2010 Fantasy Football Forecast: NFL Wide Receiver Third-Year Breakout Candidates
There is a common notion in the NFL that drafting a wide receiver in the first round can be a good idea, but banking on him being an immediate impact player is like hoping to win the lottery.
It's just a rarity, is all.
Even Calvin Johnson wasn't a home run hit in his rookie season. Neither were Larry Fitzgerald, Javon Walker, and so many others.
It's very rare that teams are blessed with an Anquan Boldin, who caught 101 passes in his first year, or Randy Moss, who grabbed 17 touchdowns.
The fact is, more often than not, receivers need time to learn how to beat press and man coverages, read defenses, run the full route tree, gain chemistry with their quarterbacks, block, and learn the entire offense.
Basically, they have to be a quarterback but also catch passes and learn to take hits at a whole new level of play for 16 games.
And on top of all that, they're drafted to be saviors for a drowning receiving corps? Yikes.
While that all sounds scary, we're now heading into 2010, which means it's time to take a look at the 2008 receivers and decide whether or not they can make a Sidney Rice-style leap in production in year three (the year most receivers break out).
It's not a sure thing for a receiver to develop and come into his own in his third season, but the odds are, if he's meant to, that's the year he'll put it all together.
Note: Only receivers taken in the first four rounds of the 2008 NFL Draft will be included. Any receiver who breaks out from a later round (or free agency) is considered "off the radar."
Donnie Avery (Round Two, 33rd Overall), St. Louis Rams
Avery is the No. 1 receiver for the Rams but faces an uphill battle toward having a breakout season in 2010.
He's shown great speed and play-making ability in spurts but has dealt with poor quarterback play, his own inconsistency, and injuries.
If the Rams upgrade the quarterback position, Avery's speed and downfield ability could help him crack 1,000 yards.
Predicted stats: 69 REC, 1,009 YDS, 6 TD
Devin Thomas (Two, 34th), Washington Redskins
Thomas hasn't had the most stability at quarterback in his brief career, and he's also operated mostly as the team's third receiver, but with just one 100-yard game and two games with a touchdown, it's hard to imagine him developing into a star receiver overnight.
With Mike Shanahan now in town, however, there's a good chance that the quarterback play improves, even if it's still Jason Campbell under center. If Thomas gets the field action, he could show some slow, steady progress.
Predicted stats: 43 REC, 505 YDS, 4 TD
Jordy Nelson (Two, 36th), Green Bay Packers
Jordy Nelson has been a nice third or fourth option for the Packers offense for the past two years while playing a solid role on kick returns.
While he has the perfect blend of size, speed, and hands to excel in the West Coast Offense, his status behind Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, and possibly even James Jones heavily hinder his potential for 2010.
If Driver or James go down for a significant amount of time, he's a strong candidate to break out.
Predicted stats: 40 REC, 515 YDS, 5 TD
James Hardy (Two, 41st), Buffalo Bills
Hardy has excellent size and red-zone abilities, but he's either been injured or buried deep in the depth chart in both of his first two seasons.
He has just 10 career catches and two touchdowns, but if Terrell Owens doesn't return and the Bills go into 2010 depending on him contributing, his numbers could easily rise. However, he's still very raw, and the odds are against the Bills sitting idly by and walking into 2010 with no real experienced help at receiver.
Predicted stats: 16 REC, 147 YDS, 2 TD
Eddie Royal (Two, 42nd), Denver Broncos
Royal had a sensational rookie season in 2008, taking over a starting spot in Week One due to injuries and never looking back, as he finished his rookie campaign with 91 receptions and 980 yards.
But that was in a Mike Shanahan offense and with Jay Cutler throwing him the ball...a lot.
Enter Josh McDaniels, a new system, and Kyle Orton, and suddenly Royal's world is turned upside down, as he went on to record just 37 catches, under 400 yards, and zero touchdowns in 2009.
If Brandon Marshall is sent packing in 2010, Royal should definitely get back to being a star receiver, and even if that's not the case, he's simply too talented to stay dormant for too long.
Then again, another poor season and those Michael Clayton concerns could begin to hold some truth.
Predicted stats: 80 REC, 901 YDS, 6 TD
Jerome Simpson (Two, 46th), Cincinnati Bengals
Simpson has caught one pass in two seasons, and appears to be firmly planted behind Andre Caldwell, dropping even further with the recent addition of Matt Jones.
Predicted stats: 7 REC, 98 YDS, 1 TD
DeSean Jackson (Two, 49th), Philadelphia Eagles
Jackson doesn't really need to be hyped up as a break-out receiver, as he's already quickly turned into one of the most dangerous overall weapons in the league.
People have forgotten about his near-touchdown/fumble play on Monday Night Football against the Dallas Cowboys in his rookie season, and now he's officially the Eagles' top receiver.
After catching 62 balls for 912 yards and two touchdowns in his first year, Jackson added one more ball to his reception totals but increased his production by miles.
Jackson's 1,167-yard and nine-touchdown season already has him as a borderline (if not definite) elite receiver.
Predicted stats: 77 REC, 1,244 YDS, 11 TD
Malcolm Kelly (Two, 51st), Washington Redskins
Kelly, like fellow 2008 rookie and teammate Devin Thomas, has not shown us enough to believe he can make huge strides in 2010.
However, he did end the 2009 season on a high note, as he caught five passes for 109 yards, and he'll also have Shanahan (and not Jim Zorn) orchestrating his passing attack.
Look for improvement out of Kelly but nothing to write home about.
Predicted stats: 33 REC, 366 YDS, 4 TD
Limas Sweed (Two, 53rd), Pittsburgh Steelers
Limas Sweed still has some deep-threat talent and has the tools to be a star in the NFL, but there's no arguing he doesn't have much of a role in Pittsburgh.
Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes are the starters and aren't going anywhere, while Mike Wallace's stellar rookie campaign should keep Sweed grounded to the fourth spot on the depth chart.
Unless an injury occurs, Sweed could spend a third straight season with fewer than 10 catches.
Predicted stats: 11 REC, 114 YDS, 2 TD
Dexter Jackson (Two, 58th), Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jackson hasn't registered a single catch since being drafted in 2008, and he doesn't appear to be in Tampa Bay's plans as a serious contributor anytime soon.
Predicted stats: 6 REC, 44 YDS, 0 TD
Earl Bennett (Three, 70th), Chicago Bears
After recording zero catches in his rookie season, Bennett established decent chemistry with former Vanderbilt teammate Jay Cutler en route to 54 catches, 717 yards, and two touchdowns on the season.
With Mike Martz on board and Bennett likely starting (as well as Devin Hester likely being demoted), there's a good chance Bennett's numbers rise.
Predicted stats: 76 REC, 944 YDS, 6 TD
Early Doucet (Three, 81st) Arizona Cardinals
Doucet already displayed an ability to make plays, even doing so in the postseason—enough so that the Cardinals appear to be set on trading away Anquan Boldin.
If Boldin jets, Doucet will jump to the slot role and should see a huge rise in numbers. If Boldin somehow stays, however, Doucet's numbers will stay somewhat the same.
Let's just buy the hype and bank on Boldin being somewhere else in 2010.
Predicted stats: 46 REC, 577 YDS, 5 TD
Harry Douglas (Three, 84th), Atlanta Falcons
Douglas had a decent showing in his rookie year with 23 catches and was showing a lot of promise for 2009, until an injury ended his season.
If he can come back at full strength, he has a solid chance at stealing the No. 3 spot from Brian Finneran, but considering Finneran is a fan favorite and just re-structured his contract, it's unlikely.
Predicted stats: 22 REC, 244 YDS, 3 TD
Mario Manningham (Three, 95th), New York Giants
After catching just four passes in 2008, a Plaxico Burress-less Giants receiving corps left the door open for Manningham to make an impact, and he did exactly that.
While he split time with Hakeem Nicks and will likely start 2010 as the team's slot receiver, his still raised some eyebrows with 57 catches, 822 yards, and fives scores in his second year.
In a passing attack that looked more spread out and balanced, Manningham will likely post similar numbers, unless Nicks or Steve Smith go down due to injury.
Predicted stats: 52 REC, 747 YDS, 6 TD
Andre Caldwell (Three, 97th), Cincinnati Bengals
Caldwell stepped up in a huge way for Cincinnati in his second season, increasing his reception total by 40 grabs, as he recorded 51 catches for 432 yards and three touchdowns.
There's no guarantee his solid play leads to bigger numbers with Laveranues Coles still on the team and Matt Jones recently being added, but the stats are encouraging for a young player.
On top of the competition at his position, a lot of Caldwell's success depends on the health and production of Carson Palmer.
Predicted stats: 44 REC, 456 YDS, 2 TD
Will Franklin (Four, 105th), Kansas City Chiefs
Franklin has just seven catches to his name in two years in the league and is now with the Oakland Raiders.
Even on a team with horrible production from it's receiving corps, he has almost no chance of rising up the depth chart and making an impact.
Predicted stats: 4 REC, 47 YDS, 0 TD
Marcus Smith (Four, 106th), Baltimore Ravens
Smith has zero catches so far in his career and is unlikely to gain any kind of a role with the team, especially after the signing of Donte' Stallworth.
Predicted stats: N/A
Arman Shields (Four, 125th), Oakland Raiders
Shields is in the same boat as Will Franklin. He has gotten decent hype for two years straight but is still well behind Chaz Schilens, Louis Murphy, and Darrius Heyward-Bey.
Predicted stats: N/A
Lavelle Hawkins (Four, 126th), Tennessee Titans
Hawkins has registered seven catches in each of his first two seasons, and while he's shown flashes of ability, he's nowhere near consistent enough to start moving up the depth chart.
Second-year man Kenny Britt and veteran Justin Gage should continue to start for the Titans, with veteran slot-man Nate Washington keeping Hawkins on the bench.
Predicted stats: 13 REC, 149 YDS, 1 TD
Keenan Burton (Four, 128th), St. Louis Rams
Burton was solid in 2009, recording 25 catches and 253 yards in the first eight weeks before succumbing to a knee injury and missing the remainder of the season.
If the Rams upgrade the quarterback position and Donnie Avery can progress, there's a good chance we can see the same type of production out of Burton that we saw in the first eight weeks of 2009.
Predicted stats: 55 REC, 627 YDS, 5 TD
Overall, there are only four or five guys in this crop that have a realistic chance (without predicting injuries or trades) at improving their numbers. And after that group, there are likely just one or two guys who really have a chance at elite seasons.
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