Editor's intro: At FFToolbox.com, we offer many tools which provide our users with interesting and unique points of analysis. In this multiple part series, we want to take a closer look at why these tools are useful and what kind of information each tool offered over the years. Through this exercise, we will re-examine the past to find hidden truths today. To check out the THIRD-YEAR RECEIVERS tool over at FFToolbox, click here.
All fantasy owners have heard of the sophomore slump, but the third year breakout is also a popular trend that is worth discussing. In this article, we’ll preview some of the more relevant fantasy wideouts that are entering their third season in the big leagues to determine whether fantasy stardom is indeed on the horizon.
In 2012, Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, all playing their third seasons, posted major breakout seasons. Last year, Torrey Smith, Cecil Shorts and Vincent Brown were some popular third season breakout candidates, but only the Ravens receiver finished among the top-20 at his position. Shorts missed three games due to a hamstring injury and finished with 66 catches for 777 yards and just three touchdowns (had seven scores in 2012). Brown was an even bigger disappointment as he hauled in just 41 catches for 472 yards and one touchdown as he took a backseat to rookie fantasy dynamo Keenan Allen.
Historical data shows that most wide receivers produce their breakout seasons between their second and fifth seasons -- somewhat dispelling the theory of third year breakouts. Fantasy owners are better off targeting skilled players that will have an opportunity to see an uptick in targets rather than relying on number of years of experience as a precursor to success. The following pass-catchers have an ADP among the top-150 overall and will be in their third year: Alshon Jeffery, Michael Floyd, T.Y. Hilton, Kendall Wright, Rueben Randle, Josh Gordon, Marvin Jones and Jarrett Boykin. Jeffery enjoyed a monster sophomore season as he finished among the top-10 fantasy WRs. Hilton and Floyd both finished as borderline WR2s in standard leagues and Wright should remain a PPR darling. Gordon is on the weekly police blotter and is all but certain to be suspended for the 2014 season. We’ll delve deeper into some of the aforementioned third year receivers to determine whether their 2014 production is likely to result in a fantasy jackpot or fool’s gold.
Michael Floyd (41.80 ADP, WR15): In 2013, the Notre Dame alum finished near the cut off for WR2s in 12 team leagues as he hauled in 66 catches for 1,054 yards (nearly double his rookie output of 562 yards) with five touchdowns. With Andre Roberts now in Washington and Larry Fitzgerald showing signs of slowing down (expected to play more of a possession WR role). Floyd has been going ahead of Fitz in recent drafts as evidenced by their separating ADPs. (Editor's note: FFToolbox announced Floyd was our 2014 Breakout Player, a title bestowed on a player who will blow up in a big way in the upcoming season.)
T.Y. Hilton (52.67 ADP, WR22): The third-round pick in 2012 came on strong once Reggie Wayne suffered a season-ending injury in Week 7. Hilton’s snap count jumped from 42 per game to 55 per game with Wayne sidelined from his first to second season. With the addition of Hakeem Nicks and healthy return of TE Dwayne Allen and Wayne, Hilton will be hard-pressed to top his 2013 production (82 catches for 1,083 yards and five touchdowns). There may be some regression in his third season, making him a better pick as a WR3 versus the WR2 stats he produced in 2013.
Kendall Wright (65.81 ADP, WR28): The 24-year-old from Baylor has 158 catches through his first two seasons, but the 10.8 yards per reception (YPR) with six touchdowns leave a lot to be desired. The additions of Dexter McCluster and late-season performance from rookie Justin Hunter could mean the Titans spread the wealth a bit more among its receivers. Jake Locker under center is also cause for concern as he’s struggled with accuracy and injuries during his first three seasons while amassing a less than impressive 22 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Wright’s second season (94 catches for 1,079 yards) could very well go down as the best of his career. If Locker does rebound for a big season, it would help Wright improve in his third year.
Rueben Randle (106.77 ADP, WR43): Randle doubled his production from his rookie season (19 catches for 298 yards and three touchdowns) by hauling in 41 catches for 611 yards and six touchdowns in 2013. This season is where he may get over the hump. Randle has ideal size (6-foot-2, 208 lbs.) with a skill-set to approach double digit touchdowns in the near future (had all six of his TDs last season between Weeks 5 and 11). The addition of fellow LSU alum Odell Beckham Jr. is concerning, but Randle enters his third season with breakout potential. His upside makes him a solid value based on his current ADP. The Giants can't possibly do much worse in their passing offense so with an expanded role, Randle has the opportunity to be a top WR3 with potential to become a WR2.
Marvin Jones (127.22 ADP, WR52): Those expecting another double-digit touchdown season will be disappointed as new OC Hue Jackson intends to scale back the passing and focus on a ground game led by Giovani Bernard and rookie Jeremy Hill. Jones posted 51 catches for 712 yards and 10 touchdowns, finishing as the No. 21 fantasy receiver in standard leagues. In a more conservative offense, he is best drafted as a borderline WR4, but makes for a great dynasty pick as the skills are there for solid production.
Jarrett Boykin (152.24 ADP, WR61): With Randall Cobb returning from injury and rookie Davante Adams competing for the WR3 position, fantasy owners would be wise not to pay for Boykin based on his strong finish to 2013. Boykin finished with a respectable 49 catches for 681 yards albeit with just three touchdowns. Some might reach to secure a piece of a Packers offense rumored to be attempting to run 75 offensive plays this coming season (Denver led the league with 72 plays per game last year) but Boykin might need an injury to Cobb or Nelson to match his 2013 stats. Considering his ADP, he's a relatively cheap late-round flier that won't require much of a reach.
Here are a few under the radar receivers that are worth considering in deeper leagues as late round fliers with a chance to surprise in their third seasons.
From left to right: Cole Beasley, Stephen Hill & Jarius Wright
Cole Beasley: With pass-happy offensive coordinator Scott Linehan calling the plays, the Cowboys' potential slot WR could emerge as a major steal, especially in PPR leagues. Dallas’ offense will likely be in a ton of shootouts with quite possibly the league’s worst defense (especially with their best player LB Sean Lee out for the season) on the other side of the ball. The 25-year-old hauled in 39 of his 54 targets (72-percent) last season but has yet to record a touchdown in his first two seasons. With Miles Austin now in Cleveland, Beasley could surprise inside the numbers with Bryant and Terrance Williams demanding a ton of defensive attention out wide.
Stephen Hill: The 43rd overall pick in 2012 has struggled with drops during his first two seasons, yet remains arguably the most athletically gifted pass-catcher on the roster. With an ideal combination of size (6-foot-4) and speed (4.36 forty), Hill could begin to reach his potential in a Jets passing game that should be more explosive following the additions of Eric Decker and Chris Johnson. Over his first two seasons, Hill has just 45 catches for 594 yards and four touchdowns. With better quarterback play from G. Smith or Vick, he has upside worth considering in the final rounds.
Jarius Wright: In addition to TE Kyle Rudolph, Jarius Wright could surprise in a Norv Turner offense predicated on taking shots downfield. The 2012 fourth-round pick out of Arkansas has recorded 48 catches for 744 yards with five touchdowns over his first two seasons (23 games). The sleeper alert was sounded when Vikings beat reporter Ben Goessling stated that he thinks 40 to 50 catches are very possible in Wright’s third season. The 5-foot-10, 180-pounder Wright will likely be the fourth option behind Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson and Rudolph on a Minnesota offense ranked 20th in pass attempts last season, but he does have some deep sleeper appeal especially if Jerome Simpson is suspended.
Every year there are a small handful of players to break out at every position. Seeking some sort of magic season which will indicate when a player will make the leap is a bit silly. Rather than focusing on how many seasons a guy has been in a league, identify new opportunities for young and talented players. After toiling deep on the depth chart, some players blossom when given the opportunity to succeed.