The third-year wide receiver breakout theory has been around in fantasy football circles for as long as I can remember. The logic is sound enough, as rookie receivers over the years have not typically been asked to step into a starting role, and the second year has historically been viewed as somewhat of an adjustment period. There are also plenty of examples of third-year receivers making the leap to fantasy stardom, including guys like Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas last season. But in the same way that quarterbacks have been proving themselves NFL ready sooner than ever before, wide receivers have also been accelerating their transition from the college game.
Over the last 20 NFL seasons, a third-year wide out has eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving 63% more often than a second-year player. However, in the past five seasons, that variance has been just 20%. While it can be argued that the quality of receivers entering the league has simply been better in recent years, I think the data is also representative of the increased expectations that teams have for young players at the position. Additionally, organizations are showing a willingness to provide those players an opportunity to succeed earlier in their careers.
With that in mind, here are some of my favorite second-year receivers that had less than 700 yards as rookies last season, but who could be poised to breakout in 2013. For more on these players and countless others, make sure you check out our full list of wide receiver rankings and projections.
St. Louis Rams
Givens got the attention of fantasy owners early last season when he had five consecutive games with at least one catch of 50-plus yards. But in the second half of the year, the speedster became more than just a deep threat for the Rams, as evidenced by a five-catch, 115-yard effort against the Cardinals in Week 12 and an 11-catch, 92-yard performance against San Francisco the following week. St. Louis drafted Tavon Austin to be its No. 1 receiver of the future, but Givens might be closer to filling that role in 2013. Even as the second receiver in an up-and-coming Rams offense, Givens will have fantasy value, with the potential to far exceed his current draft position.
Which rookie wide receiver had the most receptions in 2012? It would be strange for me to mention this here if it weren’t Kendall Wright, who shared the honor with Justin Blackmon. Wright led the Titans with 64 catches and was tied for the team lead with four touchdown grabs. His fantasy prospects this season are tied to the development of Jake Locker, but a new offensive scheme in Tennessee has been designed to put Locker in a better position to succeed. If a revamped offensive line can take pressure off of Locker, Wright should be the biggest beneficiary, even as he battles Kenny Britt and rookie Justin Hunter for targets.
Injuries limited Jeffery to ten games in his rookie season, but he managed to show flashes of the potential that made him the 45th overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft. New Bears coach Marc Trestman brings a hybrid West Coast Offense to town that relies on the short passing game and a high volume of throws. A more dynamic offense should allow Chicago to spread the ball around better than last season when Brandon Marshall accounted for 41% of the team’s receptions and 46% of the receiving yards. Marshall is certainly still the star of the show, but there should be plenty of targets to go around. If Jeffery can stay on the field, he could easily make a run at 800 yards receiving.
In the last five years, the second option in Bruce Arians’ passing attack has averaged 942 yards and five touchdowns, including T.Y. Hilton’s breakout year in 2012. That could mean big things for Floyd, who I’m confident will beat out Andre Roberts for the No.2 spot in Arizona. Floyd finished the season strong a year ago, catching 14 passes for 213 yards and a touchdown against Chicago and San Francisco in the Cardinals’ final two games. With Carson Palmer serving as an upgrade over last year’s Kolb-Skelton-Lindley-Hoyer fiasco in Arizona and with Arians at the helm of the offense, Floyd could build considerably on his 562-yard, two-touchdown rookie campaign.
New York Giants
Randle combined with Domenik Hixon and Ramses Barden for 1,085 yards and five touchdowns for the Giants last season. With Hixon and Barden out of New York, not to mention the departure of Martellus Bennett, opportunity is knocking for Randle to step up his involvement in the offense. While he is definitively behind Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks in the wide receiver pecking order to start the year, Nicks has yet to play 16 games in a season during his four-year NFL career and he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery during the offseason. Even as the No. 3 receiver in New York, Randle has fantasy value, but he could find himself starting at times and brings the same size and leaping ability that have made Nicks a redzone favorite of Eli Manning over the years.
Sanu got off to a slow start in 2012, but was establishing himself as a major redzone target for Andy Dalton before his rookie season was cut short by a stress fracture in his left foot. From Week 10 through Week 12, Sanu was targeted 19 times and caught four touchdown passes. What he lacks in speed, he makes up for with terrific hands and toughness in traffic. There are a lot of possible options after A.J. Green in the Bengals passing attack, including Marvin Jones, Andrew Hawkins, and the tight end tandem of Jermaine Gresham and rookie Tyler Eifert, but Sanu has fantasy potential as a possession receiver and potential touchdown maker.
Broyles is working his way back from his second ACL reconstruction in as many years, so drafting him for fantasy purposes in 2013 comes with some risk. But for a month and a half last season, Broyles demonstrated what he is capable of when he’s healthy. From Week 7 through Week 12 of the 2012 season, Broyles caught 21 passes for 307 yards and two touchdowns. It’s an incredibly small sample size to be sure, but those numbers extrapolate to 819 yards and five touchdowns over 16 games. Broyles is reportedly further along in his recovery this season than he was a year ago and if he can stay on the field in Detroit’s high-volume passing game, he should be able to produce very fantasy-friendly numbers in 2013.
Savvy fantasy owners know not to put too much stock into preseason statistics, but Streater got everyone’s attention last August when he caught 18 passes for 165 yards in Oakland’s first three exhibition games. With the exception of a Week 1 touchdown, the first half of Streater’s rookie year was largely forgettable. However, in the Raiders’ last eight games, he led the team in receiving yards, including a 70.2 yards-per-game average from Week 13 through Week 17. With Darrius Heyward-Bey now playing in Indianapolis, Streater should be able to nail down a starting spot for a team that figures to be playing from behind often this year.