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2013 Fantasy Football: Top 10 Third Year Wide Receivers

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Fantasy Football 2013: Top 10 Third Year Wide Receivers

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For many years, the “third year wide receiver rule” was a generally accepted axiom for fantasy football owners. There were exceptions to the rule (see Randy Moss-1998 and Anquan Boldin-2003), but it was usually wise to try and target third year wide receivers on draft day, since if the player had talent he had a good chance to take off in that third season if everything else was equal.

Of course not every notable wide receiver experiences a production bump in their third season in the NFL, and in some cases (Braylon Edwards-2007) that third year stands as by far the best season in their career. So careful analysis has definitely been required when analyzing third year wide receivers, and simple luck has also been necessary for those who targeted and got the right players on draft day or via the waiver wire.

With the tilt toward the passing game throughout the league, many first and second-year wide receivers have made a fairly immediate impact over the last few seasons. Simply ignoring such players, or perhaps being overly skeptical of them, has certainly hurt some fantasy owners who have been slow to adjust to what has become a new approach in fantasy football.

But it is still prudent to be aware of who among wide receivers is entering their third season each year, and perhaps bump players in that situation that have favorable looking circumstances up a notch or two on your preseason cheat sheet.

With that, here are my top 10 third year wide receivers that belong on the radar of fantasy football owners in 2013. How does your list compare to mine?

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10. Jonathan Baldwin, Kansas City Chiefs

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Baldwin has had a dismal first two NFL seasons, with just 41 total receptions for 579 yards and two touchdowns. The ineptitude of the Chiefs’ offense is certainly a big factor in that lackluster production, but the arrival of Andy Reid as head coach in Kansas City creates some optimism going forward. The Chiefs may lose top wide receiver Dwayne Bowe in free agency, which could open up an opportunity for someone to step into that role. Assuming Bowe is elsewhere next season, I predict that someone will be Baldwin and he has the makings of a worthy late-round pick in deep leagues next summer.

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9. Vincent Brown, San Diego Chargers

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There was some hope Brown would play in 2012 after suffering a broken left ankle during the preseason, but he never played despite returning to practice late in the season. Having a full offseason to work his way back to health will definitely help him hit the ground running in 2013, though who the Chargers ultimately hire as head coach and offensive coordinator will have an effect as well. Still, it’s not like San Diego has a clear-cut No. 1 wide receiver right now and Brown should get every chance to earn a significant role next season. There is serious appeal here as a late-round draft day flier in 12 and 14-team leagues.

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8. Jeremy Kerley, New York Jets

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The Jets’ offensive dysfunction is well documented, but Kerley was fairly productive despite that with 56 catches for 827 yards this past season. Of course his touchdown production was not ideal, with all three of his scores (two receiving, one via punt return) coming in the first three games of the season. With big changes likely coming for the Jets’ offense next season, which is clearly good news, Kerley is in line to benefit and could be a solid option for fantasy owners as a WR3 in 2013.

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7. Greg Little, Cleveland Browns

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Little’s catch and yardage totals dropped some in 2012 compared to 2011, with 53 receptions for 647 yards, but he did catch four touchdowns after just two touchdown catches as a rookie. He again struggled with drops, but he did finish fairly strongly with 22 catches over the final five games and touchdowns in each of the final two contests. Cleveland’s quarterback situation, at least unless or until Brandon Weeden improves or a better solution is found, will hurt the consistency of all involved in the passing game. But Little is at least worth a look as a late-round draft pick heading into next season, with slightly higher value in PPR leagues.

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6. Denarius Moore, Oakland Raiders

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Though his yards per catch average dropped fairly significantly compared to 2011 (14.5 from 18.7), Moore increased his overall production in his second season with 51 receptions for 741 yards and seven touchdowns. He finished very slowly with just 17 receptions over the final eight games of the season as the Raiders’ passing game could not get on track and he struggled with drops at times. Oakland has some uncertainty at quarterback heading into next season, as Carson Palmer may not be back without restructuring his contract again, which curbs the potential upside of everyone in the passing game right now. I tentatively expect Moore to rebound next season, and he should be worth consideration as a WR3 in most fantasy leagues with slightly more appeal in leagues that reward big plays.

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5. Cecil Shorts, Jacksonville Jaguars

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Shorts was one of the most surprising players in fantasy football in 2012, as he had 55 receptions for 979 yards and seven touchdowns and emerged as Jacksonville’s No. 1 wide receiver. He did miss two games late in the season due to separate concussions, which creates some concern going forward. But as long as there are no doomsday scenarios regarding his health during the offseason, Shorts should be in line for another productive season in 2013 and is likely to be worth a shot as a WR2 in fantasy leagues.

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4. Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers

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Cobb had a breakout second season in 2012, with 80 receptions for 954 yards and eight touchdowns in 15 games played. Certainly injuries to fellow wide receivers Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson played a role, but Jennings is slated to become a free agent and Cobb’s role has a chance to expand further next season. He should also remain Green Bay’s primary return man, which further bolsters his value in fantasy leagues that count return yardage. Simply put, anyone who will be catching passes from Aaron Rodgers belongs on the radar of fantasy owners and Cobb has the biggest upside potential among the group in 2013.

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3. Torrey Smith, Baltimore Ravens

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Smith had 49 receptions for 855 yards and eight touchdowns in 2012, as he had remarkably similar production to his rookie season (50 catches, 841 yards, seven touchdowns). He had a particularly poor finish to the regular season, even with considering that he sat out most of Week 17, with just one game with more than three receptions and 40 receiving yards over the final five games. Smith did have some minor nagging injuries through the season, which could explain some of his inconsistency and lack of improvement in production during his second season. Fantasy owners may be able to get a draft day steal here next summer, and Smith’s big-play ability (17.1 yards per catch during his career) gives him nice upside potential.

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2. A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals

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Green had a big second season in 2012, with 97 catches for 1,350 yards and 11 touchdowns as he finished among the league leaders in targets with 164. He is line to again be the clear-cut top option in the Cincinnati passing game next season, and he and Andy Dalton are one of the top young quarterback-wide receiver duos in the league. It would take a lot for Green to top his production from this past season in 2013, but there’s no reason to think he can't reach close to the same level for many years to come.

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1. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons

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Jones entered the 2012 season with high expectations and his overall numbers (79 receptions, 1,198 yards, 10 touchdowns) were excellent. But he did play through a couple of injuries, which led to some inconsistency with four 100-yard games as well as four games with less than 50 yards. Despite only having one 100-yard game over the final eight games of the season at a critical stretch for his fantasy owners, he did have four touchdowns over a three-game stretch from Week 14-Week 16 to likely help a lot of playoff runs. Jones is already a top-10 fantasy wide receiver without a doubt, but the sky looks like the limit for 2013.