In fantasy football, the greatest feeling besides winning a championship is finding a sleeper late in your draft.
It might've been Wes Welker, Marques Colston, Steve Slaton, or Mike Sims-Walker.
It makes us smile and even though we lost, we feel like winners anyways.
One theory that a lot of fantasy players ascribe to when searching for sleepers is that of the third-year wide receiver (3YWR).
What I do know is true is that at some point in each of our drafts we'll get the itch. We'll be looking at a group of guys that our gut tells us will "decline" this season.
It's at this time that thoughts of sleeper wide receivers come to mind, and we do it: We draft the third-year wide receiver and hope we didn't just waste a draft pick.
So to help scratch that itch, here are my top third-year wide receivers and a very early guess at where you should draft them in parenthesis.
Personally, I'd bet that only a couple of guys will be solid producers all season, but since it is completely random which third-year wide receivers will flourish, I'm throwing out quite a few names.
And while only a couple of them will be on most "experts'" top-200 player rankings, most are guys to keep an eye on who should be available on your waiver wire to pick up in Week Two or later. I'm also throwing in a couple players who could be beasts in point-per-reception (PPR) leagues.
Guys You're Obviously Drafting
DeSean Jackson, Eagles (third or fourth round)— A lot of people are smitten with Jackson (including me as a diehard Eagles fan) and for good reason. He had nine receiving touchdowns, one rushing touchdown, two punts returned for touchdowns, and 1,156 receiving yards. Eight of his touchdowns were over 50 yards, tying him with Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch and Devin Hester for the NFL record.
But a couple words of caution: Calvin Johnson and Dwayne Bowe. Both had strong sophomore seasons like Jackson. Both were the No. 1 receiver on their teams. Both had mediocre 2009 seasons compared to where each was drafted.
And until the Eagles make a quarterback decision, we can't be sure if Jackson will have the strong-armed Donovan McNabb or the inexperienced Kevin Kolb getting him the ball.
If McNabb is back, then I think the big plays should still be there. If Kolb is the QB, then I think Jackson catches more balls but his big plays will be down some as Kolb experiences the usual first-year starter growing pains.
Don't get me wrong, I love Jackson's potential to build on last season and I would love to have him on my team, but more as a WR2 than a WR1. Could he carry your team all year? Certainly. Would I trust him to do it for the second or third-round pick it is going to cost me to get him? No way.
Pierre Garcon, Colts (5th or 6th round)— The nation fell in love with him after he became a champion of the Haiti earthquake relief efforts. I personally fell in love with his game after watching Peyton Manning's trust in him increase each postseason game.
After only four TDs and 47 catches in the regular season, Garcon had 21 catches and two TDs in just three games. With Reggie Wayne getting more and more attention, Garcon should only improve on his 2009 regular season numbers in the Colts' high octane offense.
Everyone Else (a.k.a. You Know Their Names but Probably Won't Draft Them)
Mario Manningham, Giants (last pick before K and Def) —I know he plays for a team that would prefer to pound the ball with Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw, and company. But the truth is Manningham had the second most yards and TDs, and the third most receptions among second-year players.
Yes, he started the season red hot and faded down the stretch. Yes, he has Hakeem Nicks possibly taking his starting spot. But if he can take the pressure and win the starting job opposite Steve Smith, he has proven he can put up some nice stats. He's worth stashing on your bench or keeping an eye on off your waiver wire.
Early Doucet, Cardinals (last pick before K and Def) —After Anquan Boldin's trade to Baltimore two weeks ago, Doucet now inherits the No. 2 wide receiver role in Arizona. I know everyone is scared of Matt Leinhart being the top QB in AZ this year, but when he played as a rookie he wasn't as bad as we think he was.
Plus, with all the key players that retired or defected in free agency on the defensive side, we know the Cardinals will probably be playing a lot of games from behind. And who knows—if Leinhart surprises us with some quality play then maybe the offense we're used to in Arizona might still be there.
Andre Caldwell, Bengals (last pick before K and Def) —The good: He had four games of four-plus catches. The bad: He averaged only 8.5 yards a catch and didn't go for more than 57 yards in any game last season. The ugly: Caldwell is the No. 3 receiving option for the now run-first Bengals.
I do know Carson Palmer still has the talent to be a top-15 QB, and Chad OchoCinco and Antonio Bryant should attract more of the defensive attention, so Caldwell might be a surprise this season. I'd keep an eye on him during the preseason. If Bryant can't get healthy, Caldwell just might step up.
Chaz Schilens, Raiders (13th round or later) —Yes, JaMarcus Russell is the worst quarterback in the league and I know Al Davis wants to give him one last shot. But if the Raiders finally play a competent QB like they did in the final weeks of last season, or Russell makes substantial strides, then Schilens could be a nice sleeper.
He finished last season with eight catches for 99 yards and, at 6'4'', is a big end zone target. If you get to the last few rounds and you've got a well-rounded team, this might be a nice player to stash for a couple weeks and see what happens.
Josh Morgan, San Francisco (last pick before K and Def) —Alex Smith and David Carr are his QBs, but last season we saw Smith go off in the middle of the season when the 49ers switched to the shotgun (though it killed the running game).
Michael Crabtree will be there all season and that should help shift the defense's attention away from Morgan. And most importantly, Isaac Bruce is gone and Morgan has shown flashes of talent that could warrant the No. 2 WR spot on this team.
But it is the Niners and Alex Smith, so buyer beware. I'm just mentioning him in case he does go off so I can take some credit.
Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas, Redskins (last pick before K and Def) —The Redskins drafted this pair of wide receivers in the second and third rounds of the 2008 draft. Now it's time for one of them to step up and take a starting role alongside Santana Moss.
Why did I pair them together? They had almost identical numbers except that Thomas had three TDs and Kelly had none. Thomas had a break out game of seven catches for 100 yards and two TDs, but ended the season on IR. Kelly had five catches and 109 yards to end the season, but didn't do much before then.
Both have the talent to succeed in the NFL, but my money is on Thomas to earn the starting job. But keep an eye on things in the preseason and see how it plays out in Mike Shanahan's new offense.
Donnie Avery, Rams —I know the Rams suck, but it can't continue, can it? He's shown us he has the talent to be a solid fantasy wide receiver. He just hasn't done it for a full season.
If the Rams can fix their QB situation, or if they draft Sam Bradford with the No. 1 pick, it's time for Avery to show us what he's got. Plus, defenses stack eight in the box focusing on Steven Jackson, so we know he gets plenty of man coverage.
Earl Bennett, Bears —The Bears brought in (a.k.a. had everyone else say "no") Mike Martz to be the new offensive coordinator, and we all remember the Greatest Show on Turf. Jay Cutler is a better quarterback than his 26 INTs, and I feel that this team could make some major strides on the offensive side of the football.
We shouldn't draft Bennett like we did last season, but you should keep an eye on him during the preseason and see how he looks.
Eddie Royal, Broncos —I really hope that the Redskins' new coach, Mike Shanahan, swings a deal for Eddie Royal and uses him like he did back in 2008 when Royal had 91 receptions, 980 yards, and five TDs. But alas, I doubt that happens.
Royal did show flashes of brilliance last season with a 10 reception, 90 yard day (26% of his season totals), yet Josh McDaniels refuses to use him in the Wes Welker role of his offense. Unless Royal gets a change of scenery or the coach starts using him appropriately, he should remain on your waiver wire to start the season.
Possible PPR League Surprises
Danny Amendonla, Rams (waiver wire) and Lance Long, Chiefs (waiver wire)— Both these guys could be the Wes Welkers of their teams. They were both undrafted, play the slot, and have good hands and some shiftiness, just like Welker.
If you're in a point-per-reception league, pay attention to them in the preseason. If they are being properly utilized then they just might break out like Welker did in 2007 (I drafted Welker in the 14th round of my draft that year).
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