Third Year Receivers and What To Expect in 2016

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Arguably the best wide receiver draft in recent memory, the class of 2014 is heading into its third year, and looking to make an even bigger splash than it already has. Projected stars like Clemson’s Sammy Watkins and LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. have lived up to the hype, if not surpassed it already. Second round picks have also emerged in Allen Robinson and Jarvis Landry.

Commonly believed in fantasy football, the third year is considered to be a breakout year for wide receivers in the NFL. Former Washington Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss, who combined for under 500 yards and 4 touchdowns in his first two seasons, put his name on the map with over 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns in his third year. Steve Smith found his true angry self in his third season, putting up over 1,100 yards and scoring 7 touchdowns. Chris Chambers, Javon Walker, and on and on, you get the point right?

I will look into the numbers and try to solve the mystery of the third year history.

Odell Beckham Jr. – New York Giants

I hope you’re just as excited as I am to see Odell Beckham Jr. and new Washington Redskins cornerback, Josh Norman, face off twice a year. The 13th overall draft pick and Norman were the center of attention in Week 15. They went after each other what seemed like after every single play. The fight resulted in a one-game suspension for Beckham during a crucial Week 16.

Despite Norman being one of the best cover corners in the game, Beckham still caught 6 of his 10 targets for 76 yards and a score. Some might worry that Norman signed in the same division as Beckham, but the wideout is so talented that sometimes it just takes one ball to turn a bad day into a good one.

Beckham literally burst onto the scene his first two years in the league, finishing as the 5th highest scoring wide receiver both years.

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Although he’s already “blown up”, his numbers are going to get even bigger and here’s why:

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The Giants have one of the easiest schedules for wide receivers. Having six matchups against the some of the worst defenses against wide receivers in 2015 will certainly help, although we already know that the Redskins have upgraded their secondary.

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Beckham will also have rookie Sterling Shepard to take some pressure off of him in the receiving game. Shepard, who is already getting glowing reviews in OTAs, will provide much more help downfield than former teammate Rueben Randle.

Offensive coordinator turned head coach, Ben McAdoo, realizes how special Beckham is and will include him in the game plan any way possible. Being drafted as a top-three receiver in fantasy, Beckham has a real chance to make that leap out of the 5th spot to finish in the top 3.

Allen Robinson – Jacksonville Jaguars

Finishing just 1 point ahead of Beckham, Allen Robinson had a breakout year of his own last season. From Week 5 on, the Penn State product scored less than 10 standard fantasy points just once.

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Having by far the biggest jump from his rookie season, he and quarterback Blake Bortles seemed to be on the same page. The major role players in the offense are returning with another year under their belts including Bortles, tight end Julius Thomas, and the other Allen, wideout Allen Hurns. The Jaguars also improved their running game by signing Chris Ivory. Familiarity is huge for football players, especially for one who is coming off such a monster season.

Unfortunately, if he wants to improve, he’s going to have to earn it against some tough secondaries. Robinson’s strength of schedule is at the back end of the middle of the pack, right around 20. Matchups against the Broncos, Texans, and a trip to San Diego highlight a year of defenses that ranked mostly in the top 16 against wide receivers last year.

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On the bright side, not only did he improve but his quarterback did as well.

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Another year did wonders for this offense as a whole and it’s on the upward trend. Nothing will come easy for Robinson this year, but he has the talent to remain in the top 10, if not top 5 once again.

Brandin Cooks – New Orleans Saints

Sidelined by a broken arm to end his rookie season, Brandin Cooks had a slow start to his second year but eventually found his groove. Leading the Saints in receptions, yards, and TDs, he solidified himself as the team’s top receiving threat.

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One thing to love about Cooks for his 3rd season out of Oregon State is he’s in a pass happy offense. Since 2011, the Saints have been in the top 5 in the league when it comes to their passing attack. Since 2010, Drew Brees himself hasn’t finished lower than 3rd in the league in yards. There is no scarcity when it comes to yards for Cooks.

On the downside is his schedule. According to last year’s defensive ranks, he has one of the hardest schedules for any wide receiver.

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The chart doesn’t even include two tough matchups with the defending NFC champs, Carolina Panthers, and a visit to Arizona. The silver lining is that out of his toughest games, only one is on the road. Cooks scored 6 of his 9 TDs and had 200 more receiving yards in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome than on the road.

Cooks showed the league that he can be one of the top receivers out there last year, but will have to repeat it against the league’s best this year.

Kelvin Benjamin – Carolina Panthers

The former BCS Championship hero will return after missing all of 2015 due to an ACL tear in the preseason. Many were excited to see what he could do after such a successful rookie campaign.

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Benjamin was second on the team in receptions, yards, and led the team in touchdowns in his only NFL season. The 6-foot-5 wideout will be welcomed back as one of Cam Newton’s favorite targets and a strong weapon in the red zone.

He will also be returning to an offense that led the league with over 30 points per game. Quarterback Cam Newton will also be coming off an MVP season, with a hunger to redeem himself after his Super Bowl performance. Although they were just spring workouts, early reports were that Benjamin is running at full speed which is a good sign.

Unfortunately, he will have a rude awakening when coming back into the league as he has one of the top 5 hardest schedules for wide receivers. After, opening the season in Denver, Benjamin will have to also travel to Seattle, St. Louis, and Atlanta. The Panthers will also host San Diego and Atlanta.

Newton without a doubt has the talent to overcome a tough schedule, but he and Benjamin will have to be on the same page so they can pick up right where they left off.

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Mike Evans – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Just finishing outside the top 25, Mike Evans had very much a boom or bust year. He finished with more than 10 fantasy points seven different times while scoring less than 7 points six times.

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Scoring 12 times his rookie year, Evans saw his TD numbers drop significantly last season with only 3. Touchdowns, however, are the only stat that you shouldn’t worry too much about dropping as they are somewhat fluky. The important stats such as targets, receptions, and yards all went up for him last season and those are the stats you want to focus on.

The Buccaneers also changed their head coach to someone who is more offense-minded, by moving up last season’s offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. This gives the offense much-needed familiarity with a young quarterback. For the most part, Evans won’t have to learn a new playbook despite having a new HC and OC.

But there always has to be a catch, right? Well for Evans, it goes from bad to worse pretty quick as he has the toughest schedule of all WRs in the league. Matchups include two divisional battles with the Falcons and Panthers each, as well as games against the Broncos, Seahawks, and Chargers.

It seems that another year under Winston’s belt will help the offense as a whole, but Evans will have to perform at the top of his game to stay somewhat consistent and finish within the top 15 like he did his rookie year.

Sammy Watkins – Buffalo Bills

The first wide receiver taken in the 2014 draft, Sammy Watkins could be inconsistent at times while dealing with the injury bug last year. Leading the team in all statistical receiving categories, Watkins was the real only threat through the air for the Bills. Finishing with over 1,000 yards and 9 touchdowns, the second-best on the team was Charles Clay with just 528 yards and 3 touchdowns.

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It’s nice to see that Watkins surpassed his numbers in yards and touchdowns and was only 5 receptions short of his stats from 2014, as he played 4 fewer games in 2015.

He seemed fully healthy as the season came to a close where he scored double digits in 5 of his last 6 games.

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Looking even closer, you have to love those target numbers. In 4 of those final 6 games, he had double-digit targets (probably after he complained). When given the opportunity and healthy, Watkins could very easily bust into the top 15.

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His schedule should help too, being in the top 10 for wide receivers. I know the season hasn’t even started yet, but looking ahead at his fantasy playoff schedule, he has three juicy home matchups with Pittsburgh in Week 14, Cleveland in Week 15, and Miami in Week 16.

Staying healthy will be key for Watkins as he’s shown what he could do toward the end of the year.

Jarvis Landry – Miami Dolphins

The LSU Tiger found himself inside the top 20 for standard scoring and top 10 in PPR. Developing a strong rapport with quarterback Ryan Tannehill, he far and above led his team with 110 receptions on a ridiculous 165 targets. With very consistent production, he might even improve on those numbers in new head coach Adam Gase’s pass heavy offense. There’s certainly the chance for a target regression. However, with a schedule inside the top 10 for WRs, Landry would be a solid bet for a third-year improvement.

Donte Moncrief – Indianapolis Colts

The late 3rd Round draft pick made a name for himself this last season despite having five different quarterbacks throwing him the ball. The Mississippi native caught 64 passes on 105 targets for 733 yards and 6 TDs. There are three words to convince anyone that Moncrief could have that third-year breakout: Healthy Andrew Luck. The new $25 million man struggled with injuries last season, starting just 7 games. In 2014, Luck threw for over 4,700 yards and 40 touchdowns. There is no reason to believe he can’t get near those numbers again and Moncrief will be along for the ride. He’s going early in the 7th round; do not be afraid to take a flier on him.

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Jordan Matthews – Philadelphia Eagles

Finding himself just within the top 20 last season, Jordan Matthews seemed to be inconsistent as the Eagles #1 wide receiver. The Vanderbilt product caught 85 of his 128 targets for 997 and 8 touchdowns. His biggest problem was drops, with 9 of them on 94 catchable balls last season. Along with shaky quarterback play, Matthews seemed to get a lot of his stats when the game was out of reach. One thing to be sure of in 2016 is that the Eagles will have to play a lot of catch-up due to their poor defense. So far in OTAs, reports are that he has worked on his drops and his wide receiver teammates have shined but it’s still very early. I would watch him closely throughout the summer and preseason to see if he left his bricks for hands at home.

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