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2012 Draft Prep: Third-year wide receivers

Senior Fantasy Writer
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With the way young receivers have emerged in recent seasons, Fantasy owners have started to view the third-year receiver theory as a myth. It almost compares to Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster or Keyser Soze.

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

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But last year, rookies and sophomores were among the best Fantasy receivers, showing the theory could be debunked. With the way college teams are throwing the ball, along with pass-happy offenses in the NFL, rookies and second-year receivers are developing faster every year. Rookies A.J. Green, Julio Jones and Torrey Smith were Top 25 Fantasy receivers in 2011, while sophomores Victor Cruz (No. 4 Fantasy receiver), Dez Bryant (No. 18) and Antonio Brown (No. 26) also stood out.

But that doesn't mean third-year receivers don't exist. Percy Harvin had a breakout year last season as the No. 10 Fantasy receiver with career highs in catches (87), yards (967) and touchdowns (eight). Darrius Heyward-Bey was the No. 28 Fantasy receiver with career highs in catches (64), yards (975) and touchdowns (four). And Michael Crabtree (No. 34) improved his performance with career highs in catches (72) and yards (874).

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, Cris Carter, Terrell Owens and Keyshawn Johnson. Carter told me last year he still believes in the third-year receiver theory.

"Wide receiver is a skill," Carter said. "It takes so much time and there are so many things you have to learn. It takes three to five years to understand the position.

"Now, more people are throwing the ball and more colleges are throwing the ball so kids are coming into the league more ready to have breakout years, and kids have to play. If they spend a high draft pick on you like A.J. Green or Julio Jones, you are thrust into playing. I still think the curve is still around the same. It's like being a quarterback. You see guys come in that are successful and it seems like we have more young kids that are being successful. But there's still a learning curve. There are so many things you have to learn, they're still in the process of learning."

Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice told me a couple of years ago that in his third season, he finally "felt comfortable." Rice also is a believer in the third-year theory.

"You start feeling like you belong," Rice said. "The first year, you're like a deer in headlights. You're trying to get used to playing with all those great players. The second year, you feel more at home, but you're still making adjustments. The third year, for me, I finally knew what to do."

But not all wide receivers believe in the theory. Carolina receiver Steve Smith told me 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.

"People are looking for a reason or looking to cling on to something," Smith said. "I think that's a myth. 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 – Cruz is going to see his production decline, not increase – but some players from this class will emerge, with the leading candidates likely Bryant, Brown, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Brandon LaFell.

My goal is to target all five of those receivers on Draft Day because the upside is worth it, especially entering this third season full of potential.

A look ahead ...

Here is a breakdown of the Wide Receiver Class of 2010. It will be difficult 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.

Victor Cruz, Giants
Cruz didn't record a catch as a rookie, but he exploded as a sophomore with 82 catches for 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns. He helped the Giants win the Super Bowl last year and his performance allowed New York to let Mario Manningham leave for the 49ers as a free agent. We consider Cruz a solid No. 2 Fantasy receiver in all leagues. It will be difficult for him to duplicate his stats from last year, but he should remain a consistent target for Eli Manning. Cruz should be drafted in all leagues by Round 4.

Mike Williams, Buccaneers
Williams suffered a sophomore slump last season after a tremendous rookie campaign. He had 65 catches for 964 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2010 before seeing his yardage (771) and touchdowns (three) drop dramatically with the same amount of catches. We hope he's ready for a rebound year in 2012 and he slides down the depth chart to the No. 2 receiver spot with Vincent Jackson now in Tampa Bay. That will help with less pressure and more single coverage, but he could also see a decline in targets (an average of 126 the past two years). Plan on drafting Williams with a late-round pick as a No. 4 Fantasy receiver.

Category 2

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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.

Dez Bryant, Cowboys
Bryant is the type of third-year receiver you target because his career path shows he's headed for a breakout campaign. He had 45 catches for 561 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie and 63 catches for 928 yards and nine touchdowns last year. Based on that progression we could be looking at 81 catches, 1,295 yards and 12 touchdowns, which would make him an elite Fantasy option. We hope Bryant doesn't receive a suspension following a July arrest on a misdemeanor family violence charge, but that is worth monitoring. If he doesn't miss any games he should be viewed as a No. 2 Fantasy option with upside, and he will be drafted in Round 3 or 4.

Eric Decker, Broncos
Decker showed plenty of promise in his second year with 44 catches for 612 yards and eight touchdowns and he should improve this season with the addition of Peyton Manning at quarterback. While Tim Tebow did well in getting Decker the ball, Manning should make him a star. He's behind Thomas in terms of Fantasy value, but Decker projects as a tremendous No. 3 receiver in all leagues. He should be drafted in Round 6 or 7, and don't be surprised if he ends up starting for you in most formats.

Antonio Brown, Steelers
Brown will find it hard to improve his catches and yards from his second season since he had 69 catches for 1,108 yards in 2011. But he should definitely improve his touchdowns since he scored just twice last year. With Hines Ward retired, Brown could see an increase in targets (124 last year) as the starter opposite Mike Wallace. And if Wallace is a holdout because of his contract situation then Brown's value will rise dramatically. He projects as a high-end No. 3 receiver worth drafting in Round 6 or 7, but like Decker he could end up as a starter in the majority of leagues.

Category 3

These are the third-year receivers poised for a big season, with a few ready to reach at least the 100 Fantasy point range this year.

Demaryius Thomas, Broncos
Thomas had some highlight-reel moments in 2011, including his game-winning touchdown in overtime against the Steelers in the playoffs, but his stats in the regular season were pedestrian at best. He finished with 32 catches for 551 yards and four touchdowns, but he should explode in his third year. The addition of Manning is huge for Thomas and the new passing game in Denver should help make him a star. He has the ability to be an elite Fantasy receiver and I already view him as a No. 1 option in all leagues. He will likely be drafted in Round 3 or 4 in the majority of leagues, but Thomas should see the biggest jump in production of all the receivers in this class.

Brandon LaFell, Panthers
LaFell might not emerge as a starting Fantasy option in the majority of leagues, but he could be a tremendous reserve. The Panthers need a second receiver to step up opposite Steve Smith and LaFell should be the starter and continue to improve his production. He had 36 catches for 613 yards and three touchdowns last year, but Cam Newton should get him more involved this season since he had just 56 targets. With close to 100 targets we could see LaFell easily surpass 60 catches and 1,000 yards with a handful of touchdowns, making him a steal with a late-round pick.

Golden Tate, Seahawks
The Seahawks have one standout receiver in Sidney Rice and then a bunch of guys all fighting for playing time in Doug Baldwin, Ben Obomanu, Deon Butler and Tate. We hope Tate gets a chance for increased targets since he had just 58 last year, which is why he ended up with only 35 catches for 382 yards and three touchdowns. He may never live up to the potential he showed at Notre Dame, but he could end up being a No. 3 Fantasy receiver if things break his way. Don't draft Tate in the majority of leagues, but he could end up as a waiver wire option if he starts out the season playing well.

Emmanuel Sanders, Steelers
Sanders has the chance for an increased role this year with Ward gone. He will compete with Jerricho Cotchery for the No. 3 receiver job behind Wallace and Brown, but Sanders has more potential than Cotchery. We haven't seen Sanders do much on offense with just 50 catches for 664 yards and four touchdowns in two seasons, but he's also had just 93 targets. The Steelers have done well with their third receivers in the past (Wallace in 2009 and Brown in 2011) so look for Sanders or Cotchery to be heavily involved. Sanders isn't worth drafting in most leagues, but he could be worth adding if he starts out the season playing well.

Jordan Shipley, Bengals
Shipley is not going to get drafted in the majority of leagues, and he could still be slow in his recovery from last year's torn ACL. But for owners in PPR leagues, you should put Shipley on your radar. As a rookie in 2010 he had 52 catches for 600 yards and three touchdowns. He will see most of his time in the slot, and he should get plenty of single coverage with A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham drawing most of the attention. Don't expect him to have huge yardage or touchdown totals, but he could lead the Bengals in receptions if he's healthy by Week 1.

Andre Roberts, Cardinals
The Cardinals receiving corps is starting to take shape with Larry Fitzgerald as the top option, rookie Michael Floyd as the second starter and Roberts in the slot. Roberts did well as a starter in 2011 with 51 catches for 586 yards and two touchdowns. He might not see a dramatic leap in production this season, but he could be useful in deep PPR leagues. Arizona still has quarterback issues with Kevin Kolb and John Skelton, but Roberts still posted decent stats with that duo last year. He's not worth drafting in most leagues, but he could be added in deep PPR formats during the season.

David Nelson, Bills
Nelson posted solid stats in 2011 as the No. 2 receiver for the Bills with 61 catches for 658 yards and five touchdowns. He might not see a huge increase in production, especially if Donald Jones and Marcus Easley are back from injuries, but Nelson looked like a good slot receiver. Ryan Fitzpatrick also seems to trust Nelson, who had 97 targets, and he could be a valuable addition off the waiver wire during the season in PPR leagues.

Danario Alexander, Rams
Alexander's biggest problem has been staying healthy since he has just 18 games played in two seasons. But he's a big-play threat (he's averaged 16 yards a catch on 46 receptions) and the Rams are desperate for receiving talent. If he can stay healthy and avoid the knee problems that have plagued him going back to his days at Missouri then we could be talking about a steal for Fantasy owners. He won't be drafted, but if he shows any flashes of consistent production then add him off the waiver wire.

Preston Parker, Buccaneers
Parker is expected to be the slot receiver for the Bucs this year and has slightly more potential than fellow third-year receivers Arrelious Benn and Dezmon Briscoe since those two will play behind Jackson and Williams. Parker played well in 2011 in limited action with 40 catches for 554 yards and three touchdowns. He had just 64 targets, but his stats could improve this year with more attention. Parker is not worth drafting in the majority of leagues, but owners in deep PPR formats should keep an eye on his production since he could turn into a valuable reserve.

Jacoby Ford, Raiders
Ford might be limited in training camp due to an offseason abdominal injury, according to a source, which could hurt his value. He will enter the season as the No. 3 receiver at best behind Denarius Moore and Heyward-Bey, but Ford should still have the chance to make plays. He did well as a rookie in 2010 with 25 catches for 470 yards and four touchdowns, but he dealt with injuries last year, which limited him to just 19 catches for 279 yards and one touchdown. He could turn into another waiver wire find if he's healthy and gets back to being productive like he was in his rookie year.

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, which is why they don't get an individual write-up, but they are worth monitoring in case they do step up in this pivotal season.

Arrelious Benn, Buccaneers
Riley Cooper, Eagles
Marcus Easley, Bills
Armanti Edwards, Panthers
David Gettis, Panthers
Donald Jones, Bills
Kerry Meier, Falcons
Naaman Roosevelt, Bills
Damian Williams, Titans

The guys in this group to keep an eye on include Cooper, Gettis, Jones and Williams. Cooper could become a red-zone threat for the Eagles as their No. 4 receiver, Gettis will try to beat out LaFell for the starting job in Carolina, Jones could start opposite Steve Johnson in Buffalo and Williams might see significant playing time early in the season if Kenny Britt (knee) is limited. None of these guys are worth drafting, but they could be waiver wire additions if they step up in their third year.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Jamey at @JameyEisenberg and on Facebook .

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Player News
Report: Buccaneers bringing in Dan Connolly for a visit
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Former Patriots offensive guard Dan Connolly will visit the Buccaneers on Tuesday, per a report by Fox's Ross Jones, citing a source. 

Connolly has played in 87 games for the Patriots in the last seven years and hasn't played in fewer than 13 games in a season since 2008. 


Steelers RB DeAngelo WIlliams says signing was easy decision
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) After playing his first nine seasons with the Panthers, running back DeAngelo Williams signed a two-year, $4 million contract with the Steelers this offseason. Among his many thoughts on the signing, he called it an easy decision, according to the Sporting News.

“I didn’t know they wanted me. I had never been on a visit before,” Williams said. “I was with the same organization for nine years. When I got the call and they said, 'hey we want to bring you in for a visit' I took it as that. Had they said we wanted to bring you in for a signing I would have had a different mindset. I had no idea what was going to transpire when I got here.”

Williams added that he is willing to do whatever it takes to get the team to the next level.

“It’s the opportunity to take maybe one or two reps or whatever it takes to make this team better,” Williams said. “That is what I will do. I want to make it to a Super Bowl and win it. I know this team has that potential and they can do it.

“Coming here was an easy decision. This is a Super Bowl contending team. Every veteran out there, veteran or rookie, they want to go to the Super Bowl and win it and get the best opportunity. I think the best opportunity is here in Pittsburgh.”

Williams has rushed for 6,846 yards on 1,432 carries with 46 rushing touchdowns in his career.


Lions WR Golden Tate doesn't feel pressure due to loss of Suh
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Although Lions wide receiver Golden Tate feels the loss of Ndamukong Suh is a blow to the team, he doesn't believe it puts more pressure on the offense, reports ESPN. 

When asked specifically about the subject, Tate was clear about his thoughts.

"No, I don't think it adds any pressure," Tate said by phone Monday. "We just need to be who we are. We know that we have a lot of weapons all over the field. We just need to reach our potential each and every week.

"We just need to go out there and play fundamentally sound football and I have no doubt our defense is going to be really good again this year and we just got to do our jobs. There's no pressure on anyone but to be ourselves and to play good football."

Additionally, Tate recognizes that Suh was a game-changing player for the Lions, but he likes the addition of Haloti Ngata.

"Obviously, losing Suh is a big hit," Tate said. "I don't care what team you are, he's the guy that can change the game. Change an opposing offense's game plan. He affects the game so much. But with that being said, I'm thankful to have [had] the opportunity to play with him for a year and be a part of something special. But the show must go on.

"The guy we got, [Haloti] Ngata, is a heck of a player. I think it's a good pickup for us. I know he has a past with coach Caldwell so he knows the ins and outs of the system, probably. But we're ready to move forward. We can't live in the past and football season must still go on. We're preparing to have a great year and build from last year."

The 26-year-old stated that he plans on focusing on the intricacies of the offensive playbook heading into this season.

"One thing I really want to focus on is learning the playbook a little bit better," Tate said. "I felt like I knew it for the most part, but details, running the plays exactly how Joe Lombardi draws them up, could help us win more games and create more opportunities for myself and our team."

Tate finished his first season with the Lions catching 99 passes for 1,331 yards and four touchdowns.


Report: LB Rolando McClain ends Patriots' visit without contract
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) After visiting the Patriots on Monday, linebacker Rolando McClain and the team did not agree to terms on a contract, according to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport. The same report states that the visit was a positive one.

McClain played in 13 games last season for the Cowboys, collecting 81 total tackles and one sack. Over his four-year career, the 25-year-old has accumulated 327 total tackles, 7.5 sacks, 23 passes defensed, three interceptions and two forced fumbles.


Cardinals S Tyrann Mathieu looks forward to being healthy
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu believes that he is regaining his health and he's ready to make an impact this season, according to the team's website.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been healthy,” Mathieu said Monday. “Last year I felt like I took a back seat. I played well my rookie year and then last year it was kind of, eh, I was there but I wasn’t there. This (year) is more important for me because I really want to let everyone know I’m back and I can still make some plays.”

Mathieu tore his ACL and LCL toward the end of the 2013 season. He recently said that the comeback was "way harder than I thought."

Head coach Bruce Arians talked about how Mathieu was not himself last season.

“You saw him fight through it last year,” Arians said. “He was not the player he was used to (being) and it was very frustrating for him.”

Mathieu was aware of the chatter from the outside world and he is using that as motivation going forward.

“You hear people talk and I had time to listen to them talk, so it’s like … I hear it,” Mathieu said. “Like I said, I didn’t feel like I made enough plays last year to help our team. I am looking forward to this year because I know I can do it.”

The 22-year-old has registered 106 total tackles, one sack, three interceptions and one forced fumble in 26 games played during his two-year career.


Saints plan to rework Jahri Evans, Cameron Jordan contracts
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Saints coach Sean Payton said that the team has a plan in place to rework guard Jahri Evans' contract to help create salary cap space, per ESPN's Mike Triplett

Evans is scheduled to make $6.8 million salary in 2015 and cost $11 million against the cap. 

The team might also extend defensive end Cameron Jordan's contract. Jordan is entering the last year of his contract and is scheduled to make $6.969 million this year.


Rams have agreed to terms with OL Tim Barnes
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) The Rams have agreed to terms with offensive lineman Tim Barnes, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The one-year deal has a maximum value of $1 million. 

Barnes recently visited had a visit with the Chiefs before signing with the Rams. The 26-year-old spent all three of his previous seasons with the Rams, starting four of the 45 games he appeared in.


Report: Brandon Tate visits Chiefs
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Free agent wide receiver/kick returner Brandon Tate visited the Chiefs on Monday, according to a report from the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, citing a source.

Tate had 17 catches for 193 yards and a touchdown for the Bengals last year. He also had a combined 571 yards in kick and punt returns. 


Lions' Riley Reiff open to playing right tackle
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Lions coach Jim Caldwell said that Riley Reiff might start at right tackle next season. 

Reiff has started 32 games at left tackle over the last two seasons. The Lions aren't sure that last year's right tackle LaAdrian Waddle will be fully recovered from knee surgery, and backup tackle Cornelius Lucas is better on the left side. 

Reiff told the Daily Republic he doesn't care where he plays. 

 "I like playing, and wherever they want to put me, that's fine. I'll play," he said.


Broncos OL Michael Schofield looking to compete for starting job
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Broncos offensive lineman Michael Schofield is ready to come in and compete for a starting job this season, reports the Denver Post.

After not dressing for a single game as a rookie, Schofield added weight and he looks forward to fighting for a starting job.

"I am going in there with that mentality. In the NFL everybody is competing," Schofield said during a road trip to see family in Illinois. "They are looking for someone to step up and take over. I want to make that jump."

The third-round draft pick of the Broncos in 2014 struggled with weight issues, but he is now up to 305 pounds. He also recognized that his pass protection needs improvement.

"Personally, I felt there were reasons I wasn't out there (for games). I wasn't consistent enough in pass pro (protection). And my weight was really fluctuating," Schofield said.

Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak believes that the team's zone-blocking scheme can help Schofield elevate his game, and Schofield agrees.

"We like the Schofield kid, so we'll see. We think he's got some flexibility (in where he can play)," Kubiak said. "It will be very competitive."

"I feel like I am better suited for this," Schofield said. "You have to be able to reach block, and I feel the steps required fit me better."


 
 
 
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