Fantasy football: Third- and fourth-year wide receivers

by Cory J. Bonini on July 22, 2011 @ 10:09:16 PDT


Fantasy football owners looking for an edge often turn to obscurities when seeking their moment of championship clarity. Sometimes said advantage can be found by checking out the third- and fourth-year wide receiver breakout theory. It generally takes a little longer for wide receivers to mature, and while there are always exceptions, wideouts often follow this trend.

The NFL lockout could hamper some young receivers trying to learn a new system or gain comfort with their teammates. Expect to see lower production in the first half of the season for many players in this situation.

Player Team
Ramses Barden New York Giants
His physical tools suggest a future in the NFL, but Barden's limited experience and injury history are intimidating. A crowded stable of receivers and a serious ankle injury suffered six games played into last season. Avoid him in fantasy drafts, but don't completely erase Barden's name from your memory.
Kenny Britt Tennessee Titans
Legal troubles aside, Britt could be in for a breakout year. That, however, may have to wait because of off-the-field indiscretions. Tennessee may be starting rookie quarterback Jake Locker, which could severely limit Britt's upside. Draft him as a high-risk, high-reward third receiver and expect a lot of inconsistency as well as a possible suspension by the league.
Deon Butler Seattle Seahawks
Butler is coming off a severely fractured leg but has begun running routes recently. His physical game translates well to the West Coast offense, but Seattle's quarterback situation is in flux. The third-year wideout could be a star in the slot for fantasy football owners in point-per-reception setups, although his track record through two years is uninspiring. You could do worse if looking for a late-round flier for easy PPR points.
Austin Collie Indianapolis Colts
Clearly, Collie has the talent to be a fantasy stud. The offense accentuates his skill set, and it never hurts having No. 18 slinging the rock one's way. A series of major concussions have fantasy owners doubting Collie's durability, and without trying to perpetuate this fear, head injuries are dangerous, scary ailments that can derail careers. Cautiously draft him in PPR leagues as a third receiver, but conservative owners may want to avoid him altogether.
Quan Cosby Cincinnati Bengals
Cincinnati's quarterback situation is unsettled, and it may result in rookie Andy Dalton leading the way in 2011. Cosby, a spry 28-year-old third-year player, fits the slot role well, but so does teammate Jordan Shipley, who is the future of the position for the Bengals. Leave Cosby for the waiver wire.
Michael Crabtree San Francisco 49ers
Fantasy owners had high hopes for the former Texas Tech standout last year after a respectable showing after a lengthy holdout as a rookie. Quarterback woes and offensive impotency set back Crabtree in 2010, but this year's outlook is at least a little more optimistic with rookie head coach Jim Harbaugh coming to the Bay Area. He is dealing with a sore left foot, the one that needed surgery to correct a stress fracture before the 2009 season. Early indications suggest this is little to worry about. Crabtree is a high-upside, low-risk No. 3 fantasy receiver who could come into his own and perform as a legitimate No. 1 fantasy receiver if Alex Smith, the expected starter, reaches his potential under the former quarterback-turned-head coach's tutelage.
Jarett Dillard Jacksonville Jaguars
Despite having played just 12 games in two years (13 receptions), the Jags are reportedly high on Dillard. He will likely battle for the final roster spot among wideouts, but that doesn't mean he will automatically be the last in line for playing time. Mike Sims-Walker isn't expected to return, and the rest of Jacksonville's corps isn't exactly comprised of special players. A quarterback battle may ensue, so all of this equates to Dillard currently being undraftable.
Harry Douglas Atlanta Falcons
Douglas is two years removed from a serious knee injury, but he is probably no better than the fourth receiver this year with the addition of Julio Jones. Ignore Douglas on draft day.
Julian Edelman New England Patriots
Edelman showed flashes in 2009, while last year's campaign was anything but kind to him as he finished down 30 receptions and played in four more games. A healthy Wes Welker really limits Edelman's role, and Brandon Tate could emerge as the third receiver this offseason. Ignore Edelman unless he wins the slot job, and even then his production should be scant with all of New England's other options.
Brandon Gibson St. Louis Rams
Gibson's production increased as his playing time did the same in 2010. The injury to Mark Clayton (knee) thrust the 6-foot, 210-pounder into a more prominent role. St. Louis will have a new offense, a pass-friendly one, this year, but it also has a multitude of similarly talented players vying for playing time. The longer the lockout goes, the further down your draft board Gibson should go. If he makes the team as a top-three receiver with clearly defined niche, his talent alone makes him worth a late-round choice in all formats.
Brian Hartline Miami Dolphins
Hartline gives the Dolphins above-average speed and pretty good hands. He figures to be the No. 2 receiver opposite Brandon Marshall but is likely the third target with slot receiver Davone Bess' emergence as a legitimate possession weapon. Hartline suffered a season-ending finger injury that required surgery after Week 13, but he should be fine for training camp. Draft him as a fifth receiver in standard formats.
Percy Harvin Minnesota Vikings
Last year, Harvin showed it didn't much matter how poorly the quarterback was performing. The Vikes may start rookie Christian Ponder this season, but that's not necessarily a detriment to Harvin. The former Florida Gator's style of play fits the West Coast offense, as does Ponder, but it's tough to envision a true breakout season this year. If Sidney Rice returns in free agency, Harvin will be the No. 2 option in a run-first system. Conversely, Harvin doesn't have what it takes to be a true No. 1, so double teams will take him out of a lot of situations. His injury and migraine concerns, coupled with the other items discussed, make him an overvalued pick as your second receiver.
Darrius Heyward-Bey Oakland Raiders
Can DHB step up his game in 2011? It will be his second year in the system and with Jason Campbell at quarterback. Heyward-Bey worked hard on improving his hands last year, and we all know he has speed to burn. Don't expect big numbers, but he could be a formidable deep threat and post plenty of touchdowns to make him a worthwhile flex starter in non-PPR outfits.
Johnny Knox Chicago Bears
Knox took a sizeable step forward last year, his first under Mike Martz. This being his second year in the system, Knox could enjoy even more success, as he is the closest thing Chicago has to a bona fide No. 1 wideout, and that may be stretching it. His most notable improvement in Year 2 was a major increase in his yards-per-reception average (11.7 to 18.8). Knox is a cheap buy as a third receiver and could take that leap in his third year. Target him more so in non-PPR leagues, but he could reward as a strong a low-end No. 1.
Jeremy Maclin Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles' explosive offense was aided by Maclin's strong red zone presence (seven of his 10 touchdowns scored). A 70-964-10 line for a second-year player is tough to top, but Maclin has the intelligence and talent to make it happen. His touchdown total may come down a tad in 2011, but Maclin could build on his receptions and yardage. Count on him the perfect third receiver, if you have that luxury, but more realistically a midrange No. 2 option.
Mohamed Massaquoi Cleveland Browns
Can a new system and head coach help M&M break through in '11? Possibly, but don't hold your breath. Massaquoi is a possession receiver with little upside, but he is a good target as your fifth receiver in PPR leagues. Expecting No. 3 production from him isn't unrealistic; if Colt McCoy responds well to Pat Shurmur's teachings, Massaquoi could be a steady contributor all season. The lockout may lessen his potential to some degree, though.
Louis Murphy Oakland Raiders
Murphy has concentration lapses but has flashed brilliance at times. Much like DHB, Murphy should benefit from his second year in the system and another go of it with Jason Campbell under center. Look for a slight improvement and consider him a waiver wire target.
Hakeem Nicks New York Giants
Nicks broke out in a big way last year (79-1052-11 in only 13 games) and appears to be the real deal. Expect improvement this year, but going much higher in the TD column is unlikely. Confidently draft him as your No. 1 receiver in the second round once the safer names are off the board.
Brian Robiskie Cleveland Browns
Prior to a three-game stretch to close out the 2010 season, Robiskie had offered very little to give hope for a bright future. He wrapped up his second year in the league with a three-game scoring stretch. The son of a coach, Robiskie has the tools to become a respectable fantasy commodity, in time. A lot needs to go his way in order for that to happen this season. In very deep leagues, he is a late-round flier.
Brandon Tate New England Patriots
Tate teased last year (24-432-3) but couldn't string together consistently worthwhile efforts. He has size (6-foot-1, 195 pounds) and is talented enough to land on fantasy rosters if the opportunity is there. As it stands, it would probably take an injury to Deion Branch or Wes Welker for Tate to see meaningful targets. Roll the dice on him as a late-round upside pick in deep leagues.
Mike Thomas Jacksonville Jaguars
Thomas is a possession receiver who is in position to be Jacksonville's No. 1 target this year. Expect them to make a push for another pass-catcher. Thomas is a PPR option as a third receiver, and with Mike Sims-Walker now all but out of the picture, expect an uptick in production.
Tiquan Underwood Jacksonville Jaguars
In 14 career games, Underwood can claim eight receptions, all of which came last year. The 6-foot-1, 183-pound receiver is battling for a roster spot and doesn't deserve fantasy consideration in any format.
Mike Wallace Pittsburgh Steelers
A true deep threat, Wallace enjoyed a fantastic breakout season last year. He posted 60 receptions for 1,257 yards (21.0 per catch) and scored 10 times. A full season of Ben Roethlisberger should only help, and Hines Ward is slowing down considerably. Wallace's receptions probably will go up, his per-catch average will then come down and his touchdowns could remain the same. He is a low-end No. 1 receiver in PPR formats and slightly more valuable in standard scoring.
Danny Amendola St. Louis Rams
Amendola broke out last year with 85 receptions, but the dink-and-dunk offense contributed to his 8.1 yards-per-catch average. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur left to coach the Browns, and Josh McDaniels replaces him. Amendola reminds of Wes Welker a bit, and the 25-year-old could be in for an even better season. PPR owners should consider him a No. 3 option that often comes at the price of a fourth receiver.
Donnie Avery St. Louis Rams
Our third Ram to make this list, Avery has talent and speed to burn. He is coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament that limited him to just one game last season, but Avery is already running in the mid-4.30s again. Finding a place in the offense may be problematic with all of the wideouts on roster, but the Houston product should have a chance at winning a starting job. Owners in deep leagues can draft him in the final rounds.
Earl Bennett Chicago Bears
Bennett has possession receiver, PPR potential. He is good at sitting down in holes in zone coverage. After taking a slight step backward last year, partially due to injury, Bennett may be a forgotten man on draft day. With that said, remember him in the waning rounds of deep drafts.
Davone Bess Miami Dolphins
Having already come on in recent years, Bess' physical limitations restrict his upside. Some room for growth exists, but expect him to hover near the same totals he has tallied in his past two seasons. PPR owners should view him as a quality third receiver.
Early Doucet Arizona Cardinals
Offseason sports hernia surgery has Doucet taking it easy, and he doesn't want to rush back. That is hardly a concern in comparison to the Cardinals' quarterback situation. Doucet could be worthy of a waiver wire addition at some point in the season, but he shouldn't be on your radar in typical league setups.
Pierre Garcon Indianapolis Colts
Garcon is a deep threat whose numbers may never improve much more. With so many weapons in the Colts' offense, he can be inconsistent from week to week. Garcon is a fourth receiver in PPR scoring and a passable third in leagues that down award for catches.
Lavelle Hawkins Tennessee Titans
Hawkins has hardly established himself with only 19 receptions in 33 career games. He often was a healthy scratch last season but has some support from new head coach Mike Munchak. A rookie quarterback may start for the Titans, and Hawkins' track record doesn't scream impressive. Look elsewhere for a late-round flier pick, even in deep leagues.
DeSean Jackson Philadelphia Eagles
This one-trick pony probably won't make the step to the next level of receivers until he diversifies his game. Jackson is very good at what he does, but going deep is practically all he does. Nevertheless, he is a midrange No. 2 receiver because of his explosive play.
Stevie Johnson Buffalo Bills
Johnson's coming-out party in 2010 could actually be improved upon if Ryan Fitzpatrick remains the starter all year and Johnson has fewer concentration lapses. Buffalo's defense may not be any better, which could force the offense to play catch-up with regularity. The verbose youngster should be on your target as a No. 2 receiver with mild risk but plenty of upside.
Mario Manningham New York Giants
Manningham was on the verge of his first 1,000-yard season in 2010, largely because of increased playing time due to injuries, but he could have a similar year in 2011 with a little luck. Expect his touchdowns (nine) to come down a few scores, but he could easily catch 60 passes again. Steve E. Smith is coming back from a major knee surgery and doesn't figure to be 100 percent until the second half of the season. Hakeem Nicks has suffered a few injuries, albeit not necessarily more than fluky setbacks. Manningham is a fourth fantasy receiver in most formats.
Josh Morgan San Francisco 49ers
We have little reason to believe Morgan will come on in any notable way this year, but he deserves late-round consideration in deep setups even without the promise of a massive improvement.
Jordy Nelson Green Bay Packers
Nelson could see increased playing time in 2011 with Donald Driver being ancient and James Jones' likely departure. Don't count on a huge jump in production just yet, but he is worth a No. 4 receiver spot based on potential.
Chaz Schilens Oakland Raiders
Injuries, injuries, injuries and more flippin' injuries ... Schilens has been useless, outside of a few glimpses of red zone presence a few years ago. Watch him on the waiver wire this year.
Jerome Simpson Cincinnati Bengals
Late last year fantasy owners capitalized on Simpson's opportunity to play, as he racked up 18 catches for 247 yards and three touchdowns in a two-game span to close out the season. Terrell Owens is gone, and Chad Ochocinco may be jettisoned this offseason. Simpson could have a chance to play a prominent role, but Andy Dalton may be the starting quarterback. Temper your expectations, as Simpson is a very late flier choice.
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About Cory J. Bonini

Cory is KFFL's General Manager. In late 2002, he joined the KFFL staff as a research analyst and has been involved in fantasy sports since 1996. A member of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, as well as Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Bonini has been featured in print, on radio and on scores of websites. Bonini co-hosted Big Lead Sports on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio from 2011 to 2012.

Bonini was recognized with the 2010 Best Article in Print Award from the FSWA and was a finalist for the same award in 2011. In '11, he finished first overall in the FSWA NFL experts challenge that featured 60 of the industry's best competitors.

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