Just like a piece of bubble gum resting in your stomach for months, the third-year breakout idea in fantasy football is myth.
I suppose defining “breakout” would be helpful. To me, a breakout player in pretend pigskin would be one who obtains a top-24 ranking after not doing so in any previous year. He’s now become relevant to fantasy football – a starter in 12-team leagues – and wasn’t before. Simple? Good.
If we look at the last five seasons, there have been 14 receivers who finished in the top-24 for the first time who were third-year wideouts. But alas, just five of them were true breakouts. Most came through during their second years, which actually is the season most pass catchers seem to get an idea of what the NFL is all about.
Your definition of breakout could differ from mine, but it seems as though the community overstates what a third-year receiver really means to our game. So instead of looking at the guys entering their third season, let’s take a look at the top second-year receivers in fantasy football this year.
T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts
Hilton’s in a unique position as a second-year receiver. His rookie campaign went better than any other NFL rookie wideout last year, ranking as a low-end WR2 at season’s end. Therefore, his “breakout” essentially already happened.
Hilton’s big play ability last year catapulted him to having the seventh-best receiving net expected points per target total among 30-plus reception receivers. Basically, anytime T.Y. Hilton was targeted, he was doing more for his offense in terms of point total than nearly any receiver.
His monster playmaking tendencies forced a high NEP value. These types of opportunities may not be present in Pep Hamilton’s offense like they were Bruce Arians’. Not only that, but the Colts actually have Darrius Heyward-Bey ahead of Hilton on their depth chart. Keep that in mind when you select him this year, though I do expect DHB's role to not be nearly as significant as some think.
In the end, Hilton’s draft day value comes down to your belief in his talent and ability to overtake DHB for the number two role in the Colts offense. Thus far in the preseason, it’s looking like Hilton will indeed do just that. But there’s a risk involved in taking him as early as the end of the sixth. If he falls to your WR3, that's fine worth.
Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears
Like most rookie receivers, Alshon Jeffery had trouble last season posting worthwhile fantasy numbers. In a new offensive system with a friendlier spread approach, there’s a chance that Alshon could break through in 2013.
I point back to a previous article I wrote on Marc Tresman’s offense. In Oakland, Trestman took over a high-powered offense and began to spread the ball around, making more receivers relevant in both real and fantasy football. Though top receivers Tim Brown and Jerry Rice saw a dip in production, Jerry Porter saw a huge increase. That's good news for someone like Alshon.
Jeffery has an ability to stretch the field, which should complement Brandon Marshall and new tight end Martellus Bennett nicely. And hey, Jay Cutler is already praising him for having the best camp out of anyone on offense.
There’s certainly danger involved with Alshon, but that risk is embedded in his late-11th round average draft position. Go ahead and target him in your draft, as his big-play talent could lead to nice fantasy success.
Chris Givens, St. Louis Rams
As a rookie, the Rams Chris Givens outperformed higher draft choice Brian Quick with a 42 reception, 698-yard first-year campaign. Last year, Givens was the best Rams receiver in terms of receiving net expected points per play; besting both Danny Amendola and Brian Quick. As a rookie, that’s awfully impressive.
He’s already looking like Sam Bradford’s favorite weapon in the preseason, catching four balls for 139 yards and a touchdown on five targets thus far. And keep in mind: Givens may only be a second-year guy, but he’s actually one of the more experienced pass catchers in the young Rams offense.
One problem with Givens, however, is the uncertainty surrounding that youthful St. Louis offense. The Rams selected Tavon Austin, who may not be a direct threat to Givens’ role, but could see just as many – if not more – of Sam Bradford’s targets. Jared Cook may end up having a large impact in the receiving game, too.
The reason for hesitation is ambiguity and cost. Givens’ ADP is rising into the Round 8, which is the same area of the draft Mike Williams is being selected. Givens would’ve been a steal at that position last year, but in 2013, every position is deeper. There are proven, solid options being selected around him. The opportunity cost may be too significant.
I’d go with Givens if you feel good about your starting wide receivers. He has a chance of breaking out, but of course, it will depend on the flow of your draft and the cost associated with him.
Mohamed Sanu, Cincinnati Bengals
Before exiting the season from injury last year, the Bengals’ rookie wideout hauled in four touchdowns in his final three games. Without a legitimate threat outside of A.J. Green, Sanu was an attractive late-round get in fantasy drafts prior to April’s NFL Draft. (Yes, I, a degenerate, drafted back then.)
Sanu caught just 16 passes on 25 targets last season, so our sample size is small. However, his per target receiving NEP was on par with some of the better wideouts in the league. Much of this has to do with being effective with so few looks, but if it were to continue, Sanu would be a legitimate threat.
But now, the Bengals have Tyler Eifert. He not only can steal looks from non-A.J Green wideouts, but he can be a red zone threat, something Sanu excelled at during his short playing time last year. His significance may be hidden because he's a tight end, but he’s versatile – he can line up wide and play a receiver role.
Sanu’s ADP is listed in the 13th round of 12-team leagues, so it’s not as though you’re paying a premium to get him. However, it’s important to remember that his upside may be capped by the Bengals now “too many mouths to feed” offense.
Kendall Wright, Tennessee Titans
As I wrote last week, Kendall Wright, according to our analytics, is one of the riskiest picks at wide receiver in your fantasy drafts this year. Why? Well, not only is he inexperienced, but he has one of the more trivial passers in the league tossing him the rock in Jake Locker.
Wright’s going to have more value in PPR leagues this year. Though his numbers weren’t magnificent during his rookie season, he did haul in 64 grabs, which tied Packers James Jones. With a hopefully more experienced Locker and the up-and-down Kenny Britt opposite of him, Wright may be able to hit 70 catches in 2013.
But don’t get too excited just yet. Wright has a floor that’s not very pretty. We could see him scoring up to about 130 standard scoring points, but also as low as just 80. In other words, he could be a 2012 Brandon Stokley. Is that something you're looking at during your draft?
With breakout second-year receivers, I tend to aim for guys with established quarterbacks. Wright clearly doesn’t have that. Unless he drops significantly from his late-round ADP in PPR leagues, I’m more than likely staying away. Especially with a potentially healthier Kenny Britt.
Michael Floyd, Arizona Cardinals
One of the second-year breakout favorites is Arizona’s man, Michael Floyd. The pass catcher from Notre Dame started to come through towards the end of his rookie season, catching 14 passes for 213 yards and a score in his final two weeks.
Now the Cardinals have a new quarterback in Carson Palmer, some additional offensive line pieces, and a vertical passing-oriented head coach. This could be a great thing for Floyd.
I spoke to this in my article about Arians’ impact in Arizona: He (Arians) likes to have one possession, heavily-targeted receiver and one who stretches the field. For evidence, look at Hines Ward and Reggie Wayne versus Mike Wallace and T.Y. Hilton in Pittsburgh and Indianapolis. Hilton and Wallace extended the field with their big play athleticism, while Wayne and Ward were higher volume security blankets that could move around the line of scrimmage.
There’s a chance – and a good one – that Michael Floyd plays the deep ball role this season. That’ll mean great things in terms of fantasy football value, but there is one major issue: The offensive line has to get better. Carson Palmer isn’t the mobile quarterback that Andrew Luck and Ben Roethlisberger are, and he’ll need all the time he can get in the pocket to sling the ball downfield.
Andre Roberts is also a threat in the Cardinals offense, making Floyd an even bigger risk. However, in a Bruce Arians offense, that risk can turn into a massive reward. He may have the most upside on this entire list, but keep in mind that many parts have to come together in order for him to be a plug-and-play starter each week.
Looking for Ryan Broyles and Rueben Randle? Take a look at “Don’t Sleep on These Three Late-Round Wideouts” for more information on them.