Written by Cody Manning
A popular strategy in fantasy football is to target wide receivers that are entering their third season. It is one of my personal favorites and I look to have at least one on my roster. While it doesn’t always work out as we saw last year with Amari Cooper and DeVante Parker, we have players who most people wrote off that burst onto the scene like Nelson Agholor did. They say sometimes it takes a while for things to click for wide receivers to become the player the organization drafted them to be. Here are some examples from the past three seasons of things clicking in the third year:
Nelson Agholor (2017)
Year 1: 23 rec, 283 yards, 1 touchdown
Year 2: 36 rec, 365 yards, 2 touchdowns
Year 3: 62 rec, 768 yards, 8 touchdowns
Mike Evans (2016)
Year 1: 68 rec, 1,001 yards, 12 touchdowns
Year 2: 74 rec, 1,206 yards, 3 touchdowns
Year 3: 96 rec, 1,321 yards, 12 touchdowns
DeAndre Hopkins (2015)
Year 1: 52 rec, 802 yards, 2 touchdowns
Year 2: 76 rec, 1,210 yards, 6 touchdowns
Year 3: 111 rec, 1,521 yards, 11 touchdowns
As we head towards the 2018 Fantasy Football season, I look at the 2016 class of wide receivers. We saw four of them taken in the first round, but only two are in my top 5 that I think people should target for their roster. While the other two could have things click like Agholor, I would take my chances on players that have shown promise in their first two seasons. Here are the players you should consider when looking at wide receivers to draft on your roster this year:
Michael Thomas (Saints)
Michael Thomas was selected in the 2nd round of the 2016 draft and has been a weapon for Drew Brees in the passing game. Thomas holds the all-time record for most receptions in his first two seasons with 196. He is coming off a Pro Bowl season where he had 104 receptions, 1,245 yards, and 5 touchdowns. He is a big part of the New Orleans offense and has proven that he can be a player you can put into your lineup every week. After having back-to-back seasons with 90+ receptions and 1,100+ yards, it will be interesting to see how he improves those numbers in his third year. I expect he will at least be looking to improve his yards and crack the 10-touchdown mark in 2018. He should be able to improve, as the Saints should be looking to throw the ball more to ease the load off Alvin Kamara in the first four weeks with Mark Ingram out due to suspension. New Orleans also brought in Cameron Meredith this offseason, and he should help keep double teams off Thomas. If Thomas shows that third-year improvement with an increase in yards and touchdowns, then whoever drafts him will be happy to have him on their roster every week.
Round to Target: 2nd
Tyreek Hill (Chiefs)
Tyreek Hill was selected in the 5th round of the 2016 season and took people by surprise his rookie year. He was used not only as a wide receiver but also as a running back and a return specialist. During his second season, he was primarily used as a wide receiver and had 75 receptions, 1,183 yards, and 7 touchdowns. He has shown progression, which is a great sign that he can grow even more as a player. Patrick Mahomes is known for his big-arm, and if he is in sync with Hill they could create big plays all throughout the season. The Chiefs brought in Sammy Watkins, so he may take away some targets from Hill, but he also could help open things up for him as well. Andy Reid knows he has a weapon in Hill, so he should see plenty of opportunities to put up numbers throughout the season. While the addition of Watkins and the presence of Travis Kelce in the passing game does limit him from being a WR1, he should be viewed as a WR2 that can put up big weeks for you throughout the season. I am looking for Hill to increase his receptions and touchdown total in 2018.
Round to Target: 3rd-4th
Robby Anderson (Jets)
Robby Anderson came to the Jets as a UDFA but found his way onto the roster and the field as a rookie. As injuries decimated the players in front of him, Anderson started to take advantage of his opportunities and found a way to stay on the field. He showed growth as a player last season, as he finished with 63 receptions, 941 yards, and 7 touchdowns. The team didn’t go bring in a number one wide receiver but did add Terrelle Pryor to their receiving corps. Anderson has an opportunity to continue to develop a bigger role in their offense and continue his rise. The biggest question is who will be throwing him the ball throughout the season, as we may see Josh McCown, Teddy Bridgewater, and Sam Darnold lining up as the Jets’ starting quarterback. I do think he will be in good hands no matter who the quarterback is, so Anderson should be able to increase his receptions and yards this year while trying to get to that 10-touchdown mark. I would view Anderson as a WR3 who could become a WR2 if he shows consistent production. I believe he will have the opportunity to do so because at this point he is the top receiver on New York’s roster. I expect a big year from Anderson in the Jets’ offense in 2018.
Round to Target: 9th-10th
Josh Doctson (Redskins)
Josh Doctson was one of the four receivers selected in the 1st round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Unfortunately, his rookie year ended abruptly with an Achilles injury. After an injury like this, Doctson spent most of his offseason dealing with rehab and didn’t have time to fully prep for the season. As he got healthier, he eventually took the starting job from Terrelle Pryor halfway through the season. We saw flashes of his potential of the player he could be during the second half of the 2017 season, as he finished with 35 receptions, 502 yards, and 6 touchdowns. The team brought in Paul Richardson to help stretch the field, but he can’t go up and get the 50/50 balls like Doctson can. Now that he is healthy, he can fully work with his new quarterback, Alex Smith, and create some chemistry they can enter the season with. By using the eye test from his performance last year, I think he is due to breakout onto the scene in 2018. He will go in the later rounds, but he has the potential to get into the WR2–3 range if he and Smith are on the same page. He should be viewed as a backup on a roster at this point with some sleeper potential that people wish they took a swing on him.
Round to Target: 11th-12th
Will Fuller (Texans)
Will Fuller was selected in the first round by the Texans in the 2016 draft, and the organization is hoping he can become the player they drafted him to be. He did have a productive rookie year where he had 47 receptions and 635 yards with two touchdowns. Last year, we saw the connection he had with Deshaun Watson as they both lit up defenses together. He was a deep threat with Watson leading the way, but once the Texans lost Watson for the season, they also so Fuller’s production drop as well. Fuller managed only 28 receptions, 423 yards, and 7 touchdowns last year, but most of that production came with Watson under center. His biggest concern is his durability, as he has constantly been dealing with injuries in his career thus far. Fuller’s success in 2018 will be tied to both his and Watson’s health to have a productive season. He will get drafted before the prior two guys on the list, but his injury history is why I have him at number 5. Because of DeAndre Hopkins he will never be a WR1, but if Watson remains healthy, then he has the potential to put up some numbers this season. People should view him as a backup with WR2–3 potential if he plays a full 16 games in 2018.
Round to Target: 7th-8th
Honorable Mention: Sterling Shepard (Giants)
Sterling Shepard is an overall solid wide receiver in a Giants offense that has been productive in his first two seasons. During his rookie year he had 65 receptions, 683 yards, and 8 touchdowns. Even though last year was cut down to 10 games because of injury, he was still able to put up 731 yards on 59 receptions. In my opinion, Shepard will show that third-year improvement as a player, but it might not translate well into fantasy football. He must compete for opportunities with OBJ, Saquon Barkley, and Evan Engram. Because of that, he didn’t crack into my top 5, but if someone drafts OBJ, then he would be a viable handcuff because of OBJ’s injury history. Pat Shurmur likes to use two receivers in his offense, so pay attention during the preseason to see how he is being used and if he will have the opportunity to put up numbers in 2018.
Deep Sleeper Third-Year WRs
Corey Coleman (Browns) and Laquon Treadwell (Vikings) are the two other receivers taken in the 1st round of the 2016 draft. They both are hoping to have an Agholor-type season as most people are ready to write them both off as busts. Coleman will be competing with Jarvis Landry and Josh Gordon for targets, while Treadwell will be trying to get some away from Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. These are two players that have the talent, but things just haven’t clicked for them yet. Make sure to pay attention to them during the preseason to see if they are looking like they are set to finally breakout before their teams are ready to move on from them.
Tyler Boyd (Bengals) is a player that Cincinnati is hoping will take things to the next level, as they are still trying to find a receiver to complement A.J. Green. If things can click for him, and he can be the 2nd guy behind Green, then he could have a solid season for a fantasy owner in deeper leagues.
Malcolm Mitchell (Patriots) showed flashes of potential during his rookie season and had chemistry with Tom Brady. Unfortunately, he suffered a knee injury in the preseason and had to miss all of 2017. With Julian Edelman being suspended and Danny Amendola’s departure in free agency, if Mitchell can stay healthy and build that chemistry with Brady, then he could be the receiver to own from the Pats offense in 2018.
Lastly, some former UDFAs from the 2016 draft class I would pay attention to would be Chester Rogers (Colts) and Geronimo Allison (Packers). Rogers showed flashes of his potential throughout his first two seasons, and with the spot up for grabs behind T.Y. Hilton, I think he should be paid attention to during the preseason prior to drafts. Like Rogers, Allison showed the player he could be if he can be fully developed. He is slotted as the number three receiver in the Packers offense. With Aaron Rodgers coming back, he could find a role and be worth a look in deeper leagues for 2018.