 catches for 1,350 yards and 11 touchdowns. He's trending in the right direction as he improved in catches, yards and touchdowns from Year 1 to Year 2, but it will be hard for him to improve on what he did last year. The good thing is he isn't expected to fall off from his stats in 2012, and he could easily be the second-best receiver in the NFL this season.
Expected ADP in seasonal formats: 15-22 overall

Julio Jones, Falcons

Like Green, Jones made solid strides during his sophomore campaign and also improved in catches, yards and touchdowns. He finished last year with 79 catches for 1,198 yards and 10 touchdowns, and he should be able to do more this season. Teammate Roddy White told me Jones is just scratching the surface on his talent. "What he's done so far, we expected him to do that," White said. "We want him to dominate. Every week I tell him that's not enough. Whatever he does, I tell him it's not enough. You can do more. As long as we can keep him like that and keep him hungry, we'll be fine."
Expected ADP in seasonal formats: 18-22 overall

Randall Cobb, Packers

Cobb had a breakout year in 2012, but he could still improve statistically this season. He had 80 catches for 954 yards and eight touchdowns last year and 10 carries for 132 yards, but with Greg Jennings gone we could see Cobb's receiving numbers go up. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers said 100 catches for Cobb is realistic, and coach Mike McCarthy told me he has high expectations for Cobb. "Last year was really the year we tried to tailor some things to him, and he responded in an excellent way. That will be like that this year," McCarthy said. "He's a very good football player, and I think he's going to be an excellent player for us for a long time."
Expected ADP in seasonal formats: 25-32 overall

Category 2

These are the third-year receivers on the verge of becoming stars who have had at least one season with 100 Fantasy points in a year.

Cecil Shorts, Jaguars

Shorts likely had his breakout campaign in 2012 when he emerged out of nowhere to catch 55 passes for 979 yards and seven touchdowns. The end of his season was marred by concussions (yes, multiple), which is something to monitor, but he was a standout Fantasy receiver last year with double digits in Fantasy points in nine games. The Jaguars still have quarterback issues, and Shorts could easily be a one-year wonder, but if you draft him in the right spot he could be a serviceable reserve with the chance to start in deeper formats.
Expected ADP in seasonal formats: 65-73 overall

Torrey Smith, Ravens

Smith is now the clear-cut No. 1 receiver for the Ravens with Boldin gone, and it's time for him to step up his performance. His stats have been nearly identical the first two years -- 50 catches, 850 yards and seven touchdowns -- but he has the best chance to be a third-year breakout. And he knows it. "I'm improving every day," Smith said. "It's all about consistency. I was saying the same thing last year. Being consistent in my technique. Being consistent with everything. I grew in that way. Now it's about being consistent on offense." Smith should be drafted as a No. 3 receiver, but he could definitely be a Top 20 receiver or better by the end of the year.
Expected ADP in seasonal formats: 68-77 overall

Denarius Moore, Raiders

The Raiders passing game will have a different look this season with Carson Palmer gone along with Darrius Heyward-Bey and Brandon Myers. We'll find out who the new quarterback will be in training camp out of Matt Flynn, Terrelle Pryor or rookie Tyler Wilson, but whoever wins the job should target Moore as much as possible. He is the clear-cut No. 1 option in the passing game, and we hope he can build off his stats from 2012. He finished the year with 51 catches for 741 yards and seven touchdowns, but he never materialized as a must-start Fantasy option. Part of the problem was he scored six of his seven touchdowns in his first 11 games, and he had only one 100-yard outing. But Moore now has the chance to shine this year, and he looks like a No. 3 Fantasy receiver with upside. Moore will likely be a late-round selection in the majority of leagues, but he has the potential to have a breakout season.
Expected ADP in seasonal formats: 110-117 overall

Category 3

These are the third-year receivers poised for an improved season with the potential to reach at least the 100 Fantasy point range this year.

Greg Little, Browns

Little showed plenty of promise as a rookie in 2011 with 61 catches for 709 yards and two touchdowns, but he regressed last season with only his touchdowns (four) improving. He is not the No. 1 option in Cleveland with Josh Gordon the top receiver, but Little could play big this year under new coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner. Little has to cut down on the drops, but this could be a year where he lives up to his potential. He could be a key Fantasy reserve with the chance to develop into a starting option in deeper leagues.
Expected ADP in seasonal formats: Undrafted

Vincent Brown, Chargers

This is technically Brown's third season, but he missed his second year after sitting out with a broken left ankle. We're still hoping for a breakout campaign, and he has the chance for a big role in the Chargers offense this year. As a rookie in 2011, Brown had 19 catches for 329 yards and two touchdowns in a limited role. Since the Chargers need help at receiver this season, Brown could contribute right away behind starters Danario Alexander and Malcom Floyd and in a competition with rookie Keenan Allen. He is worth a late-round flier in all leagues, and we hope Brown comes back strong this year after missing his sophomore season.
Expected ADP in seasonal formats: Undrafted

Joe Morgan, Saints

Morgan is the only undrafted player mentioned here, but he has the chance for an increased role now that Devery Henderson is gone. Morgan missed his rookie season with a knee injury and had just 10 catches for 379 yards and three touchdowns last year, but he's a deep threat in a vertical offense with an elite quarterback in Drew Brees. There will be a lot of down games when he doesn't score, but if he's third on the depth chart behind Marques Colston and Lance Moore with the ability to burn defenders (he averaged 37.9 yards per catch) he could be worth a late-round flier in standard leagues.
Expected ADP in seasonal formats: Undrafted

Leonard Hankerson, Redskins

Hankerson was a disappointment last season when a lot of Fantasy owners expected him to contribute in his second year. He only had 38 catches for 543 yards and three touchdowns despite Pierre Garcon dealing with injuries, and he was outplayed by Santana Moss. This year, there are much lower expectations for Hankerson, but he might surprise you. Garcon (chest) is dealing with an injury this offseason, and Josh Morgan and Moss are not that inspiring. The health of quarterback Robert Griffin III (knee) is also a factor with Hankerson, but he's someone to monitor as the season goes on since he won't be drafted in most formats.
Expected ADP in seasonal formats: Undrafted

Category 4

These are the third-year receivers who could make an impact in deeper leagues, but they need a lot of help to be successful in standard Fantasy formats. They are not worth drafting this year but are worth monitoring in case they do step up in this pivotal season.

Jon Baldwin, Chiefs
Tandon Doss, Ravens
Dwayne Harris, Cowboys
Jerrel Jernigan, Giants
Jeremy Kerley, Jets

Baldwin could easily make the biggest leap of this group, but he could open training camp at No. 4 on the depth chart behind Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery and Dexter McCluster. He's also underperformed through two years and has a lot to prove. Harris and Kerley could be the No. 3 receiver for the Cowboys and Jets, respectively, but both have issues. Harris will face tough competition from rookie Terrance Williams for the job, and Kerley has limited talent at quarterback. Jernigan will get a boost if Victor Cruz has a lengthy holdout, but he's No. 4 on the depth chart for the Giants behind Hakeem Nicks, Cruz and Rueben Randle if everyone is healthy. As for Doss, the Ravens have a hole at No. 2 receiver, but Doss seems behind Smith, Jacoby Jones, Tommy Streeter and Deonte Thompson heading into training camp, which will limit his value. Still, if he wins the job or even the No. 3 role he could end up as a waiver wire addition for Fantasy owners.

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