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Every year it seems, we see a bunch of articles detailing the third-year wide receivers we should expect to see breakout seasons from.

Over the past 26 years of playing Fantasy Football, I’ve come to realize there are big breakout periods like this for all Fantasy Football positions.

Some are just not as prominent as others.

To be fair, many of these big breakout periods have been debunked at different times through the years, but I’m hard-headed.

So take these suggestions how you like – interesting pieces of Fantasy Football advice to store in your head with everything else, or just coincidental stats that are fun to read.

When To Expect Breakout Fantasy Players For Each Position

Something to keep in mind is that as the NFL changes and morphs, both offensively and with different front office changes, these big breakout periods might be affected. The first position is a great example of that.

Third-Year Quarterback Breakouts

This used to be as tried-and-true as the third-year WR breakouts theory. Dan Marino was the lone exception to the rule, when he broke out in 1983 near the end of his rookie year. Then, in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, this theory started taking a big hit, with guys like Peyton Manning, Carson Palmer, Tom Brady, and Eli Manning coming on earlier.

But look at the recent third-year breakout quarterbacks, dating back to 2007: Jay Cutler, Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco, Josh Freeman, Coiln Kaepernick, Matt Ryan, Mark Sanchez, Matthew Stafford and Ryan Tannehill.

This year’s third-year quarterback breakouts ranked according to their current ADP on FantasyPros.com:

  • Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars (6.05)
  • Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders (9.11)
  • Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings (19.04)

Sophomore Slump For Successful Running Backs

Have you ever noticed how running backs always seem to be the best rookies right out of the gate? Quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends usually need more time to develop than rookie tailbacks. There might not be another plug-and-play skill position for a rookie than running back, considering there are not a lot of nuances to that position, other than knowing which way to go with the ball – and hitting the hole with power and speed.

The one thing that can slow the development of a rookie running back, though, is the inability to protect the quarterback on passing downs. If they can’t pass-block and pick up the blitzer, then coaches are reticent to leave their quarterback in harm’s way.

But second-year tailbacks often disappoint after a solid rookie season, and Fantasy Football owners should know this more than anyone. This is a theory that goes back several years, but most recently, we’ll just mention some examples of sophomore slumps at running back: Montee Ball, Giovani Bernard, LeGarrette Blount, Felix Jones, Doug Martin, Tre Mason, Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris, Branden Oliver, Trent Richardson, Bishop Sankey, Steve Slaton, Zac Stacy and Andre Williams.

Here are some sophomore slump running backs candidates for 2016, ranked according to their current ADP, depending on which sites you draft on:

  • Todd Gurley, St. Louis Rams (1.03)
  • David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals (1.07)
  • Thomas Rawls, Seattle Seahawks (3.01)
  • Jeremy Langford, Chicago Bears (4.06)
  • Jay Ajayi, Miami Dolphins (6.03)
  • J. Yeldon, Jacksonville Jaguars (6.08)
  • Melvin Gordon, San Diego Chargers (7.01)
  • Ameer Abdullah, Detroit Lions (7.02)
  • Karlos Williams, Buffalo Bills (7.09)
  • Duke Johnson, Cleveland Browns (8.02)
  • Tevin Coleman, Atlanta Falcons (11.10)

Third-Year Wide Receiver (or Second-Year WR?) Breakouts

There have been plenty of Fantasy articles espousing the third-year wide receiver breakout theory, and many more articles debunking it.

The smart veteran Fantasy owner won’t rely on the player’s experience only to help him decide that all third-year wide receivers are going to break out. But instead, they can use this information as just one more brick in building a case for buying a player that you deem undervalued.

My opinion of third-year wide receivers breaking out is this – rookie wide receivers rarely do much (although, in 2014, that was definitely not the case), and they’re often drafted to play alongside other veteran receivers. (A high-pick rookie running back, however, gets drafted to immediately get carries in the running game, usually.) In a receiver’s second year, maybe they start seeing more targets and they begin to learn how to be a No. 1 WR on a team. In that third year, my guess is that’s when they take over that WR1 role on the NFL team’s depth chart, and they become their quarterback’s favorite target.

Past third-year breakout WRs include: Dez Bryant, Cris Carter, Braylon Edwards, Keyshawn Johnson, Terrell Owens, Chad Johnson, Stevie Johnson, Steve Smith, Demaryius Thomas, Reggie Wayne and Roddy White.

However, in the past five years or so, we’ve seen more breakout seasons come from wide receivers in their second seasons more than we have in their third seasons. Let’s look at that list of second-year breakout wide receivers:  Antonio Brown, John Brown, Randall Cobb, Brandin Cooks, Victor Cruz, Eric Decker, Michael Floyd, Josh Gordon, A.J. Green, T.Y. Hilton, DeAndre Hopkins, Allen Hurns, Alshon Jeffery, Marvin Jones, Julio Jones, Jarvis Landry, Allen Robinson, Cecil Shorts, Torrey Smith, Willie Snead, Sammy Watkins, Terrance Williams and Kendall Wright.

So we’ll share a list of third-year wide receiver breakout candidates:

  • Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2.12)
  • Brandin Cooks, New Orleans Saints (3.09)
  • Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers (4.01)
  • Jarvis Landry, Miami Dolphins (5.01)
  • Allen Hurns, Jacksonville Jaguars (6.01)
  • Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia Eagles (6.07)
  • John Brown, Arizona Cardinals (6.12)
  • Donte Moncrief, Indianapolis Colts (8.02)
  • Willie Snead, New Orleans Saints (11.04)
  • Davante Adams, Green Bay (20.10)
  • Brandon Coleman, New Orleans (21.06)
  • Corey Brown, Carolina Panthers (NA)
  • Albert Wilson, Kansas City Chiefs (NA)
  • Josh Huff, Philadelphia Eagles (NA)
  • Marqise Lee, Jacksonville Jaguars (NA)
  • Taylor Gabriel, Cleveland Browns (NA)

And a list of second-year wide receiver breakout candidates:

  • Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders (2.10)
  • DeVante Parker, Miami Dolphins (5.11)
  • Kevin White, Chicago Bears (6.06)
  • Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks (7.10)
  • Dorial Green-Beckham, Tennessee Titans (9.08)
  • Stefon Diggs, Minnesota Vikings (10.08)
  • Breshad Perriman, Baltimore Ravens (11.12)
  • Phillip Dorsett, Indianapolis Colts (14.08)
  • Devin Funchess, Carolina Panthers (15.08)
  • Sammie Coates, Pittsburgh Steelers (16.08)
  • Nelson Agholor, Philadelphia Eagles (18.05)
  • Jaelen Strong, Houston Texans (21.03)
  • Ty Montgomery, Green Bay Packers (22.03)
  • Jamison Crowder, Washington Redskins (22.07)
  • J.J. Nelson, Arizona Cardinals (NA)
  • Chris Conley, Kansas City Chiefs (NA)
  • Justin Hardy, Atlanta Falcons (NA)
  • Devin Smith, N.Y. Jets (NA)

Second-Year Tight End Breakouts

Much like the MLB Draft, rookie tight ends are only exciting when you think of what they might become in the next few years. Rookie tight ends are generally awful, as they have to learn blocking assignments, as well as how to run routes. With just 12 tight ends starting in most Fantasy leagues, without flex add-ons, of course, then it’s very uncommon to find a rookie among the top 12 Fantasy tight ends by season’s end.

Here are the final Fantasy rankings (by points) of the top rookie tight ends since 2006:

  • Owen Daniels (2006), Houston (14th)
  • Zach Miller (’07), Oakland (17th)
  • John Carlson (’08), Seattle (7th)
  • Dustin Keller (’08), N.Y. Jets (14th)
  • Brandon Pettigrew (’09), Detroit (25th)
  • Rob Gronkowski (’10), New England (5th)
  • Aaron Hernandez (’10), New England (11th)
  • Kyle Rudolph (’11), Minnesota (36th)
  • Dwayne Allen (’12), Indianapolis (23rd)
  • Tim Wright (’13), Tampa Bay (13th)
  • Zach Ertz (’13), Philadelphia (20th)
  • Jordan Reed (’13), Washington (22nd)
  • Jace Amaro (’14), N.Y. Jets (29th)
  • Wil Tye (’15), N.Y. Giants (25th)

As you can see, with just TWO rookie tight ends in the past 10 years finishing the season with a Fantasy starter’s production in points (Carlson and Gronk), there really is no reason to pay much attention to rookie tight ends.

However, by Year 2, most of these tight ends have begun to figure it out! They start getting more plays called for them, they earn more playing time by taking care of their blocking responsibilities, and they’ve been through two full NFL training camps now.

In the past five years alone, here are the second-year tight ends that have finished in the top-12 among all Fantasy tight ends for that particular season:

  • Owen Daniels (’07), Houston (8th)
  • Tony Scheffler (’07), Denver (10th)
  • Greg Olsen (’08), Chicago (10th)
  • Zach Miller (’08), Oakland (11th)
  • John Carlson (’09), Seattle (11th)
  • Brandon Pettigrew (’10), Detroit (12th)
  • Rob Gronkowski (’11), New England (1st)
  • Jimmy Graham (’11), New Orleans (2nd)
  • Aaron Hernandez (’11), New England (3rd)
  • Kyle Rudolph (’12), Minnesota (11th)
  • Travis Kelce (’14), Kansas City (7th)
  • Richard Rodgers (’15), Green Bay (9th)

So since 2006, there were just two rookie tight ends to post top-12 Fantasy seasons among tight ends, but there were 12 different second-year tight ends to post top-12 Fantasy seasons. That’s a 600-percent increase!

What does that mean for sophomore tight ends in 2016? Here are the second-year tight ends to consider as breakout candidates:

  • Will Tye, N.Y. Giants
  • Clive Walford, Oakland Raiders
  • Maxx Williams, Baltimore Ravens
  • Tyler Kroft, Cincinnati Bengals
  • Blake Bell, San Francisco 49ers
  • Nick Boyle, Baltimore Ravens
  • Jesse James, Pittsburgh Steelers
  • MyCole Pruitt, Minnesota Vikings

Fourth-Year Kicker Breakouts

Haaaaa, just kidding.

While all of these maturation periods have good and bad examples to show these as true measuring sticks or just silly myths, but my point to you is that these big breakout periods for each Fantasy Football position have some truth in them. If I’m wavering between two players, and one of them is entering a pivotal time period, then I’ll take him.

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David Gonos

David Gonos has been writing about Fantasy Sports online since 2000 – and playing Fantasy Sports since 1989. He has drafted both Curt Warner and Kurt Warner, along with Big Unit and Big Papi. A veteran of hundreds of drafts in the past 15 years alone, Gonos is closely acquainted with sleepers, breakouts and busts – as he has drafted many of all three. He was a Senior Fantasy Writer for CBSSports.com for five years, and he has been columnist on SI.com and FanDuel.com, while also getting published on MLB.com, NFL.com, FoxSports.com and USAToday.com.
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