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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
Patriots running back Stevan Ridley: 'I have something to prove'
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Patriots running back Stevan Ridley is expected to become a free agent in the coming weeks and he is ready for the experience.

"I'm excited about it," Ridley told Sirius XM Radio Friday. "As a player coming into the league, you get there and your first contract you kind of have to establish yourself and see what you can do. Everybody is a good player if you get to make it to the NFL, but there is something to be said if you get to that second contract."

Ridley has rushed for 2,817 yards and 22 touchdowns in his first four seasons in the league with the Patriots.

"Where I'll be playing, and who I'll be playing for, is still unknown, but I know I've come in and done my job up to this point and now I have to put it in my agent's hands to get me on another team, or stay where I'm at, and make sure I’m in pads playing ball somewhere next year. I know if you think about it too much it will worry you sick."

Ridley has played in 20 of a possible 32 games the last two seasons, starting in just 11 of them.

"I take it personal to any team or anybody that says I can't be a very productive player on whatever team I land on," he said. "I've been playing ball my whole life, I'm going to come in and be a leader, and I'm going to be a guy that comes in and busts his butt in the weight room and busts his butt on the field. I'm a good teammate, I have fun with my guys, but when the lights come on Sundays, it's all business and I plan on going out there and making plays."


Patriots' Aaron Dobson doing well in rehab of hamstring injury
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Patriots wide receiver Aaron Dobson is still recovering from a hamstring injury that ended his season in 2014. Trainer Brett Fischer said Friday he thinks Dobson is going to turn heads when he heads back to Foxboro for training camp, according to the Boston Herald.

"He was talking about, 'When I go up there (to Foxboro) and they see me again, I want to make sure they know I'm in the best shape of my life.' He is really determined," Fischer said. "That is the underlying theme every day: 'Hey, I've got to be ready when April comes, be ready as far as the best shape of my life.' It's frustrating with two years of freaky-type stuff."

Dobson finished a disappointing 2014 season with three catches for 38 yards.

"He is doing great," Fischer said. "I'm really excited for him. He has put the time and effort into it, comes in early, gets all his work in and he is hungry. There are a few specific things we found, minor little things we're working on, that make his program a little bit unique to everybody else's. Nothing major."


Report: Should be a 'very active market' for Broncos' Julius Thomas
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Broncos tight end Julius Thomas turned down a five-year, $40 million contract for a reason. That's because it's believed he will have a "very active market" when the new league year begins on March 10, according to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport. 

Two teams that are expected to target Thomas in free agency are the Raiders and Jaguars, both of which need to upgrade considerably at their skill positions to help out their young quarterbacks. The expectation is for Broncos general manager John Elway to let Thomas test the waters in free agency to see what he's offered. 

The Falcons have also reportedly been interested, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's D. Orlando Ledbetter. 

Injuries slowed what was an otherwise fast start to his 2014 season. Thomas' season ended with 489 yards and 12 touchdowns. 


Report: Browns QB Brian Hoyer could be on the way out of Cleveland
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) With the signing of Josh McCown Friday, Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer could be looking elsewhere for employment. Coach Mike Pettine called Hoyer to inform him the team was signing McCown and Hoyer appears ready to move on, according to Albert Breer of the NFL Network.

Hoyer played in 14 games for the Browns in 2014, throwing for 3,326 yards with 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He lost his starting position to Johnny Manziel in Week 15, but was forced back into action after Manziel suffered a season-ending injury.


Quarterback Josh McCown agrees to terms with Browns
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Free agent quarterback Josh McCown has agreed to terms with the Browns on a contract, according to his agent Mike McCartney. The team later confirmed the report. The deal is reportedly set to have McCown on the Browns for three seasons, according to ESPN.

McCown, who will turn 36 before the season begins, previously visited with the Bills before signing with the Browns. McCown threw for 2,206 yards with 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in 2014 with the Buccaneers.


Jets WR Percy Harvin will not accept pay cut
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Jets receiver Percy Harvin will not agree to a reduction in his 2015 salary, reports CBSSports.com NFL Insider Jason La Canfora. 

Harvin is slated to earn $10.5 million this season, something the Jets cannot afford. Teams around the league are interested signing Harvin to a short-term deal. With his expensive contract, though, the Jets will be hard-pressed to find a suitor interested in trading Harvin. 

The Seahawks traded Harvin to the Jets for a conditional pick during the 2014 season. 


Report: Colts' Wayne undergoes triceps surgery, mulling retirement
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne underwent surgery Friday to repair his injured triceps, according to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network. Wayne, 36, is beginning rehab for the injury and is reportedly considering retirement, according to Rapoport.

Wayne played in 15 regular season games for the Colts in 2014, totaling 779 yards on 64 catches with two touchdowns.


Dolphins WR Mike Wallace interested in return to Steelers
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Though the Dolphins are shopping Mike Wallace to prospective suitors, there is one team that is of interest to the speedy receiver. 

According to CBSSports.com NFL Insider Jason La Canfora, Wallace has interest in potentially returning to the Steelers. Of course, the Steelers would have to decide if they'd be willing to take on a contract that's going to have a $12.1 million cap figure for 2015. 

Wallace has underperformed in relation to the five-year, $60 million contract he signed before the 2013 season. He's failed to reach 1,000 yards with the Dolphins in either season after recording that mark twice with the Steelers in his first four NFL seasons. 


Buccaneers' Vincent Jackson not accepting pay cut for 2015
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson is likely to remain with Tampa Bay this offseason, but he is not willing to accept a pay cut, according to CBSSports.com NFL Insider Jason La Canfora.

Jackson, who was shopped by the team before the trade deadline, is set to make $10 million in base salary and has a $12.2 million cap hit. He totaled 70 catches for 1,002 yards and two touchdowns in 2014.


Falcons' Dan Quinn wants to re-sign Sean Weatherspoon
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Though Sean Weatherspoon missed most of the past two seasons due to injuries, Falcons coach Dan Quinn is hopeful the franchise can re-sign the standout inside linebacker to a new contract before he hits the free agent market on March 10. 

"With him, it's that toughness and the speed that he can play with so, yes, definitely someone that we're talking to," Quinn said via ESPN.com. "I know he's got that kind of attitude. And you know me, just from watching our style of defense, it's fast and physical. And that's what Sean is. So, we're certainly hoping that he can be a big part of it moving forward."

Weatherspoon played in only seven games during the 2013 season due to a Lisfranc sprain in his foot. He missed all of 2014 due to an Achilles tear. 

Weatherspoon was the Falcons' first-round pick in the 2010 draft. He's totaled 290 tackles, eight sacks and two interceptions during his career. 


 
 
 
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