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2014 Draft Prep: Third-year receivers

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The wide receiver Class of 2012 might end up being one of the best of all time. That is, if two of the premier members get their acts together.

When looking at this group for a breakdown of third-year receivers, you have to wonder what the future holds for Josh Gordon and Justin Blackmon. Both are arguably the most talented receivers in this class -- Gordon was a star in 2013 and Blackmon was the first receiver drafted in 2012 -- but both could be out all season.

Gordon is waiting to find out if he'll be suspended for the year for violating the league's substance abuse policy. And Blackmon is suspended indefinitely, also for violating the league's substance abuse policy. It's a shame we might not have either one, especially Gordon, because of their immense talent and potential.

Without them, this is still a solid group of receivers, and Fantasy owners can definitely benefit by targeting several members of this class. Alshon Jeffery, Michael Floyd, Kendall Wright and T.Y. Hilton should already be on your radar. But don't be surprised when guys like Rueben Randle, Jarrett Boykin and Rod Streater have career years as well.

The third-year receiver theory has worked for many Fantasy owners throughout the years. It 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. I've spoken to many receivers about this theory throughout the years, and Carter and Jerry Rice are among those who agree that Year 3 for a receiver is important because of development.

Now, this doesn't mean a rookie or second-year receiver can't be a star. We saw that with Gordon last season. But when a receiver hits their third season is when a certain comfort factor develops.

"The thing I've understood now about coaching in the NFL for three years is just how hard it is for a receiver to come from the college level to the pro level and be good in their first year or second year," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh told me recently. "It really takes the third or fourth year to be really good. They don't see bump coverage in college football. Now you're throwing in press coverage, and they have to think about how to get off with their release. That's not going to work if you're thinking about it. You have to be able to get off without thinking about it and then get into your route, get to your spot, catch the football.

"It's very difficult to go from college to pro football as a receiver. Some do, and some are great at it. Most it really takes that second, third, fourth year to realize how good they can be."

We hope many of the receivers from this class improve in their third season and have a breakout campaign. It would have been nice to have Gordon and Blackmon available all year, but even without them there are still several receivers to target on Draft Day from the Class of 2012.

Below is a breakdown of the Elite Eight, and we hope all see a statistical bump in their production this year.

Elite Eight from the WR Class of 2012

Alshon Jeffery, Bears

Jeffery is the perfect example for Fantasy owners who don't believe in the third-year receiver theory, because he was a sophomore sensation after a relatively quiet rookie campaign. I don't expect another huge statistical leap for Jeffery, but I'm a believer in the Bears offense under Marc Trestman, so more growth is expected in the second year of the system. Jeffery should remain No. 2 on the pecking order for Jay Cutler's affection behind Brandon Marshall, but that doesn't make him a secondary receiver by any stretch. He should be considered a No. 1 Fantasy option worth drafting in Round 3 in all formats. If, as expected, his development continues, he could overtake Marshall as the No. 1 receiver in Chicago this year, but we're not going that far just yet.
2012 stats: 48 targets for 24 catches, 367 yards and three touchdowns
2013 stats: 150 targets for 89 catches, 1,421 yards and seven touchdowns
2014 projections: 88 catches, 1,385 yards and eight touchdowns
Expected ADP in seasonal formats: 27-32 overall

Michael Floyd, Cardinals

Floyd is one of my favorite players this season because I do expect a third-year breakout in what should be one of the most exciting offenses in 2014. The Cardinals should have full grasp of Bruce Arians' system, and the offseason reports for Floyd have been glowing. Arizona's offense looked better last season following the bye in Week 9, and it showed in Floyd's performance when he had at least nine Fantasy points in five of his final seven games. Floyd led the Cardinals in receiving yards last season and had just 17 fewer catches than Larry Fitzgerald. If he can catch Fitzgerald in catches and possibly touchdowns then we're looking at one of the biggest breakouts of the season. He's a steal in Round 5, and I'd consider drafting him in Round 4.
2012 stats: 86 targets for 45 catches, 562 yards and two touchdowns
2013 stats: 112 targets for 65 catches, 1,041 yards and five touchdowns
2014 projections: 82 catches, 1,138 yards and seven touchdowns
Expected ADP in seasonal formats: 55-60 overall

Kendall Wright, Titans

Wright, like Floyd, is another receiver trending in the right direction, and he's someone to target in all formats this year. He's clearly a better option in PPR leagues after his production in 2013, but if the touchdown total rises he'll be a breakout star across the board. The coaching change with Ken Whisenhunt should help since he's worked with and helped develop some top-tier talent at receiver during his past three stops as either the head coach or offensive coordinator at Pittsburgh, Arizona and San Diego. He had 1,000-yard receivers in Hines Ward, Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Steve Breaston and Keenan Allen, and we hope he can maximize Wright's talent as well. It will help if Jake Locker can stay healthy all season to stabilize the quarterback position, but we're counting on Wright to make whoever is throwing him passes better. He's a No. 3 receiver in standard leagues worth drafting in Round 6, and we like him as a standout No. 2 option in PPR formats worth drafting in Round 4.
2012 stats: 104 targets for 64 catches, 626 yards and four touchdowns
2013 stats: 140 targets for 94 catches, 1,079 yards and two touchdowns
2014 projections: 88 catches, 1,085 yards and five touchdowns
Expected ADP in seasonal formats: 63-69 overall

T.Y. Hilton, Colts

Hilton could be one of those receivers who makes or breaks your Fantasy team depending on when he's drafted. If you let him fall to you in Round 5 or later then the value is good, but don't be surprised if he's a bust if he's drafted earlier than that. He definitely has the chance to improve on his stats from his first two years, but a healthy Reggie Wayne, who tore his ACL last season, and the addition of Hakeem Nicks could be troublesome. The Colts also get Dwayne Allen (hip) back, and their running game should be improved with Trent Richardson. Still, Hilton is heading in the right direction, and the Colts are toying with him in the slot and on the outside. The maturation process in his third year is taking place this offseason, and we hope he can benefit. We just hope Wayne and Nicks stay out of his way.
2012 stats: 91 targets for 50 catches, 861 yards and seven touchdowns
2013 stats: 138 targets for 82 catches, 1,083 yards and five touchdowns
2014 projections: 70 catches, 925 yards and six touchdowns
Expected ADP in seasonal formats: 65-70 overall

Rueben Randle, Giants

Randle was someone I liked when last season ended but then became down on him following a litany of negative reports early in the offseason, which culminated with the Giants drafting Odell Beckham in the first round. But Randle has reportedly been impressive in OTA workouts and minicamp, and he's back on the upswing. He now appears poised for the breakout season we anticipated, and hopefully new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo and quarterback Eli Manning will feature Randle in the offense. He showed plenty of promise last year when he scored five touchdowns over a six-game span, and we hope that type of performance is consistent all season as he helps the Giants replace Nicks. He's a great No. 3 receiver to target in Round 7, and he could easily outperform that ADP.
2012 stats: 32 targets for 19 catches, 298 yards and three touchdowns
2013 stats: 80 targets for 41 catches, 611 yards and six touchdowns
2014 projections: 58 catches, 782 yards and seven touchdowns
Expected ADP in seasonal formats: 80-85 overall

Jarrett Boykin, Packers

Boykin is one of two undrafted free agents on this list, and he has the chance for a big year in 2014 if the Packers use him as part of the plan to replace James Jones and Jermichael Finley. Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are clearly the top two options for Aaron Rodgers, but if Boykin can hold onto the No. 3 job ahead of rookie Davonte Adams then he should be a nice sleeper. He stepped up last season when Cobb went down in Week 6, and he played well despite not getting much time with Rodgers, who got hurt in Week 9. In the two games with Rodgers after Cobb was out, Boykin had 13 catches, 192 yards and a touchdown. He's a great option with a late-round pick, and the Packers could use him a lot if he stays at No. 3 on the depth chart.
2012 stats: six targets for five catches and 27 yards
2013 stats: 82 targets for 49 catches, 681 yards and three touchdowns
2014 projections: 67 catches, 872 yards and four touchdowns
Expected ADP in seasonal formats: 130-135 overall

Marvin Jones, Bengals

Jones is one of those third-year receivers who will regress in one area statistically but gain in another. He was one of 10 receivers with double digits in touchdowns last season, and that production will almost certainly decline. The Bengals will be more run-heavy under new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, and it's hard to anticipate the No. 2 receiver in this offense (A.J. Green is No. 1 in case you forgot) scoring 10-plus times. But Jones should see a boost in catches and yards as his game develops, and he's worth drafting as a late-round flier. There are definitely weeks where Jones will shine -- he had eight catches for 122 yards and four touchdowns against the Jets in Week 8 last year -- and you'll obviously want him in your lineup when that happens.
2012 stats: 32 targets for 18 catches, 201 yards and one touchdown
2013 stats: 80 targets for 51 catches, 712 yards and 10 touchdowns
2014 projections: 62 catches, 778 yards and five touchdowns
Expected ADP in seasonal formats: 135-140 overall

Rod Streater, Raiders

Streater, like Boykin, was an undrafted free agent. And like most of the players on this list, he's headed for a breakout year in 2014. He's easily the most enticing receiver for the Raiders. James Jones will suffer without Rodgers and the Packers offense, and Denarius Moore is too inconsistent. Streater has shown the improvement in his first two years you look for in a potential breakout, and the addition of Matt Schaub is a significant upgrade at quarterback. No one is going to draft Streater with the idea of starting him, and he could go undrafted in many shallow formats, which is fair. But don't be surprised when he's one of the most added players on the waiver wire this season and ends up making a big impact on your Fantasy roster.
2012 stats: 74 targets for 39 catches, 584 yards and three touchdowns
2013 stats: 101 targets for 60 catches, 888 yards and four touchdowns
2014 projections: 56 catches, 843 yards and four touchdowns
Expected ADP in seasonal formats: 160-165 overall

Best of the rest ...

Here are eight other receivers who could also have a breakout year in their third season in the NFL but none of these guys will be drafted in the majority of leagues. Just keep them on your radar as the season goes on, especially in deeper formats.

Chris Givens, Rams
Ryan Broyles, Lions
Mohamed Sanu, Bengals
Stephen Hill, Jets
DeVier Posey, Texans
Junior Hemingway, Chiefs
A.J. Jenkins, Chiefs
Brian Quick, Rams

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Player News
Seahawks TE Luke Willson, C Max Unger could return Week 8
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(8:02 pm ET) Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said tight end Luke Willson (groin) almost certainly will play Sunday at Carolina, and that center Max Unger (foot) has a chance to play, reports the Seattle Times. Both missed the Week 7 loss at St. Louis.

Jeff Fisher: Zac Stacy 'could get 25 carries this week'
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7:46 pm ET) Rams coach Jeff Fisher said the team's running back situation will continue to be a "week-to-week thing," adding Zac Stacy's lack of playing time Sunday wasn't an indicator of things to come. Stacy played one snap and got zero carries in the win over the Seahawks.

"We’ve got three outstanding runners," Fisher said, referring to Stacy, Benny Cunningham and rookie Tre Mason. "And as I mentioned, we think Trey Watts can also help us, so we’re going to use them all. It’ll be a week-to-week thing. Zac could get 25 carries this week. We had some things in early this week. It was working so we decided to stay with ‘Mase.' It’s nothing that Zac has done or hasn’t done. He’s been a little banged up the last couple of weeks, but obviously he’s an outstanding runner as well. We clearly have significant depth there at the position."

Fisher noted Stacy missed practice time the past couple weeks due to calf and ankle injuries.

"The good thing about this is he’ll come back and should be 100 percent this week and just see where it goes," Fisher said.

The Rams visit the Chiefs in Week 8.


Injured Texans cleared for action
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7:35 pm ET) Several Texans who were on the injury report are active for Monday's game at Pittsburgh.

The list includes defensive end J.J. Watt (thigh), guard Brandon Brooks (illness), linebacker Brian Cushing (knee), wideout DeAndre Hopkins (hand), defensive end Tim Jamison (groin), cornerback Johnathan Joseph (knee), offensive tackle Derek Newton (elbow), linebacker Brooks Reed (groin), linebacker Jeff Tarpinian (knee). All were listed as probable.

Also suiting up is linebacker Mike Mohamed, who was questionable with a thigh injury.

Arian Foster, Andre Johnson set for MNF
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7:23 pm ET) Texans running back Arian Foster (groin) and wideout Andre Johnson (ankle) are active as expected for Monday's game in Pittsburgh after being listed as probable.

Texans reveal Week 7 inactives
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7:21 pm ET) The Texans declared linebacker Jadeveon Clowney (knee), quarterback Tom Savage, defensive backs Josh Aubrey, Darryl Morris (ankle) and Jumal Rolle, offensive tackle Jeff Adams and wideout DeVier Posey inactive for Monday's game at Pittsburgh.

Steelers' probables cleared to face Texans
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7:13 pm ET) All the Steelers who were probable on the injury report are active for Monday's game against Houston. The list includes defensive end Cameron Heyward (ankle), running back Will Johnson (illness), defensive end Brett Keisel (knee) and safety Mike Mitchell (knee).

Steelers announce inactives for MNF
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7:09 pm ET) The Steelers declared cornerback Ike Taylor (forearm), linebacker Ryan Shazier (knee), safety Shamarko Thomas (hamstring), nose tackle Steve McLendon (shoulder), quarterback Landry Jones, guard Christopher Hubbard and wideout Justin Brown inactive for Monday's game against the Texans.

Steelers LB Ryan Shazier unable to go
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7:06 pm ET) Steelers rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier, who was questionable with a knee injury, is inactive for Monday's game against the Texans. Shazier has not played since Week 3.

Jadeveon Clowney to miss sixth straight game
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7:00 pm ET) Texans rookie linebacker Jadeveon Clowney tested his knee before Monday's game at Pittsburgh but was deemed not ready to play. He's inactive for the sixth straight game.

Clowney hurt his knee Week 1 and underwent surgery. The No. 1 overall pick played 23 snaps in the opener, making one tackle.


Seahawks say FB Derrick Coleman out at least 6 weeks
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(6:53 pm ET) Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told the Seattle Times that fullback Derrick Coleman will miss at least six weeks. Coleman broke his foot in pregame warmups Sunday at St. Louis.

 
 
 
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