We always hear about how the third year is the year in which wide receivers breakout.
While that may be generally true, there are always exceptions to the rule. Some receivers could emerge earlier in their careers, while others could be late bloomers.
Here are a few fourth-year wide receivers who could develop one year later then expected.
Darrius Heyward-Bey—Oakland Raiders
Can you argue that he has already broken out?
Maybe, but the former first-round draft pick easily could have more to show us. Now with an actual quarterback throwing him the ball, this is his chance finally to live up to draft-day expectations.
He took a major step forward in 2011, and a lot of it came with Carson Palmer at the helm. In December he amassed 20 catches for 326 yards and two touchdowns. The big play also became a major part of his repertoire, with five catches of at least 20 yards and two of at least 40 yards.
Would it be shocking if he goes for 75 catches and over 1,200 yards with a full season of Palmer at quarterback? I wouldn’t call it likely, but it also wouldn’t surprise me.
For a while he was supposed to be the receiver opposite Roddy White, though that role is now occupied by Julio Jones.
That said, Tony Gonzalez is not the threat that he once was, and the Falcons need a third receiver to make some noise and keep defenses honest. Douglas set career highs in receptions (39) and yards (498) last season and could take the next step in 2012, gaining targets at the expense of Gonzalez.
He is more of a player to monitor on the waiver wire, but definitely not one to ignore.
Brian Hartline—Miami Dolphins
With Brandon Marshall now in Chicago, the Dolphins have a gaping hole at wide receiver.
Sure, Chad Johnson (formerly known as Ochocinco) could be part of the solution, but does anyone really believe he has a lot left in the tank? Davone Bess is also a breakout candidate, having already caught over 75 passes twice in his career.
However, a team needs two starting wideouts, and Hartline has the potential to fill the void.
Obviously the starting quarterback will play a role, but Hartline has shown promise over his first three seasons (109 receptions for 1,670 yards). If he wins a starting job, he could produce solid numbers.
He needs to get over a calf injury and onto the field, however, if he wants to get that opportunity. (He has also missed time due to an appendectomy.)
As a late-round flier in deep formats, he definitely is worth the gamble.
Not included on this list are fourth-year receivers who have already emerged, like Percy Harvin, Hakeem Nicks, Kenny Britt, Michael Crabtree, Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin
Which fourth-year receiver do you like the best? Who do you think will finally emerge as a go-to fantasy option?
Make sure to check out our 2012 fantasy football rankings: