Every good fantasy player knows that receivers usually take three years to finally breakout and realize their potential. It takes receivers longer to adjust to the NFL for several reasons. They need to adjust to the faster speed of the game as well as deal with quicker, faster cornerbacks. They have to learn large new playbooks, how to read coverages, and gain the trust of both the coach and the quarterback before they see enough playing time and throws to turn to fantasy gold.
This upcoming season should be one of the most interesting years for third-year receivers that fantasy footballers have seen in awhile. Some of these receivers have already “broken out” and are at the top of players’ radar screens. Among those are Mike Wallace and Hakeem Nicks, but even they may not have reached their full potentials yet. Here is a list of the Top 12 third-year receivers to be on the lookout for:
1. Mike Wallace (Pittsburgh) – Wallace is DeSean Jackson ultra. He is a taller, bigger, possibly faster and injury- free version of the Philadelphia receiver. He can cross over the middle and take the hits or get behind the defense and hit the home run. He is still developing as a receiver and has room to improve. That’s the scary part. He put up 60 receptions for 1,257 yards and 10 touchdowns in only his second year. This was without Ben Roethlisberger for the first four games and in his first year as a starter. With Roethlisberger for all 16 games, an easy receiving schedule (NFC West and AFC South), and another year under his belt, expect a huge year for Wallace. The only two receivers I have ahead of him this year are the two Johnsons (Andre and Calvin). Get him on your team.
2. Hakeem Nicks (New York Giants) – Nicks is another top fantasy receiver for 2011. He averaged the most points per game of any fantasy receiver last year. He is a touchdown machine that uses his body to shield the ball from the defender, making him unstoppable in the red zone. Expect another huge year from the young receiver with the NFC West on the schedule. However, a few things keep him below Mike Wallace on this list. First, although he averaged the most points per game, he was somewhat inconsistent. A couple huge games put him there but a few clunkers were in there as well. Secondly, he has shown to be injury prone and you probably can’t count on him for a whole season. Lastly, he faces Darrelle Revis in Week 16, so he may be useless for many championship games. Also, many rumors are putting Nnamdi Asomugha in the NFC East. That could mean two games against him as well. Keep an eye on this before drafts.
3. Austin Collie (Indianapolis) – Collie was the No. 1 receiver in fantasy halfway through the season when he went down. He is Peyton Manning’s go-to-guy and has huge upside. The concussions are a problem, but if you are willing to take the risk it could pay off in a big way. You can get him in the fifth or sixth round, and he just has too much upside to be any lower on the list (even below players who will be drafted higher).
4. Jeremy Maclin (Philadelphia) – Maclin had a great second year in Philadelphia with 70 receptions for 964 yards and 10 touchdowns. He makes more receptions than DeSean Jackson (and outscored him last year), is a red zone favorite of Michale Vick, and can still hit the home run. An easy schedule doesn’t hurt either. He’s also more consistent than Jackson, and is higher on my board this year.
5. Johnny Knox (Chicago) – Knox had 51 receptions for 960 yards and five touchdowns last year. Chicago offensive coordinator Mike Martz loves faster receivers that are quick in and out of cuts. Knox can hit the big play and may end up putting up WR2 stats at a WR3 price. If he scores a few more touchdowns he could have a big year.
6. Kenny Britt (Tennessee) – The troubled young receiver has been arrested several times this offseason. The charges have mostly been knocked down, but a one- or two-game suspension could be looming when the lockout ends. Britt is one of the most talented receivers in the league, but has constantly shown his immaturity off the field. Showing up to camp overweight and struggling through injuries haven’t helped either, but 42 receptions for 775 yards and nine touchdowns in just 10 games is pretty impressive nonetheless. Here is an interesting statistic for you – Britt had 640 yards and six touchdowns in the seven games that Kerry Collins played (even if he didn’t start). Vince Young just wasn’t as much of a passer. Pay close attention to the quarterback situation and suspension situation going into your draft because if Collins or another good passing quarterback looks like they will start this year (over Jake Locker), Britt may put up a monster year for you. Keep a very close eye on this situation.
7. Michael Crabtree (San Francisco) – Crabtree was the most talented receiver of this impressive group coming out of college. He only managed 55 receptions for 741 yards and six touchdowns last year, but had a good rookie year considering he held out and missed camp and several games. He looked to be poised for a big year but again was hurt and barely participated in camp while struggling to form chemistry with Alex Smith and Troy Smith. Will coach Jim Harbaugh’s motivational skills and a switch to the a West Coast offense (that is better suited to his talents) be enough to finally unleash his massive potential? Or will another shortened camp, poor quarterback play, and what appears to be a lack of effort or interest on Crabtree’s part hold him back yet again?
8. Percy Harvin (Minnesota) – Coach Leslie Frazier wants to get Harvin the ball more often, but who will the quarterback be? Harvin is another supreme talent with speed to spare but is another on this list with a questionable quarterback situation holding him back. If the Vikings find somebody better than Christian Ponder for this year, upgrade Harvin.
9. Mike Thomas (Jacksonville) – I love Thomas this year. Going into his third year, he has improved every year and has become David Garrard’s No. 1 target. Word out of Jacksonville is that Garrard is supposed to start this year while Blaine Gabbert learns the ropes, but keep an eye on the situation. Thomas will be a very strong wide receiver three who will be drafted closer to or in fourth receiver territory.
10. Louis Murphy (Oakland) – Murphy didn’t have a bad second year. He had more than 600 yards and was a decent receiving option for the Raiders. If he continues to develop, maybe he can move into WR3 range. Not as much upside as the receivers listed ahead of him.
11. Brandon Tate (New England) – Deion Branch is 32 now and slowing down. If Tate can find a way to crack the lineup, he may become immediately valuable with Tom Brady throwing to him.
12. Mohamed Massaquoi (Cleveland) – Massaquoi is a reasonably athletic receiver, but not overly talented. He’s stuck with a quarterback that won’t throw for a ton of yards. He doesn’t have huge upside.
Honorable Mention – Brian Hartline (Miami),Brandon Gibson (St. Louis), Julian Edelman (New England), Kevin Ogletree (Dallas), Quan Cosby (Cincinnati).
The upside in this wide receiver class is massive. Grabbing a few of these receivers could be the difference for a lot of players between taking home the trophy and missing the playoffs this fantasy season. Keeping an eye on the quarterback situations of these wide receivers could reap big benefits come draft day. Then at the end of the season you can brag to your friends about your brilliant foresight with this year’s third-year wide receiver crop. When all is said and done, this could be one of the best wide receiver drafts in history. Make sure you do your due diligence and don’t miss the boat on this one.