The Year Three WR: Breakout or Just Plain Broken?

The third year wide receiver--we covet these players in our fantasy drafts, because year three is generally believed to be the year that the proverbial "light goes on" for these young wideouts. It's the year they go from sophomore slump to potential fantasy stud. The key is identifying value among these junior burners and stocking your roster accordingly.


Tier 1

Dez Bryant, Dallas - Dez can be a maddening player to own in fantasy football. Based on pure athletic ability alone he could easily be considered a top five fantasy wide receiver, but he's not without some added risk. A bit of a head case and somewhat undisciplined route runner, Bryant can fall prey to other WRs on the depth chart out-pointing him because QB Tony Romo doesn't completely trust him yet. However, that could change this year. Bryant had a solid sophomore season with a 63rec/928yds/9TD line (14.7 YPC), and is poised to breakout with fantasy killer Laurent Robinson leaving via free agency to Jacksonville and Miles Austin taking a step back in production in 2011. There's also the shadow of Romo's binky (Jason Witten) still looming, but this is Dez Bryant's time. Now is the time .

ADP (Average Draft Position) - Bryant is currently being drafted at the top of round four (4.1-4-3) and presents strong value and upside if he takes the next step and vaults into the top five WR1 role we all expect he can.

2Mugs Take - I think if Bryant came off the board as a clear cut number one WR in rounds 2-3, there might be some questioning assuming that risk, but in the early 4th he could be a steal. I expect by the time most drafts kick off in late August and September, his ADP could go higher, at which time you'll have to weigh the risk of taking Bryant over a WR who's more of a proven fantasy commodity.


Victor Cruz - The breakout WR out of Div. 2 UMass, Cruz was a fantasy juggernaut last year.  He usurped the Steve Smith role in the slot for Eli Manning, and bested Smith in pure scoring (82/1536/9TDs) as Eli's go-to WR in the offense. Hakeem Nicks is still a strong #1 WR in this pass oriented Giant offense, and rookie Reuben Randle out of LSU could prove to be a upgrade over the recently departed (via FA) Mario Manningham.

ADP - Cruz is coming off boards as early as 3.3 in some mocks, and I expect that won't change much as we inch toward August.

2Mugs Take: I think Cruz will continue to have a big role in this offense, but how much? Will Randle command the ball more than the inconsistent Manningham, or will Eli lean on the Salsa King as his 2nd read if Nicks is seeing more bracket coverage? I think Cruz is drafted as a modest value, but you could be in for a bit of a letdown after only one year of production. I would wait on Cruz in the middle or late 3rd, and take more pure #1 options as my 2nd WR (Marshall, Welker, and Wallace come to mind over Cruz).


Demaryius Thomas - The explosive WR out of Georgia Tech flashed the upside that many saw coming out of college two years ago when he became the deep route binky of one Timothy Tebow.  Then the Broncos summarily traded Tebow to the Jets. But wait! All is not lost, that was after John Elway lured Peyton Manning to the Rocky Mountains to be the new long face of the Denver Broncos. This means if they can stay healthy (both Thomas and Manning) the Rocky Mountain sky is the limit.

ADP - Thomas is falling pretty late at 4.9, which is a pretty good value if he emerges as the number one over Eric Decker and fantasy hero/killer Jacob Tamme.

2Mugs Take - I love this value, but it's not without risk. It's still a trial and error process with Manning, feeling out who he has passing chemistry with and so forth (Tamme already has a leg up from his days in Indy), and there's the injury history of Thomas, which is why he's going off boards so late. Me? I'll gamble with his talent over Decker, and I think Manning will throw the ball plenty and there will be enough to go around. In this spot? A steal.


Tier 2

These are the WRs who are generally seen as #2 WRs and not to be counted on for week to week stud production. These WRs still have strong upside and could exceed expectations in terms of overall fantasy points.


Antonio Brown - Brown didn't score many TDs for the Steelers in 2011 (69/1108/2 TDs), but he quickly supplanted the now retired Hines Ward as the defacto possession WR and #2 in the Steeler offense. What's more is that he gained Ben Roethlisberger's trust and should see an uptick in receptions and scoring.

ADP - Brown is coming off boards in the early sixth round (6.2) and that should hold true come late August and possibly go even higher.

2Mugs Take - While I was big on Brown late last season, I tend to think Brown may be going too high in some mocks and could have inflated status come early September and be overvalued.


Eric Decker - Decker was another favorite target of Tim Tebow last year early on, but gave way to Demaryius Thomas when he dealt with a knee injury leading up to the playoffs. The arrival of Peyton Manning has many draftniks drooling over the potential upside of Decker in a pass happy offense.

ADP - Decker is coming off the board just after Antonio Brown in the sixth round (6.4) and is a strong value if his ADP holds and Peyton can stay healthy.

2Mugs Take - I'm conditioned to think Decker could flourish with Manning under center, but I'd rather let others overpay for Decker (his ADP should be inflated by August) and double up on a TE like Jacob Tamme. Tamme's comfort level with Manning should result in solid PPR numbers.


Mike Williams (TB) - Williams suffered a sophomore slump, as did QB Josh Freeman, with a much tougher 2011 schedule and defenses analyzing the book on this offense. The addition of stud free agent Vincent Jackson should open things up for Williams in a bounce back year.

ADP - Williams is coming off boards in the late ninth round (9.11) currently, but could inch up a bit as we near the August/September drafts.

2Mugs Take - It's hard to trust a first year coach (Schiano) and an offense that's not necessarily a juggernaut, but adding Jackson and OG Carl Nicks, as well as drafting RB Doug Martin, makes Williams finally a more desirable option, especially at such a low draft position. I wouldn't reach for Williams, but if this ADP holds, he's definitely not a reach.


Tier 3

These WRs have solid upside with little competition for the #2 WR on their respective teams, but also have equal bust potential.


Brandon LaFell - LaFell has a golden opportunity to emerge in his third year as a true #2 WR under über talented QB Cam Newton. LaFell isn't a special player like Steve Smith, but he's a decent bet to have a breakout year in Newton's sophomore campaign.

ADP - LaFell is dirt cheap in most mocks as a late 11th round selection (11.12)

2Mugs Take - While this offense still appears to churn via the legs of Newton and the running game, Steve Smith had a bounce back year via the cannon arm of the QB of the same name. Is LaFell bust worthy? Absolutely. Greg Olsen still is a threat to see targets roll his way, but Lafell's 17.0 YPC was second to only Smith for Carolina, so I like his chances to emerge.


David Nelson - Nelson is an interesting #2 WR prospect. Despite being 2nd on the Bills in catches (61) behind Stevie Johnson, Nelson is getting little love in fantasy mocks thus far.

ADP - Nelson has gone undrafted in most mocks.

2Mugs Take - In Chan Gailey's offense, getting to exploit the fantasy goldmine that is the slot position should push Nelson up boards, but it hasn't. Perhaps drafting speedster T.J. Graham has turned some folks off? At 6'-5" and in a terrific position to succeed, I'll take my chances on Nelson late.


Tier 4

The final tier of year three WRs consists of players that are typically 3rd or 4th WRs on the depth charts, but possess enough talent and upside to challenge for bigger roles and be surprising "sleeper" fantasy starts.


Emmanuel Sanders - Manny Sanders didn't light up the fantasy world last year with only 22 catches and 2 TDs, but he's primed for a much bigger role now that Hines Ward officially retired. Sanders is a high upside #3 WR with the potential to challenge for the #2 spot.

ADP - Currently Sanders is coming off boards with the last group of WRs in the thirteenth round (13.12)

2Mugs Take - While I'd prefer a WR with a bigger role like Nelson, but if he's not there, I'd take the high value/low risk add of Sanders over bigger names or inflated rookie WRs.


Jacoby Ford - Ford sustained an injury last year that helped vault the upside talent of Denarious Moore into the fantasy stratosphere. Ford will need to push hard to make fantasy hay over Moore and Darius Heyward-Bey.

ADP - Ford, like David Nelson, is at this point going undrafted in mocks.

2Mugs Take - Ford has some upside in Carson Palmer's offense, but it would take an injury to DHB and Moore for him to have a great fantasy impact. Even still, he's worth a late roster stash due to his great speed and ability to separate.


These are the year three WRs that currently stand out as having potential breakout years ahead, but understand their (ADP) will fluctuate some between now and late August. As of right now, I would look to target Dez Bryant as a low end #1 WR, and target the value of Decker and Brown much later.