2018 Fantasy Football Draft Prep: Michael Thomas, Tyreek Hill top this season's list of third-year receivers
Jamey Eisenberg breaks down the wide receiver Class of 2016 to see if anyone qualifies as a third-year breakout for Fantasy owners.
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Michael Thomas is the best receiver of the 2016 NFL Draft class. He's had two successful seasons so far, but he believes there's more for him to accomplish.
"I'm just trying to learn from my mistakes and correct them and play better," Thomas said in an interview with CBS Sports at the Pro Bowl. "That's all I'm trying to do. It's going to be step by step. You just want to keep pushing."
Thomas believes in the third-year receiver theory, which is something that used to be prominent among Fantasy owners. I'm still a believer, and I've done numerous interviews with receivers over the years, who say this is the season when receivers tend to "get it."
Last year's draft class, however, was mostly a disappointment. Stefon Diggs, Devin Funchess and Nelson Agholor were third-year breakouts, but Amari Cooper, Jamison Crowder and DeVante Parker were busts.
Hopefully, we have more successful performances from the 2016 class, which includes headliners in Thomas and Tyreek Hill. Will Fuller, Robby Anderson and Sterling Shepard also have the chance to play well this season, and there's potential for big stats from guys like Geronimo Allison, Josh Doctson, Chester Rogers and Corey Coleman, especially following his trade from Cleveland to Buffalo.
Maybe one of those guys will join the group of former third-year breakouts, which includes, among others, Mike Evans, DeAndre Hopkins, T.Y. Hilton, Davante Adams, Roddy White, Reggie Wayne, Cris Carter, Terrell Owens and Keyshawn Johnson. Hall of Famers like Carter and Jerry Rice are among those who told me they agree that the third season for a receiver is important because of development.
Now, this doesn't mean a rookie or second-year receiver can't be a star. Baltimore receiver Steve Smith was one dissenter who once told me he doesn't believe it takes three years for a receiver to develop. But the consensus is a receiver's third season is when a certain comfort factor develops with understanding routes, reading defenses and getting a rapport with his quarterback.
Thomas agrees with that as well, and he's looking forward to a big year with Drew Brees now that he's established himself as a star. While he might not have a statistical breakout in 2018 given what he's accomplished already through two seasons, he does feel his play can improve.
He's ready to thrive in his third year.
"You just have to stay disciplined and take coaching," Thomas said. "Be at the right place at the right time and make plays when your number is called."
Here's hoping Thomas makes plenty of plays this season. Now, let's break down the receiver Class of 2016 and find some breakout candidates.
(Editor's note: Year 3 projections are powered by SportsLine and not by Jamey Eisenberg.)
- Year 1 stats: 92 catches, 1,137 yards and nine touchdowns on 122 targets
- Year 2 stats: 104 catches, 1,245 yards and five touchdowns on 149 targets
- Year 3 projections: 103 catches, 1,205 yards and six touchdowns on 145 targets
- Outlook: Thomas has been excellent through two seasons, and he should continue to be dominant again in 2018. While the Saints have upgraded their receiving corps with the addition of Cameron Meredith, Tre'Quan Smith and Benjamin Watson, Thomas should still see 140-plus targets again from Brees. He's definitely worth drafting in early Round 2 in all Fantasy formats.
- Year 1 stats: 61 catches, 593 yards and six touchdowns on 83 targets
- Year 2 stats: 75 catches, 1,183 yards and seven touchdowns on 105 targets
- Year 3 projections: 77 catches, 966 yards and six touchdowns on 114 targets
- Outlook: I'm concerned about Hill repeating his performance from last season, and it's risky to draft him before the end of Round 3. For starters, the change in quarterback from Alex Smith to Patrick Mahomes could hurt Hill since Smith was among the best deep passers in 2017. And all of Hill's touchdowns were outside of the red zone -- he only had four targets inside the 20 and no scores. Also, the addition of Sammy Watkins playing opposite Hill, along with Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt, should take away targets and production. Hill is a good No. 2 Fantasy receiver, but he's better off being drafted in Round 4 to be safe.
- Year 1 stats: 47 catches, 635 yards and two touchdowns on 92 targets
- Year 2 stats: 28 catches, 423 yards and seven touchdowns on 50 targets
- Year 3 projections: 49 catches, 693 yards and six touchdowns on 84 targets
- Outlook: Fuller has the chance to be the best breakout candidate from this list. He just has to stay healthy -- he's only played 24 games through two years -- and so does quarterback Deshaun Watson. In four games together in 2017, Fuller and Watson combined for 13 catches, 279 yards and seven touchdowns for an average of 17.0 Fantasy points in a non-PPR league. Fuller benefits playing opposite Hopkins, and this offense should be explosive with Watson. Fuller is an excellent mid-round pick.
- Year 1 stats: 42 catches, 587 yards and two touchdowns on 78 targets
- Year 2 stats: 63 catches, 941 yards and seven touchdowns on 114 targets
- Year 3 projections: 56 catches, 697 yards and five touchdowns on 102 targets
- Outlook: Anderson could still be facing a suspension for violating the NFL's personal-conduct policy after he was arrested for the second time in a span of nine months back in January. While a lengthy suspension seems unlikely, the league could ban Anderson for a game or two at the start of the season. That will clearly impact his Fantasy value, although he should be the best receiver for the Jets. That said, he will face competition for targets from Quincy Enunwa and Terrelle Pryor, and Anderson's production could suffer. He's worth drafting with a mid-round pick as a No. 3 Fantasy receiver in all leagues.
- Year 1 stats: 65 catches, 683 yards and eight touchdowns on 105 targets
- Year 2 stats: 59 catches, 731 yards and two touchdowns on 84 targets
- Year 3 projections: 68 catches, 755 yards and three touchdowns on 103 targets
- Outlook: Eli Manning has already said Shepard is "primed for a big year," and it would be nice to see him find the end zone the way he did as a rookie. Shepard will fight for targets with Odell Beckham, Evan Engram and Saquon Barkley, which could limit his upside, but he's worth his price tag with an Average Draft Position in Round 11. Manning clearly has a rapport with Shepard, and he should be No. 2 on the pecking order in the passing game behind Beckham. Don't be surprised if Shepard has a breakout campaign this year.
Guys to keep an eye on
- Year 1 stats: 12 catches, 202 yards and two touchdowns on 22 targets
- Year 2 stats: 23 catches, 253 yards and no touchdowns on 39 targets
- Year 3 projections: 50 catches, 586 yards and three touchdowns on 72 targets
- Outlook: Allison is the favorite to win the No. 3 receiver job for the Packers, and it's never a bad idea to bet on someone in a prominent role catching passes from Aaron Rodgers. He will likely be No. 4 at best for targets behind Adams, Randall Cobb and Jimmy Graham, but Allison can still bring back value with a late-round flier. And the Packers have a good track record of third-year breakouts, including Adams in 2016, Greg Jennings in 2008 and Javon Walker in 2004. Let's hope Allison can follow suit, and he's one of my favorite deep sleepers this season.
- Year 1 stats: two catches, 66 yards and no touchdowns on six targets
- Year 2 stats: 35 catches, 502 yards and six touchdowns on 78 targets
- Year 3 projections: 49 catches, 648 yards and five touchdowns on 94 targets
- Outlook: Doctson has a tremendous opportunity in front of him this season since he should be no worse than No. 3 on the depth chart at receiver for the Redskins. Crowder and potentially Paul Richardson will start for Washington, but Doctson should see plenty of playing time. Now, when you factor in Jordan Reed and Chris Thompson, this is an offense that will spread the ball around. But aside from Reed, these aren't dominant receiving options, giving Doctson a chance for a breakout campaign. He's worth the risk of drafting him with a late-round pick.
- Year 1 stats: 19 catches, 273 yards and no touchdowns on 35 targets
- Year 2 stats: 23 catches, 284 yards and one touchdown on 37 targets
- Year 3 projections: 47 catches, 639 yards and two touchdowns on 74 targets
- Outlook: Along with Allison, I'm excited about the potential for Rogers this season if he can win the starting job opposite Hilton. His competition is Ryan Grant and rookie Deon Cain, but Rogers could be a Fantasy steal if he starts. With Andrew Luck back at (hopefully) 100 percent from last year's shoulder injury, Rogers could be put in a prominent role with a star quarterback. Rogers is worth a late-round flier because of his promising situation.
- Year 1 stats: 33 catches, 413 yards and three touchdowns on 74 targets
- Year 2 stats: 23 catches, 305 yards and two touchdowns on 56 targets
- Year 3 projections: 45 catches, 559 yards and three touchdowns on 87 targets
- Outlook: Coleman got a new lease on his Fantasy life with his trade from Cleveland to Buffalo. With the Bills, Coleman should emerge as the starter opposite Kelvin Benjamin, and he should have the chance for a healthy amount of targets. But Coleman has to prove his health after missing 13 games over the past two seasons. And he has to prove he can pick up a new offense and develop a rapport with a new quarterback -- it could be A.J. McCarron, Josh Allen or Nathan Peterman (we hope it's Allen) -- on the fly. Coleman might be more of a waiver wire addition than someone to draft in the majority of leagues, but his Fantasy value improves now that he's with the Bills.
Maybe in deeper leagues?
- Laquon Treadwell, Vikings (When selected in NFL Draft: Round 1)
- Tyler Boyd, Bengals (When selected in NFL Draft: Round 2)
- Leonte Carroo, Dolphins (When selected in NFL Draft: Round 3)
- Rashard Higgins, Browns (When selected in NFL Draft: Round 5)
- Tajae Sharpe, Titans (When selected in NFL Draft: Round 5)
- Jakeem Grant, Dolphins (When selected in NFL Draft: Round 6)
Treadwell might be the biggest bust from this draft class, and it's hard to count on him given his role behind Diggs and Adam Thielen. It's a long-shot that Treadwell will become Fantasy relevant this year.
Boyd could emerge as the No. 2 receiver for the Bengals this season after Brandon LaFell was released. While he should open the season behind A.J. Green and John Ross, Boyd might get plenty of targets, especially given Ross' injury track record.
The Dolphins have a revamped receiving corps with Jarvis Landry gone, and Carroo and Grant might have the chance for increased playing time behind Kenny Stills, Parker, Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson. Keep in mind that Parker and Amendola have trouble staying healthy, so both third-year receivers could be relevant at some point during the season.
Higgins and Sharpe could have increased playing time in 2018, and we'll see what roles they play on their respective teams. For Higgins, the Coleman trade could open up targets for him, and he's had a productive offseason. And Sharpe could have a big role for the Titans, who might be without Rishard Matthews (undisclosed injury) to open the year.
So what sleepers should you snatch in your Fantasy Football draft? And which huge running backs do you need to jump all over? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy Football cheat sheets from the model that called Alvin Kamara's huge breakout last season and find out.
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