Articles on third year wide receivers are typically focused on mid-level WRs poised to break out. The 2014 draft class is possibly the greatest WR class of all time so in addition to predicting this year’s worst to first, we’ll have our share of studs to discuss as well.
Odell Beckham Jr., Allen Robinson, Mike Evans, Brandin Cooks, Sammy Watkins, Kelvin Benjamin, Jarvis Landry, Jordan Matthews and John Brown are already household names. The challenge of predicting becomes even more difficult when there are changes to coaching staffs, offensive schemes and personnel so we’ll take a look at what 2016 projects for this class.
We’ll also take a look at some potential breakouts as we discuss players like Jeff Janis and Bruce Ellington. Success in Fantasy Football often goes hand-in-hand with opportunity so we’ll discuss which third year wide receivers may see additional targets.
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2016 Third Year Wide Receivers
Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants – FantasyPros ADP 2nd WR
Odell Beckham is nasty. Everyone knows this to be true. He’s my third ranked WR for 2016 so there isn’t some boiling hot take to be had, but the least I can do is explain why I have Antonio Brown and Julio Jones ranked ahead of the one-handed wonder.
Last season, Jones and Brown ranked first and second respectively in targets, Jones seeing 204 and Brown with 195. Beckham saw far fewer with “just” 159. The offense in New York should be improved thanks to the departure of former coach Tom Coughlin, the arrival of RB Paul Perkins, rookie WR Sterling Shepard and a full season of TE Will Tye.
I’m not convinced the opportunity is there for Beckham to take the No. 1 or even No. 2 spot. With Martavis Bryant being suspended in Pittsburgh and the Falcons failure to add anyone on the outside other than Mohamed Sanu, Brown and Jones should once again both find themselves in the Top 5 in targets.
Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns & Marqise Lee, Jacksonville Jaguars – FantasyPros ADP 8th, 31st and NR WR
Marqise Lee is both irrelevant to the Jaguars and to Fantasy Football. Moving on to Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, I believe both are in store to experience some (drum roll for 2016 Fantasy Football buzz word please) regression. Jacksonville used the offseason to place emphasis on improving their defense and running attack. The coaching staff has made it clear they need to improve their overall offensive efficiency. In order for this to happen, QB Blake Bortles needs to lower his interception total, increase his completion percentage and take fewer sacks. That most likely leads to fewer pass attempts.
You can read about Bortles and my other 2016 Bust Candidates here
The addition of Chris Ivory to pair with second year RB T.J. Yeldon points to the team’s interest in relying less on Bortles. Robinson and Hurns both accumulate yards via the downfield attack, which may be reigned in this coming season. I’m still drafting Robinson as a Top 7 WR due to his ability not just downfield, but as a complete WR, including the redzone. I’m less confident in Hurns’ ability to adjust.
Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – FantasyPros ADP 12th
The critics are right, Mike Evans was terrible last season. What a disappointment. Evans barely increased his reception total from year one to year two, going from 68 to 74. Receiving yards were an issue too. Evans only improved his yardage total by 155 yards. Given the fact Evans had a rookie QB at his disposal, there’s no reason he should have doubled, or even tripled those improvements. Oh well, there’s always next year.
Brandin Cooks & Willie Snead, New Orleans Saints – FantasyPros ADP 14th & 45th WR
I’m a big fan of Cooks and have done my homework in regards to Snead’s value. That said, I believe what we saw from them last season is likely the ceiling for their third season in the NFL.
The Saints finished second in the NFL in pass attempts last season and Drew Brees completed 68.3 percent of his passes. Neither of these is likely to increase by much, if at all. Last season Cooks saw 129 targets and had a catch percentage of 65.1, numbers that will likely be difficult to improve upon. Snead had 101 targets come his way and hauled in 68.3 percent. Again, numbers that appear to have little room for improvement.
Touchdowns are Snead’s biggest opportunity for a bump in Fantasy output as he scored only three in 2015. Ben Watson’s 110 targets are gone but insert Coby Fleener. Marques Colston’s 67 targets are gone but insert rookie WR Michael Thomas. Where is the uptick going to come from? Cooks is the superior talent to Snead but given their ADP, Snead appears to be the better value at this point.
Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills – FantasyPros ADP 13th WR
Sammy Watkins finished with the fewest targets and receptions out of any NFL player to total 1,000 receiving yards in 2015. Watkins is as talented, if not more so, than any WR on this list but faces a unique challenge, opportunity.
The next season Watkins plays all 16 games will be his first. Watkins is returning from a broken foot and while some reports suggest he’ll be ready for Week 1, those reports do not take into account the setbacks players often suffer when dealing with this specific injury.
The offense Watkins plays in doesn’t do him any favors from a Fantasy Football perspective. In 2015 the Bills ranked 31st in the NFL in pass attempts, 28th in passing yards and 20th in passing TDs. Watkins simply doesn’t have the same opportunity to break out that most players with his level of talent do.
Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers – FantasyPros ADP 18th WR
A lot has changed since Benjamin’s rookie campaign in 2014. Shia Lebeouf was still a thing, people who didn’t do the ice bucket challenge were jerks, Kim Kardashian thought she could break the internet and the Carolina Panthers needed Kelvin Benjamin.
Benjamin saw a whopping 145 targets in 2014 but had a catch rate of barely above 50 percent, finishing with 73 receptions. The 2014 version of the Panthers finished 19th in the NFL in scoring and were force feeding Benjamin at times, desperately looking for playmakers. While Greg Olsen, Devin Funchess and Ted Ginn Jr. don’t sound all that formidable, the Panthers finished first in the NFL in scoring last season.
The 2015 offense was predicated on finding the open man, complimented by the big play. I fully expect Benjamin to once again assert himself as a main weapon in Carolina but not the extent some seem to expect.
Jarvis Landry, Miami Dolphins – FantasyPros ADP 23rd WR
The Jarvis Landry hate has gone too far. I find no reasonable explanation as to why people in Fantasy Football circles think Landry isn’t this good but have no issue with the likes of Julian Edelman, Keenan Allen, Larry Fitzgerald and Golden Tate. Yes, Landry is volume dependent, as is each of the players I listed above.
First year head coach Adam Case has a reputation as a creative play caller and I believe he’ll find a way to continue to utilize Landry. Gase’s offense was proficient enough to support solid Fantasy seasons from both Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders in 2014. As blasphemous as it sounds, 2016 Ryan Tannehill is light years better than 2014 Peyton Manning. The emergence of DeVante Parker and the addition of underrated Leonte Carroo doesn’t bother me enough to drop Landry out of my Top 17 WRs in standard scoring Fantasy leagues.
Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia Eagles – FantasyPros ADP 29th WR
Nelson Agholor enters his second season, Rueben Randle was acquired in the offseason and Zach Ertz has asserted himself as a viable offensive weapon. These are a few of the variables that exist when debating the merits of a third year breakout for Jordan Matthews. Perhaps most notably is the departure of Chip Kelly and his fast paced, high volume offense.
The Eagles will most likely move to a traditional looking offense under first year head coach Doug Pederson. I believe Matthews may benefit from a change in scheme as he was locked in as the slot receiver under Kelly. At 6’3” 205 lbs, Matthews has more than enough size to make plays on the outside if given the opportunity.
Some were disappointed with Matthews a year ago but he saw a bump in receptions, yardage and in his catch percentage. A year ago, the universe was convinced Sam Bradford couldn’t stay healthy for a full season yet those concerns seem to have diminished some. Even if Bradford goes down, Chase Daniel was signed as the highest paid backup QB in the NFL and is capable enough to keep Matthews’ value afloat.
John Brown, Arizona Cardinals – FantasyPros ADP 30th WR
Through Brown’s first two NFL seasons, he is averaging more yards per target than Mike Evans, Larry Fitzgerald, Marvin Harrison, Jordan Matthews and Keenan Allen through the same point in their careers. Brown had a solid rookie season but improved virtually everywhere in year two.
Despite seeing one fewer target and playing in one less game in his second season, Brown saw an increase in receptions, yards, yards per catch and touchdowns. Brown’s improvement was in large part due to an increase in efficiency, as he improved his catch percentage from 47.1 to 64.4. There’s no reason to think Brown won’t continue to evolve within the offense.
— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) July 8, 2016
Donte Moncrief, Indianapolis Colts- FantasyPros ADP 30th WR
Moncrief seems to be everyone’s favorite no doubt breakout WR of 2016. I’m on board with this thought as well, but only if I can get him at good value.
You can read about Moncrief and other WR in my WR Sleepers column here
My concern is that the hype builds and impacts his ADP. If I can draft Moncrief as a player who is likely to break out, I’m in. If I have to pay as if he’s already done it, I’m probably still in. Who am I kidding…
Davante Adams, Jeff Janis & Jared Abbrederis, Green Bay Packers – FantasyPros ADP 70th, 71st and outside the Top 95 WR
Perhaps the most confusing bunch on this list. Adams was gift wrapped an opportunity last season. A season ending injury to Jordy Nelson, a second half drop off from James Jones and a disappointing season by Randall Cobb put Adams in a position he simply was not ready for. Adams averaged less than 10 yards per reception and eventually dropped enough passes to fall out of favor. What happens from here is anyone’s guess as rumors suggest he may not even make the Packers final roster.
Janis and Abbrederis are relative unknowns. Janis truthers have existed from day one and last year’s playoff breakout performance did little to quiet the crowd. Janis has exceptional physical ability but apparently has limitations with his ability to grasp the complexities of the offense. If you don’t have your draft until late in the preseason, keep on eye on what the local Green Bay reports have to say about Janis’ performance in practice.
Abbrederis has received nothing but compliments from head coach Mike McCarthy this offseason. McCarthy went as far as to use words like, exceptional and exemplary when describing the offseason for Abbrederis. He doesn’t have the physical tools Adams and Janis possess, but if Abbrederis can stay healthy, he may provide the reliable third target needed in this offense.
Cody Latimer, Denver Broncos – FantasyPros ADP outside the Top 95 WR
Latimer must be a complete disaster in practice as he’s been essentially irrelevant during his first two seasons in the NFL. I was going to make a joke about being more likely to see his name under, “Missing” on a milk carton but… do they even do that anymore? Am I old? What just happened? Anyway, Mark Sanchez isn’t going to support three relevant WRs in Fantasy. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders will be the focus once again but without a known commodity at the TE position, it’s conceivable Latimer could find himself in a decent opportunity if Thomas or Sanders were to miss some time.
Bruce Ellington, San Francisco 49ers – FantasyPros ADP outside the Top 95 WR
Ellington is a small WR (5’9”, 196), but has good NFL speed (4.45 in the 40) and some big play ability. The trick will be finding the right way to use Ellington’s skill set in order to maximize his potential. Chip Kelly takes over as head coach and in all likelihood installs an offense similar to what he had in Philadelphia. Under Kelly, the Eagles ranked fifth and sixth respectively in passing attempts the last two seasons. If Ellington is able to solidify himself as the slot WR in Kelly’s offense, he could see enough targets to make him valuable in Fantasy.