A widely held belief exists that wide receivers do not come into their own until their third year in the NFL.
This theory held true for Terrell Owens, who had 14 touchdowns and 1,097 yards receiving in 1998. Chad (Johnson) Ochocinco, likewise, made a leap in 2003 with 1,355 yards and 10 scores.
However, guys like Randy Moss, Larry Fitzgerald, Torry Holt, and Anquan Boldin developed sooner. Reggie Wayne and Donald Driver took until year four to breakout.
So I’m not sure I buy this myth. However, a lot of football brains much bigger than mine swear by this third-year philosophy, so I won’t argue. Using the "third year’s a charm" theory of wide receiver relativity, let’s take a look at the guys who might hit their stride this season.
Calvin Johnson, DET
Megatron already broke out in his second season with 1,331 yards and a dozen TDs. He is the best wide receiver in the NFL and would be the first receiver off the board if he played for a better team. He’s not sneaking up on anyone in 2009. Johnson is currently the fourth WR taken; his ADP is 16.5.
Dwayne Bowe, KCC
Bowe has averaged 1,000 yards and six TDs a season through his first two years. That’s not spectacular, but he should certainly do as well if not improve in year three. After showing up for camp overweight and having new coach Todd Haley relegate him to the second team, Bowe has worked his way back to the frontlines. Bowe is currently the 12th WR drafted; his ADP is 35.45.
Anthony Gonzalez, IND
Gonzalez has 620 yards and a few TDs each season so far. In his third season there are high expectations as former Colts WR Marvin Harrison moved on, leaving a massive fantasy void for Gonzalez to fill. He is currently being drafted earlier than he should be, based in anticipated returns on Harrison’s absence. A-Gonz is currently the 21st WR off the board at an ADP of 56.47.
Ted Ginn Jr., MIA
While Ginn has improved his yardage each of his two seasons in Miami, he has only two TDs each season to show for his efforts. If his preseason performance this year is any indication, season three will be no better than season two’s 790 yards and two scores. Ginn may soon be wearing a "BUST" label. He is currently the 37th WR taken at an ADP of 111.31.
Steve Breaston, ARI
Breaston took a giant leap forward in 2008, but it was a mixed bag. He had 77 receptions for 1,006 yards, but only found the end zone three times. His improvement bodes well for the Cardinals but leaves fantasy owners torn between fluke and promise. 2009 should tell the tale for Breaston who is currently the 38th receiver off the board at an ADP of 112.76.
Steve Smith, NYG
Smith hasn’t been that impressive so far for the Giant’s. In 2008, Smith played his first full 16-game season and had 574 yards but just one paltry score. Even the absence of Plaxico Burress did not get Smith jumpstarted. I don’t expect Smith to suddenly come alive this season. In fact, I believe rookie receiver Hakeem Nicks will surpass Smith, who's currently the 45th WR taken with an ADP of 132.97.
Sidney Rice, MIN
Rice was stagnant in his second season in the NFL. The arrival of Brett Favre to the Vikings may just be the catalyst Rice needs to make a name for himself. I wouldn’t put too much faith in that hope, though, with Bernard Berrian and Percy Harvin on the field as well. Rice is currently the 63rd receiver grabbed with an ADP of 179.82.
Robert Meachem, NOS
The Saints and fantasy owners have been buzzing this preseason about Meachem. The “sleeper” word has been thrown around quite a bit that this will be his breakout campaign. If there is any place for a receiver to shine, it’s with Drew Brees hucking the pigskin to you. I like his odds better than Smith’s or Rice’s above. He’s currently then 68th WR taken; ADP is 186.82.
Mike Sims-Walker, JAX
Sims-Walker, like Meachem, was another sleeper candidate this summer as odds-on favorite to line up opposite Torry Holt as the Jaguars WR2. After missing the majority of 2008, Sims-Walker is already hurt this preseason and has seen his coveted position swaying towards Troy Williamson, who has been on fire so far. Sims-Walker’s currently going as the 71st receiver off the board at ADP 188.20. By the way, how does a man suddenly grow a hyphenated last name?
Other Third-Year Notables
Laurent Robinson, STL
Robinson was originally thought to be starting the season as the Rams WR1 with Donnie Avery hurt. However, Avery has healed quickly and will return in time for game one of the regular season. Robinson was officially handed the WR2 role yesterday (Aug. 31). Current ADP is 202.55.
James Jones, GBP
Jones had been making great inroads this summer toward sewing up the WR3 job. However, of late, Jordy Nelson has been raining on his parade and the two are now neck-and-neck in the battle for the slot. My guess is both will be used regularly, with Jones as the deep threat/big-play receiver. Current ADP is 213.03.
David Clowney, NYJ
Clowney had resoundingly beaten out Stuckey for the WR2 job. The Newark Star Ledger reported last week he had in fact won the slot, which he is better suited to. How quickly things change (see Stuckey below). Clowney is a real threat to break out with a nice 2009 campaign, but he’s stuck on a run first team. Current ADP is 228.50.
Johnnie Lee Higgins, OAK
Higgins came on strong late last season for the befuddled Raiders. He showed flashes of his long-term potential, but the Raiders are an absolute mess, and right now no one seems to know who will be catching the ball in Oakland. Current ADP is 230.15.
Chansi Stuckey, NYJ
Stuckey is best served as a WR3 in the slot. However, new coach Rex Ryan has oddly enough handed the WR2 job to him, based on Monday’s news. Even fantasy owners are leaning toward David Clowney. Current ADP is 237.15.