Every year, fantasy owners draft a young receiver loaded with potential, hoping that this will finally be his breakout season. The staff at FantasyGuru.com has provided us with an excellent article to help you choose who that breakout player might be.
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Respected people around the NFL, including our friend and SiriusXM colleague Gil Brandt, insist that that wide receiver is the hardest position to pick up and play immediately in the entire league, outside of quarterback. And given how few rookies in 2012 year made a true, consistent impact at the position from Week One on – only T.Y. Hilton and Josh Gordon had pretty consistent numbers – the theory is not that hard to prove statistically.
Additionally, the new focus on exploiting mismatches at the TE position has made the once thankless job of a blocker who makes the occasional catch one of the flashiest playmakers in the entire league. But it took even phenomenal talents Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham one year each to truly make historic impacts.
So this article, which we’ve been publishing for years now, details those WRs and TEs who are entering their second and third seasons who could possibly take the next “leap” toward superstardom. Obviously, we’ll start up top with the usual suspects. But because players like Victor Cruz and Danny Amendola have come out of nowhere in the past, we felt it important to dig deep and examine the situations for a great number of talented youngsters, even if their current predicaments seem impossible to overcome.
Already broken out but even more experience helps:
None of note
Legit breakout candidates:
Chris Givens (Stl, 96th pick overall) – Givens made his hay as a deep threat in 2012, becoming the first player since 1966 to have a catch of 50+ yards in five consecutive games. Speed is obviously Givens’ game, but the Rams are looking to use him all over the field to get the most out of him. In fact, Givens actually played extremely well in his one game in the Danny Amendola role, hauling in 11/92 against San Fran in Week Twelve. Givens ended up putting together a solid rookie year, recording 42/698/3 in 15 games. He looks to have all but wrapped up the #1 WR spot heading into camp, with rookie Tavon Austin designated for the slot and Austin Pettis and Brian Quick left to battle for the #2 spot. If Givens can prove that he’s more than just a deep threat, there’s no reason not to think that he can’t put together a big season in Rams’ spread offense.
Michael Floyd (Ari, 13th pick overall) – It’s looking more and more like Floyd could be the #2 WR in Arizona this fall, which won’t be too bad a gig with a competent QB in Carson Palmer in town. Floyd still has to beat out veteran Andre Roberts in training camp, but HC Bruce Arians looks prepared to move Roberts to his more natural spot in the slot. Floyd just needs to show he’s ready to be the #2 WR, which he started to do in off-season workouts. Roberts actually put up better numbers than #1 WR Larry Fitzgerald last season, and while that’s unlikely to happen again this season, playing opposite Fitz isn’t a bad fantasy gig. Floyd actually put up half-decent numbers (45/562/2) while playing only 52.8% of the Cardinals’ plays. And all those plays came while working with terrible quarterbacks, so it’s certainly looking up for Floyd. Arians, who told us at the combine he thinks Floyd is a “rising star,” loves to throw the ball around, so we can see Floyd finishing second in receiving on this team and significantly improving his numbers from last year.
T.Y. Hilton (Ind, 92nd pick overall) – Hilton is one of the more intriguing young WRs this season. He clearly flashed in the second half of last season, and he looks like he could be ready to take it a step further this season with QB Andrew Luck, who is only going to get better. Still, the Colts brought in WR Darrius Heyward-Bey to compete for the #2 spot with Hilton. Obviously, if Hilton beats out DHB and is seeing significant time, he could very well continue his torrid pace from the end of last season (26/506/5 in his last seven games). We need to see how this camp battle is playing out in August because Hilton has some fantasy upside if he’s playing more than the 61.2% of the snaps he played last season. Even if he’s relegated to mainly slot receiver duty, he’s still extremely relevant, and he can make big plays from that spot after the catch.
Josh Gordon (Cle, 2nd-round supplemental pick) – Gordon appears to be the perfect fit for a Norv Turner offense, as Norv loves to throw it deep to big receivers.
It looked like a perfect scenario for Gordon heading into 2013, but some of that preseason momentum was squashed by his violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, which earned him a two-game suspension. Although we did nothing but praise him last year, we had heard whispers about Gordon’s issues, so we tempered our feelings on him just a bit, and now he’s one misstep away from being suspended for one year. Even with his off-the-field issues, Gordon still has the potential to go off this year as a deep threat and as a red-zone target. Gordon will miss only two games, so most fantasy teams can survive that to land a potential stud in the later rounds, but he also has clear downside if he acts up again. If this serves as a wakeup call for Gordon, the sleeper alert is still on with this guy.
Justin Blackmon (Jac, 5th pick overall) – Blackmon took a little while to get going last year, but he took off in the second half of the season, especially when Chad Henne broke into the lineup. Blackmon finished 6th in FPG from Week Eleven on, and he ended the year with 64/865/5. Any momentum Blackmon took from the end of last season may have been lost after the league suspended him four games for breaking the league’s substance-abuse policy. Blackmon also has two DUI arrests to his name, so he’s skating on thin ice right now. Still, if Blackmon can come back after four games and quickly find his form from the end of last season, he could easily become a fantasy factor, especially if Henne is at QB. The Jaguars still are a far cry from having a strong offense, but Blackmon could be a garbage-time beast in 2013. It’s worth noting that new head coach Gus Bradley has been very supportive and likely knew about the suspension before he even took the job.
Kendall Wright (Ten, 20th pick overall) – The Titans keep adding talent at WR with the drafting of rookie Justin Hunter, but Wright and Kenny Britt are still the most intriguing players heading into 2013. Wright actually lost 14 pounds this off-season to play lighter and quicker than his 201-pound rookie playing weight. Wright was once a deep threat at Baylor with Robert Griffin III, so shedding some weight could help him look a little more explosive in the open field and vertically. Wright racked up 64/626/4 in 15 games, but he averaged just 9.8 YPC. The Titans revamped the interior of their offensive line, so they’ll look to run the ball even more this season to protect QB Jake Locker, but at least Wright proved to be the most reliable receiver as a rookie. He clearly had something going last year with Locker, so it’s entirely possible that Wright ends up being the go-to guy in this passing game. He’ll always be limited by the erratic Locker, but there’s still some serious potential here.
Rod Streater (Oak, undrafted) – We loved this kid ever since we first got a good look at him in a couple preseason games last August, and we wouldn’t be shocked one bit if he emerges this year as the best receiver in Oakland. The Raiders were clearly happy with the undrafted Temple WR last season, as he saw action in every game and recorded 39/584/3. The buzz out of Oakland is that the #2 job is his to lose entering training camp, and we think the sure-handed Streater will look appealing for whoever is at QB. Even if Jacoby Ford is healthy by some miracle, Streater gives them some size at receiver, and his play last year merits the starting gig. Of course, the Raider offense could be very unstable with a new QB and a new blocking scheme, but Streater is still a player on the rise because of his chance for additional playing time, and top WR Denarius Moore has struggled with consistency.
Alshon Jeffery (Chi, 45th pick overall) – Jeffery showed a little bit of what he’s capable of last season, but his rookie season will mostly be remembered for his durability issues. That’s a concern, obviously, because Jeffery had major injury and conditioning issues coming out of South Carolina, which is why he fell to the 2nd round last April. Jeffery had hand problems in college that required surgery, and he broke his hand again last season. At least it sounds like Jeffery has started to address his conditioning questions, as he worked this off-season at a performance facility to drop some weight and body fat. Jeffery, who was frequently targeted well downfield last year, has breakout potential because of his unique size and athletic ability, so if he can stay on the field, he could emerge, as the Bears are desperate for a complementary receiver next to Brandon Marshall.
Ryan Broyles (Det, 54th pick overall) – Broyles is in the process of making yet another remarkable recovery from ACL surgery, as he could possibly be ready to participate at some point in training camp. It was initially believed that Broyles might not be ready until the middle of the season, but it’s now conceivable that he could be ready for Week One, miraculous considering what he’s already been through with his knees. If Broyles is ready for Week One, he should have the leg up on the #2 WR spot over an over-the-hill Nate Burleson. Broyles is a possession receiver with a little bit of juice, which makes him an intriguing player next to Calvin Johnson. Of course, we need to see if Broyles still looks explosive coming off his second major knee injury in recent years, but if he is at 100% he’s certainly an intriguing prospect in the Lions’ pass-happy offense. If fact, if he’s actually 100%, he could be a PPR stud this year.
Have a chance:
A.J. Jenkins (SF, 30th pick overall) – Jenkins didn’t even make so much as a blip on the fantasy radar last season with the 49ers, as he was frequently inactive, dressing for just three games, and not recording a catch. Jenkins’ fortunes quickly changed this off-season when star WR Michael Crabtree went down with a torn Achilles, suddenly leaving the 49ers desperate for WR depth. Jenkins is clearly one of the beneficiaries, as he’s a strong contender to win the #2 WR spot against Quinton Patton and Kyle Williams. Jenkins reportedly put together a strong off-season running with the starters, which was a must after essentially a lost rookie season, but he still needs to show he’s capable of playing opposite Anquan Boldin. The 49ers even dabbled with TE Vernon Davis at WR during OTAs, so they are coming up with contingency plans. Still, Jenkins clearly has a chance to make a fantasy impact this year if he wins the #2 WR job and can play with dynamic QB Colin Kaepernick. Coming out of college, Jenkins was highly regarded by NFL scouts, and the 49ers could really use his speed in their offense. Although it seems outrageous after his dismal rookie campaign, it actually wouldn’t be a shock if Jenkins had a coming-out party.
Brian Quick (Stl, 33rd pick overall) – Quick dazzled at times during off-season workouts, but he worked almost exclusively as the #4 WR. He’s essentially in direct competition with Austin Pettis as the #2 WR, with Chris Givens working as the #1 and Tavon Austin working out of the slot. Pettis also reportedly played well during off-season workouts, so this competition will play out through training camp. Pettis is a more reliable, possession-type receiver, but Quick has the game-changing potential – very good size and speed – that might be hard to resist keeping out of the lineup. Quick clearly wasn’t ready for the big show last season, recording just 11/156/2 in limited time during 15 games. If Quick can show that he’s taken the next step in his development from a small-school WR, he has an excellent chance of beating out Pettis, who also plays the slot, in a potentially potent spread offense.
Rueben Randle (NYG, 63rd pick overall) – Randle comes into camp as the Giants’ clear #3 WR, with Domenik Hixon out of the picture, and the #3 WR spot with the Giants
isn’t a bad spot because of the recent injury history of Hakeem Nicks. Randle put up a decent rookie season in his limited playing time, with 19/298/3 for 15.7 YPC in 16 games. OC Kevin Gilbride gave Randle glowing reviews during off-season workouts, and it sounds likesignificant playing time could be in store for Randle, even if Nicks stays healthy. Randle even got some extra reps as a starter during OTAs, with both Nicks and Victor Cruz sitting out because of contract disputes. Although both Nicks and Cruz are expected to be at full go for training camp and the preseason, Randle is a receiver with some major upside heading into 2013. All he needs is the playing time, as he could easily put up some big-time numbers in the rock solid Giant passing game. In a keeper or dynasty league, Randle is a guy to get now, since Nicks is an UFA after 2013. If his injury woes continue, the Giants could easily turn to Randle for the starting split end job here.
Mohamed Sanu (Cin, 83rd pick overall) – Sanu started to become fantasy relevant from Weeks Ten through Twelve last season, scoring 4 TDs in three games as the Bengal #2 WR. However, he broke his foot in practice before Week Thirteen, ending any momentum he’d picked up after winning the job in October. The good news is that he was completely healthy during off-season workouts, and Sanu appears ready to win the #2 WR role again, over Marvin Jones. The bad news is that he’s still opposite the heavily targeted A.J. Green, and the Bengals brought in two new passing targets in 1st-round TE Tyler Eifert and 2nd-round RB Giovani Bernard. Sanu has always worked the underneath areas pretty well, so his best hope is to rack up a few catches a game and continue to be one of Andy Dalton’s preferred red-zone targets. His role might not be consistent, which would make him really frustrating for fantasy, but he showed last season he can go on a pretty solid fantasy run.
T.J. Graham (Buf, 69th pick overall) – Graham played a ton of snaps (68.6%) last season as a rookie, but he never really made any kind of impact, recording just 31/322/1. To put it frankly, Graham was an absolute misfit for Chan Gailey’s offense and his weak-armed QB Ryan Fitzpatrick because the Bills couldn’t utilize Graham’s downfield speed and ability. He appears to be in a much better situation entering his second year in new HC Doug Marrone’s up-tempo offense and with strong-armed QB E.J. Manuel, once Manuel takes the job from Kevin Kolb. The former 3rd-rounder has the early advantage to play opposite WR Stevie Johnson in 2-WR sets, ahead of rookies Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin. Graham has a little bit of upside this season if he can win the #2 WR spot and Manuel can pick up the NFL game quickly, but any endorsement in him at this juncture is not based on anything he’s ever done on the field.
Stephen Hill (NYJ, 43rd pick overall) – Hill has all the talent in the world to make you believe he could be a fantasy stud, but he’s also so incredibly raw that you might think he’ll never quite put it together. Frankly, Hill is an awful route-runner and can’t catch the ball, so the only way he can beat defenders is over the top. He reportedly looked absolutely awful during OTAs, and HC Rex Ryan called out his entire receiving corps for its lackluster play. Hill had his chances last season in 11 games, but he recorded just 21/252/3, while battling calf, knee, hamstring, and ankle injuries. The Jet offense looks like it could be just as incompetent this season, with an unsettled QB situation with Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith, but as long as Hill’s in the starting lineup he’ll have chances to come up with splash plays and there’s always that chance the light bulb comes on for him.
Tommy Streeter (Bal, 198th pick overall) – Streeter was an interesting prospect coming out of Miami because of his size (6’5”, 220), speed, and leaping ability. However, we didn’t get to see nearly enough of Streeter last preseason, as he landed on the injured reserve with sprained ligaments in his left ankle and foot. He’s back on the radar this preseason because the Ravens lack WR depth after Torrey Smith, and it’s not like there are many athletes like Streeter, with his kind of size and speed, out there. The options likely ahead of Streeter right now are hardly overwhelming (Jacoby Jones, Tandon Doss, David Reed, Deonte Thompson), so Streeter could conceivably be the #2 or #3 WR at some point this season if all comes together for the raw prospect. But has to put it together quickly, but he has a real chance to rise up the depth chart here with a stellar preseason.
Jarius Wright (Min, 118th pick overall) – Wright got a chance to play as a rookie after Percy Harvin’s ankle injury ended his year, and Wright finished with 22/310/2 in seven games. Wright flashed some big-play ability, but he’s unlikely to be an every-down receiver at this point in his career. Wright looks to be locked in as the team’s #4 WR, behind Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Jerome Simpson. Wright’s best chance to contribute right away this season is if Patterson struggles to pick up the offense as a rookie and Simpson continues to be Simpson (which isn’t a good thing). We’re more willing to give the rookie Patterson the benefit of the doubt over Simpson at this point, so Wright could well be an important player for QB Christian Ponder. Keep in mind he can certainly get a lot of snaps from the slot, where the Vikings lost Percy Harvin last year.
Keshawn Martin (Hou, 121st pick overall) – Martin dressed for all 16 games last season, but he played on just 23.4% of the team’s offensive snaps, hauling in 10/85/1. It looked like Martin might have a chance for more playing time after DeVier Posey’s Achilles injury, but the Texans, unsurprisingly used a 1st-round pick to take DeAndre Hopkins. He should immediately start as a rookie opposite Andre Johnson, leaving Martin to play the slot, which is a more ideal fit. The problem with playing the slot in the Texan offense is that the team doesn’t use too many 3-WR sets as a run-first offense. However, there were some rumblings at the end of their off-season that the rookie Hopkins was struggling a little and that Martin was pushing for the starting job, so there could be a developing and surprising position battle in Houston. Regardless, Martin should get on the field more than he did a year ago. He’s hardly a lock to produce much, but he’s someone we’ll be keeping an eye on.
Deonte Thompson (Bal, undrafted) – The Ravens’ #2 WR job is one of the more interesting camp battles of the entire preseason, and Thompson is one player to remember heading into Raven training camp. HC John Harbaugh said Thompson could sneak into the #2 WR job this year because “he looks different, is fast, and catches everything.” Harbaugh mentioned Thompson before Tandon Doss and David Reed, who are in the mix, along with Tommy Streeter and the favorite Jacoby Jones. At the very least, it sounds like Thompson could see some significant time as possibly the #3 WR this fall, after playing in six games last season and recording 5/51. Thompson is definitely a player to keep an eye on this preseason and one of the more intriguing “unknowns” in the league.
Well, they still are second-year receivers:
DeVier Posey (Hou, 68th pick overall) – Posey started to show a little bit of progress by the end of his rookie season, but he still had an underwhelming campaign, with 6/87. Any hopes that he’d earn a starting WR spot in 2013 were squashed when he tore his Achilles against the Patriots in the playoffs. The Texans took a proactive approach and selected DeAndre Hopkins in the 1st round, and the rookie WR will start the season opposite Andre Johnson. Meanwhile, Posey is still on the mend from his off-season surgery, and he’ll likely start the year on the PUP list. Posey could get back on the field at some point this season, and they are very high on him in Houston, but he’ll be at best the #3 WR in an offense that runs the ball first.
Marvin Jones (Cin, 166th pick overall) – Jones eventually became the Bengals #2 WR last season after Mohamed Sanu went down with his foot injury. Jones appeared in 11 games and started the final five, posting 18/201/1 in 2012. Jones was initially ahead of Sanu last season before Jones’ minor MCL injury, so it’s not inconceivable that he could become the #2 WR out of camp, which would certainly make him fantasy relevant. Sanu is still the favorite to win the spot, but the role could be marginalized even more with TE Tyler Eifert now in the mix in addition to A.J. Green’s heavy looks. Jones will have to impress in training camp to regain his spot ahead of Sanu to start the season.
Travis Benjamin (Cle, 100th pick overall) – It looks like Benjamin will fill the void left by the once-outstanding Josh Cribbs in the return game, and Benjamin really impressed as a punt returner last year in limited opportunities. He also wasn’t bad as a receiver, hauling in 18/298/2 for a 16.6 YPC average in 14 games. Benjamin also had a strong off-season as a WR, but he still figures to be a rotational receiver at best, although Josh Gordon’s two-game suspension could give him an opportunity. WRs Greg Little, Davone Bess, and David Nelson are possession guys, so Benjamin could be used as the vertical threat while Gordon serves his suspension. Benjamin’s quickness and speed make him a dynamic threat at receiver, especially for the strong-armed Brandon Weeden, so he could eventually see more playing time as a potential game changer.
Juron Criner (Oak, 168th pick overall) – Criner saw a decent amount of time as a rookie last season, playing in 12 games and recording 16/151/1. He missed action at the end of the year because of a hip injury, but it was a minor issue. Criner will be competing with Rod Streater and Jacoby Ford for playing time, but Streater looks like the favorite to win the #2 WR job. Ford is a talented receiver, but he’s been a walking injury the last two seasons, so Criner has a chance to see even significant time this season. Criner flashed the ability to make some highlight-reel catches, and he’ll need to show that ability in training camp to have an outside chance at the #2 spot. It’s not a great sign that the fellow rookie Streater easily soared past Criner on the depth chart last year.
LaVon Brazill (Ind, 206th pick overall) – The Colts had hopes just a few months ago that Brazill could eventually develop into a starter in another 2-3 years. Now his roster spot is in jeopardy after the league suspended him four games for violating the substance abuse policy, although we suspect the Colts won’t give up on a talented player. More of a possession receiver, he also flashed some vertical ability at times last season, as he appeared in 15 games and recorded 11/186/1, averaging 16.9 YPC. Brazill wasn’t expected to make much of a fantasy impact at least early in the year, but he’s still an interesting prospect, so expectations have to be tempered a bit after the suspension.
Greg Childs (Min, 134th pick overall) – Childs might just do the unthinkable and be ready for the start of training camp. He tore both of his patellar tendons in training camp last August, and it was feared that his career could be in jeopardy as he had labored through a torn patellar tendon to get to the NFL. Childs has bulked up to 225 pounds and is now sprinting and cutting in preparation for training camp, so he’s put in the work to be ready. Will Childs be a major contributor in 2013? We’d doubt it, but Childs has already worked his ass off to get back on the field, so we’re not betting against him. Besides, the Vikings aren’t loaded at WR outside of Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson, so he’s got a chance if he shows he’s healthy. With Childs and Adrian Peterson, what the heck’s in the water in Minneapolis?
Cole Beasley (Dal, undrafted) – Beasley made a small impact as an undrafted free agent last season, playing 10 games and recording 15/128, including a 7/68 performance against the Redskins on Thanksgiving Day. Beasley is undersized at 5’9” and 177 pounds, so he’s a slot guy all the way. He could have more opportunities for playing time this season with Kevin Ogletree out of the mix, but Dwayne Harris is still clearly ahead of him, and the Cowboys brought in rookie WR Terrance Williams. Beasley is likely locked into the final WR roster spot, but he still needs to impress this preseason. His Thanksgiving Day performance showed he can rise to the occasion if he’s needed at some point this season.
Griff Whalen (Ind, undrafted) – Whalen was pretty much a lock for the Colts’ practice squad last season until he injured his foot in the final preseason game, which landed him on the injured reserve. Whalen was impressive in the 2012 preseason, and he will get to play in his old college offense under new OC Pep Hamilton, with his former college QB Andrew Luck. Whalen obviously has a leg up on the rest of the Colt WRs in terms of knowledge of the offense, so if he can stay healthy, there’s no reason he can’t compete for Colts’ final WR spot, especially with LaVon Brazill’s four-game suspension to start the season.
Nick Toon (NO, 122nd pick overall) – Toon sat out the 2012 season after he needed foot surgery out of training camp. The foot issue had been bothering Toon since his senior year at Wisconsin, and it was the second procedure he had done on his left foot, so Toon has some long-term durability issues, not great news for a guy who has never played an NFL down. It looks like the #3 WR job will be Joe Morgan’s to lose, with Toon competing with Kenny Stills and (the other) Chris Givens for roster spots. Morgan was arrested for a DWI in May, and he could face league discipline at some point, so Toon has a chance of producing if his foot injury doesn’t flare back up.
Devon Wylie (KC, 107th pick overall) – Wylie saw some time in six games this season, with 6/53 in addition limited action as a kick and punt returner. Wylie doesn’t have much size at 5’9” and 187 pounds, so he’s probably limited to the slot, which has been occupied by Dexter McCluster. Wylie is the clear backup to McCluster, so he’ll likely have fantasy value only if McCluster gets hurt. Wylie will most likely be confined to return duties once again this season.
Joe Adams (Car, 104th pick overall) – Adams appeared in nine games last season but caught just 1 pass for 7 yards. He played that many games only because of his return abilities. However, he did get booted off kick returns after two fumbles in Week Three against the Giants on national TV. Adams was used strictly as a punt returner later in the year. He’s once again way down the WR depth chart, and his best chance of making the roster is by playing well on special teams. However, the Panthers aren’t exactly loaded at WR, so Adams has a little bit more leash than other players in this category.
Rishard Matthews (Mia, 227th pick overall) – Matthews saw limited time in eight games last season, catching 11 passes for 151 yards. He’s squarely on the roster bubble this training camp, and the Miami Herald left Matthews off the projected 53-man roster after the June minicamp. He’ll be in direct competition with Armon Binns and Marvin McNutt. Matthews has shown some potential with his deceptive speed and his route running, but his performances in practices have been too sporadic.
Marvin McNutt (Mia, 194th pick overall) – McNutt appeared in four games with the Eagles last season without a catch before being cut and picked up by the Dolphins in May. Dolphin WR coach Ken O’Keefe was McNutt’s offensive coordinator during his time at the University of Iowa, where he became the school’s all-time leading receiver. McNutt has good size and great straight-line speed, but he’ll have to improve his routes and hands to win a competition for a roster spot. He’ll be in direct competition with Rishard Matthews and Armon Binns for the final two WR spots, so he’s certainly got a chance to get on the field this season.
Toney Clemons (Jac, 231st pick overall) – Originally drafted by the Steelers, Clemons caught on with Jaguars and even appeared in four games at the end of last season. He caught 3 passes for 41 yards the last two weeks of the season after Cecil Shorts went down with a concussion. Second-year WR Justin Blackmon is suspended for the first four games of next season, so Clemons has a chance to battle Mohamed Massaquoi, Jordan Shipley, and Ace Sanders for some playing time.
Danny Coale (Dal, 152nd pick overall) – Coale was among the Cowboys’ final cuts last season, and he tore his left ACL in November, ending an injury-riddled season that started with a stress fracture in his foot and a hamstring strain in the preseason. Coale is targeting a full return to action by the time training camp, and he’ll absolutely have to be on the field to have any chance of making the team. Coale is best suited for the slot, but Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley are ahead of him at this point. Coale needs to actually show what he can do to have a chance this preseason, as injuries have limited him too much.
Jeremy Ebert (Jac, 235th pick overall) – Ebert spent his rookie season on the Patriot practice squad before getting picked up by the Jaguars this May. Ebert is ideally built for the slot, and he learned behind excellent slot receivers Wes Welker and Julian Edelman. Yet he’s definitely a long shot even on the Jags, as they already have two better slot WRs in Ace Sanders and Jordan Shipley.
Junior Hemingway (KC, 238th pick overall) – The Chiefs cut Hemingway last August and stashed him on the practice squad after he played in just two preseason games because of an ankle injury. Hemingway was elevated from injured reserve for the final game of the year afterTerrance Copper was placed on IR. Hemingway once again has an outside shot of making the roster out of camp, and a new coaching staff could help his chances slightly.
Jordan White (NYJ, 244th pick overall) – White spent most of his first season on the practice squad, but he eventually got promoted toward the end of the year. He appeared in two games and caught his first and only NFL pass in the Jets’ final game of the year. White is still buried on the depth chart, but the Jets are hardly talented or loaded at WR, so he could see some playing time at some point this season.
B.J. Cunningham (Phi, 183rd pick overall) – The Dolphins cut Cunningham out of training camp last season because of too many drops, and the Eagles scooped him up for their practice squad. The odds seem stacked against Cunningham even making the Eagle roster, as he’d have to leap a couple more talented WRs or hope for injuries.
James Rodgers (Atl, undrafted) – The older brother of Jacquizz Rodgers, James was released by the Falcons in the final round of cuts in August 2012. The Falcons re-signed Rodgers in January to reserve/future contract, and he’ll try to make the team again this training camp, so he’s a definite long shot to contribute in 2013.
Already broken out but even more experience helps:
None of note
Legit breakout candidates:
Coby Fleener (Ind, 34th pick overall) – Fleener is getting a lot of positive buzz heading into training camp, after a somewhat disappointing rookie season. He was limited to 12 games and recorded just 26/281/2. HC Chuck Pagano has already come out and said that Fleener will double his rookie catch total this season. Former OC Bruce Arians asked Fleener to work more as a blocker in-line, but Fleener should be used as a versatile offensive weapon this season. He’s a natural receiver, and new OC Pep Hamilton coached Fleener in college and knows how to better utilize him. The Colts also want to use Fleener as more of a vertical threat, so he could see more big plays. Still, he will split some
time with fellow second-year TE Dwayne Allen, who looked better and more complete than Fleener last year. The Colts should use quite a lot of 2-TE sets this season, and Fleener is a significantly more explosive receiver, which makes him a better prospect for fantasy.
Dwayne Allen (Ind, 64th pick overall) – The Colts drafted Allen a round after TE Coby Fleener last year, but Allen outperformed his teammate last season. Allen showed a rapport with rookie QB Andrew Luck, and he stepped up in Fleener’s absence, recording 45/521/3. Allen is clearly a much better blocker than he is a receiver, which will always limit his potential as a fantasy TE. Our own Greg Cosell loved him though, and Allen could carve out a career similar to Heath Miller’s, as a strong blocker with solid receiver skills. Luck showed that he’ll look for Allen last season, and Fleener proved to be inconsistent last season, so Allen obviously has the chance to be a viable target in potentially potent offense in 2013.
Have a chance:
David Paulson (Pit, 240th pick overall) – Paulson suddenly has a chance to become the Week One starter in Pittsburgh after being drafted in the 7th round last year. Paulson will likely handle the starting job until veteran Heath Miller is healthy enough to return from his ACL/MCL surgery. The Steelers and Miller have been very quiet about the injury, so it’s too early to know if Miller will even miss time. Paulson played in all 16 games last season and caught 7 passes for 51 yards. He’s not terribly athletic, but he’s got soft hands and is a willing blocker, which makes him a fit in the Steeler offense. Miller had a huge 2012 in OC Todd Haley’s new offense, so Paulson has a chance to succeed in his role, but don’t forget that Paulson isn’t nearly the tight end that Miller is.
Well, they still are second-year receivers:
Adrien Robinson (NYG, 127th pick overall) – The Giants are hoping that Robinson can step up in his second year after appearing in just two games as a rookie. The Giants want Robinson to make contributions as a blocker this season, and he could take over blocking duties this season, so he has a chance to get on the field quite a bit. Still, the Giants brought in Brandon Myers to be a factor in the passing game, so it’s difficult to see Robinson making a huge impact for fantasy. At least Myers signed to just a one-year deal, so Robinson could soon make an impact if he impresses this season. If Myers is out of the mix due to an injury, it’s worth noting that the Giants have been very pleased with Robinson this off-season and they’re starting to believe in him and his upside.
Ladarius Green (SD, 110th pick overall) – The Chargers drafted Green believing that he could heir apparent to Antonio Gates. Green had the size, the hands, and the burst to make most agree. Still, Green was a bit of a project, and he never quite developed enough to get on the field much with Gates last season. Green saw action in just four games, making 4 catches for 56 yards, as Dante Rosario played ahead of him. The Chargers let Rosario walk, but they didn’t trust Green enough to be the #2 TE, bringing in John Phillips. Still, Phillips isn’t a special player, and Gates is on the down slope of his career, so Green just needs to show some progress to get on the field more in 2013. With Gates’ injury issues, he could become an important player quickly.
Michael Egnew (Mia, 78th pick overall) – Egnew was a complete mess on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” last year, and he never put it together to even see significant time. He played in just two games, and the Dolphins gave him a chance to play in Week Seventeen, and he couldn’t even remember the plays. Egnew is loaded with talent, but he rarely shows it, and HC Joe Philbin wants him to speed up every facet of his game. Egnew reportedly had a much better off-season, but he needs to translate that progression to pre-season camp to lock up the #2 spot behind Dustin Keller. The Dolphins drafted blocking TE Dion Sims and signed H-back Evan Rodriguez, so the pressure is clearly on Egnew to improve this preseason.
Evan Rodriguez (Mia, 111th pick overall) – Rodriguez quickly burned his bridges in Chicago with two off-season arrests in three months, including a DUI in May that set motion his release from the Bears. The Dolphins quickly snatched up the athletic H-back, but he’ll find an already crowded group of TEs/H-Backs in Miami. TEs Dustin Keller, Dion Sims, Michael Egnew, and H-back Charles Clay are already ahead of Rodriguez, so he’s got a lot of work to do to make the 53-man roster. Rodriguez has the talent to make significant contributions in the NFL, now he just needs to get his head on straight and focus his talents.
Orson Charles (Cin, 116th pick overall) – When your roster spot is in jeopardy as a tight end, it’s time to resort to showing off some versatility. With the Bengals bringing in TEs Tyler Eifert and Alex Smith, Charles is squarely on the roster bubble this preseason, so he resorted to taking reps at fullback during OTAs. Charles’ best-case scenario is beating out Smith to be the third TE on the depth chart. Charles did appear in all 16 games last season, hauling 8/101, but he needs to have a big training camp or he’ll likely be stuck trying to latch onto a new team.
James Hanna (Dal, 186th pick overall) – Hanna appeared in all 16 games last season, but he hardly made his presence felt, with just 8/86. However, he did eventually overtake John Phillips as the #2 TE, and Phillips left for the Chargers in free agency. Still, the Cowboys used a 2nd-round pick on TE Gavin Escobar, so Hanna’s role could be stifled this season. The Cowboys are expected to use more 2-TE sets this season with Jason Witten, which should help Hanna get on the field more, but Escobar should be the primary beneficiary. Yet Hanna has a chance to start over Escobar if the rookie struggles in the preseason, so there is some hope.
Already broken out but even more experience helps:
A.J. Green (Cin, 4th pick overall) – There’s a lot to be said for Green’s 2012 domination, despite the struggles of QB Andy Dalton down the stretch. Green finished tied for 3rd at the position, with 18.9 FPG, thanks to 97/1350/11 (13.9 YPC, 8.44 YPT) on 160 targets (60.6% catch rate, 16th among those with 100 targets or more). Green tied for fourth in TDs among WRs. He finished 14th in the league in yards per target among those with 100 or more targets, so he could actually improve that. He was in the clearly elite group of four WRs who had over 90 catches and 10 TDs – even Megatron didn’t make that group – with Brandon Marshall, Dez Bryant, and Demaryius Thomas. This off-season, the Bengals worked on upgrading the weaponry around Green, and Green is working on cutting out his drops. And Dalton has said he wants to target Green more this season. It’s scary to think that he can get better, but he can.
Julio Jones (Atl, 6th pick overall) – There’s still room for Julio to improve as an NFL receiver, and he has the physical ability to be one of the most dominant at his position in the NFL. Just look at the NFC Championship Game in January, when he posted 11/182/2 receiving. But Julio knows he still leans a little too much on his raw athleticism, and he must improve his route running and hands to truly tap into the next level (he’s also cutting beef and pork from his diet in an effort to get healthier). This is a guy, however, who finished the year 12th among WRs with 16.4 FPG, on 79 catches (9.51 YPT, 63.0% catch rate, 10th best among WRs with 100+ targets) for 1198 yards and 10 TDs. There’s been every indication that Julio is willing to work at his craft to better himself, and he should be in line for another huge season with Matt Ryan at QB.
Randall Cobb (GB, 64th pick overall) – While it might not have been to the extent of A.J. Green’s and Julio Jones’, Cobb’s breakout happened last season, when he caught 80 balls, scored 8 TDs, contributed as a runner, and proved to be a matchup nightmare for defensive coordinators. He’s being drafted as a #1 WR in PPR leagues, which seems to
indicate fantasy players know who he is. But he can definitely get better, statistically. In fact, QB Aaron Rodgers has gone on record this off-season as saying he believes Cobb could catch 100 balls. With Greg Jennings gone, Cobb’s role should only increase. It’s valid to be really high on Cobb, and count on coach Mike McCarthy to get him the ball all over the field in a variety of ways (remember, rushing production is always a possibility here), and you can always count on a high-end talent playing for a coach who totally gets it and knows how to take advantage of his weapons.
Legit breakout candidates:
Torrey Smith (Bal, 58th pick overall) – Smith’s the de facto #1 WR on a championship team, so in a lot of ways, he’s “already broken out.” He’s not going to sneak up on anyone this year. That said, there’s a lot of room for him to put up much bigger numbers. In 2012, Smith went for 49/855/8 on 109 targets (17.4 YPC, 7.84 YPT, 44.9% catch rate), ranking 43rd among WRs, with 11.5 FPG in 16 games. Smith’s 45.0% catch rate ranked him dead last out of the 37 WRs with 100+ targets last season. That’s not shocking, considering he’s a deep threat playing with a QB in Joe Flacco who throws perhaps the best deep ball in the NFL. But the potential for more is there. In Week Three against the Patriots, Smith posted 6/127/2 just a day after the tragic death of his brother, and in the postseason, he torched future Hall of Famer Champ Bailey for 2 TDs (and Flacco missed him for what could have been another). However, Smith had eight games of 2 or fewer catches, and he had only two 100-yard performances. That’s not a dig at Smith’s ability because his speed is clearly elite; it’s just that he’s not the smoothest route runner in the world and isn’t a complete player. But with Anquan Boldin gone, the Ravens should lean even more to their third-year receiver.
Cecil Shorts (Jac, 114th pick overall) – While Shorts’ numbers weren’t monstrous, 55/979/7 receiving, the fact that he did it on one of the worst offenses we’ve ever seen makes his performance all the more amazing. And remember, he finished the season on fire, with Chad Henne at QB. Shorts had four 100-yard games from Week Eight on, only Calvin Johnson, Roddy White, and Andre Johnson had more. Shorts was 10th in FPG in that span (his 8 games would equate to 86/1390/8 for a full year). Unfortunately, he suffered concussions in two of his final three games of the year and was on the IR for the season finale. While we’ll come up short (ha!) of calling Shorts totally broken out, there’s a ton to like here as he moves into 2013. Although it’s not even close to being a lock, we believe Henne should win the starting job over Blaine Gabbert, and Shorts could remain one of the most dangerous and exciting deep threats in the NFL. Also, we should mention that Shorts worked out in Larry Fitzgerald’s off-season camp (where a lot of big names have trained in the past), and he’s gained about 10 pounds, according to CBS.
Vincent Brown (SD, 82nd pick overall) – Brown is easily one of our favorite late-round flyers in just about any draft imaginable. Yes, he lost his entire second season to a broken ankle (he was nearing 100% by the end of the season, but the Chargers opted not to risk Brown’s long-term health in a lost year). His absence allowed one of 2012’s breakout stars, Danario Alexander, to emerge. But let’s be honest here. It’s not like Alexander, Malcom Floyd, and TE Antonio Gates are the pictures of health. So Brown, who was “spectacular” in OTAs while taking first-team reps, according to the Union-Tribune San Diego, is going to have a shot to play himself into a role. In fact, Brown is a better fit for coach Mike McCoy’s offense than Floyd, and there’s a chance Brown’s routes and hands make him one of the better PPR receivers to emerge this year. His injury problems are a major concern, but he’s really gifted and the cost of acquiring him is cheap.
Greg Little (Cle, 59th pick overall) – It’s amazing what a new offense will do for the perception of a receiver. Little has been a major disappointment his first two years in the NFL, struggling with one of the worst sets of hands in the NFL. But he’s still going to get a chance to make a big impact in 2013. Little has been a quick learner in OC Norv Turner’s downfield passing scheme in OTAs. With #1 WR Josh Gordon suspended for the first two games of the season, Little’s showcase is coming sooner rather than later. We’ve always loved his size, strength and speed combo, and with Brandon Weeden entering his second season, Little could well open some eyes before Gordon even gets on the field. Little has said he loves going deep, and he’ll have the chance to do that this year – but he’s gotta catch the ball.
Denarius Moore (Oak, 148th pick overall) – Coach Dennis Allen can’t make it any more explicit than he has: He wants Moore to be the Raiders’ “#1 receiver,” according to the Contra Costa Times. Our support of Moore in the past has been pretty explicit as well. We love his physical ability, and few receivers in the NFL can fly downfield as explosively as he can and make contested catches. However, he has serious work ethic issues, bad enough he’s been benched for them in the past. He’s capable of flipping a switch and producing as their top playmaker, but he could also continue his descent, especially with a downgrade at QB in Matt Flynn (or Tyler Wilson, or Terrelle Pryor… you get the point). Moore has great YAC ability, but his best skill is his ability to go after and haul in the deep ball, and with Carson Palmer gone, the Raiders don’t have a QB who can really throw the deep ball. Moore is talented enough to make it all work, and he doesn’t have a lot of competition for his job. But there’s a lot that is working against him, too.
Jon Baldwin (KC, 26th pick overall) – The sizable Baldwin will have every opportunity to make his third season count. Through two years, he has only 41 catches and 2 TDs, with both his effort and comfort level inconsistent. The Chiefs and new head coach Andy Reid are going to give Baldwin every opportunity to win a starting job opposite Dwayne Bowe, but they brought in veteran Donnie Avery as insurance in the event Baldwin doesn’t live up to his huge promise. Coach Andy Reid has openly challenged Baldwin, both to his face in practices and in comments to the media. Should Baldwin progress in training camp and the preseason, he has breakout potential playing opposite Bowe and with a new QB in Alex Smith. Reid’s offense can be very friendly to WRs, but Baldwin must earn his playing time. If he doesn’t, Avery will start.
Jeremy Kerley (NYJ, 153rd pick overall) – With Santonio Holmes and Dustin Keller injured, Kerley was about the only decent thing going for the Jet receiving corps in 2012. Ideally cast as a slot receiver, the shifty Kerley caught 56 balls last year but averaged nearly 15.0 YPC, so he can get downfield, as well. As Holmes is no guarantee to be ready for the start of the season, it’s entirely possible that Kerley will enter 2013 as the Jets’ de facto #1 WR again. He dealt with a minor heel issue in OTAs, but he’s expected to be ready for training camp in the preseason. That’s good news, because he’ll need time to work with both QB Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith. While Kerley is miscast as a #1, he’s the least of the Jets’ problems. The only thing giving us pause about listing him as a true “breakout” candidate is the fact that the Jet QB situation is among the worst in the NFL.
Have a chance:
Austin Pettis (Stl, 78th pick overall) – While he doesn’t have any skills that particularly stand out, Pettis is a big receiver (6’3”) who has taken advantage of the opportunities presented to him this spring. In fact, he had a phenomenal spring, OC Brian Schottenheimer told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He’s probably having the best camp of all the skill players,” Schottenheimer said. The Ram coaches love Pettis’ versatility, and he’s had success working at both split end and in the slot. Pettis’ hands have been nearly perfect in the spring, and QB Sam Bradford has been looking to him extensively in red-zone drills (he was effective as a goal line target in 2012). The Rams are looking for serious flexibility with their offense in 2013, and they versatile Pettis with rookie Tavon Austin are a huge step toward that. It’s possible that the coaches are talking up Pettis as a motivational tool for second-year man Brian Quick, but there should be the opportunity for multiple receivers to contribute in this offense.
Doug Baldwin (Sea, undrafted) – We like Baldwin as a speedy possession guy in the slot, but he lost snaps last season even before the Seahawks traded for superstar Percy Harvin. He fell from 51 catches as a rookie in 2011 to 29 last season, and it appears he’s buried on the depth chart this season. Baldwin apparently had a really strong spring, understanding that he needs to turn heads to keep his spot on the roster secure. However, it’s hard to find him a lot of production behind Harvin, Sidney Rice, Golden Tate, and potentially rookie Chris Harper. Baldwin’s best shot might be to impress another club during the preseason, perhaps stoking some interest in a trade. If not, he’s at least a decent “handcuff” for the oft-injured Harvin. Of course, so is Tate.
Tandon Doss (Bal, 123rd pick overall) – Doss has been unable to get on the field despite the Ravens’ overall struggles at WR the last two seasons. He has only 7 catches in two seasons, and has done practically nothing to stand out in limited action. But with Anquan Boldin gone, there is an opportunity for the Ravens’ younger players to step up. While Jacoby Jones is expected to start opposite Torrey Smith, Doss will have to try to separate himself as the #3 from second-year players Tommy Streeter and Deonte Thompson. And there will be an opportunity here to emerge as one of QB Joe Flacco’s preferred targets, especially if Doss can flash the YAC ability he did in college.
Leonard Hankerson (Was, 79th pick overall) – Hankerson got a lot of playing time last season when Pierre Garcon went down, but he ranked only 83rd among WRs with 6.9 FPG on 38/543/3 receiving (57 targets). A big receiver who struggled to beat one-on-one coverage, Hankerson at this point projects as merely a rotational player. He can’t match the dynamic playmaking ability of Garcon, and he can’t block like Josh Morgan. Hankerson, at least, could be an attractive option in the red zone for Robert Griffin III, and it’s not like Morgan is the type of player who isn’t vulnerable if Hankerson can make strides in camp.
Dwayne Harris (Dal, 176th pick overall) – The Cowboys need to replace the departed Kevin Ogletree, and while they drafted a favorite of ours in Terrance Williams in the 3rd round in April, Harris knows he’s got a great opportunity to make an impact. According to the Cowboys’ official website, Harris may have been the team’s most improved player in OTAs, and his ability to block downfield alone will get him on the field. Harris can also contribute in the return game. While he’s not a guy who is draftable and likely won’t be a consistent option, he appears ahead of Williams for now, and he’s coming off a season in which he posted 17/222/1 receiving and totaled 786 all-purpose yards. The Cowboys throw it a lot, so it’s certainly not out of the question that the intriguing Harris will be on some fantasy rosters at some point this season.
Well, they still are third-year receivers:
Aldrick Robinson (Was, 178th pick overall) – Like Kevin Ogletree, Robinson took the Waiver Wire by storm after his strong Week One in 2012, posting 4/52/1 in his first NFL game. Unfortunately, like Ogletree, Robinson disappeared the rest of the season, with only 7/185/2 receiving over the rest of the year. Strictly a deep threat as a rookie, Robinson will have a shot to beat out Santana Moss and Leonard Hankerson in his second year, and his OTA performance was really strong, according to coach Mike Shanahan. Robinson may be small, but he can fly, and QB Robert Griffin III throws one of the best deep balls in the entire NFL. Even if he’s a one-trick pony, it’s a hell of a trick.
Ricardo Lockette (SF, undrafted) – The 49ers have one of the most talented and deep rosters in the NFL, but one spot they’re seriously lacking after the injury to Michael Crabtree is at WR. That’s why guys like Lockette, who has 2 career catches for 105 yards and a TD, are getting talked up. Lockette has flashed before, drawing rave reviews for his eye-opening but inconsistent training camp with the Seahawks last season. This spring, 49er head coach Jim Harbaugh said he “feels” that Lockette has a little extra something that can make him special in the NFL. Lockette’s 6’2” and 215 pounds, which helps, but he also has some speed. And to his advantage, he actually has more career catches than A.J. Jenkins and Quinton Patton, who look like major competition for snaps. Until we see Lockette actually put it together in game action, we’ll remain skeptical about him, but undrafted receivers making an impact after bouncing around a bit aren’t unheard of.
Clyde Gates (NYJ, 111th pick overall) – A pure speedster who has shown little else in the NFL thus far, Gates managed to post only 16/224/0 receiving with the Jets last season, despite playing nearly a quarter of the Jets’ offensive snaps in 2012. Gates dealt with some concussion issues in 2012, which he’s since beaten, but he’ll still be battling for a roster spot in 2013. According to ESPN New York, Gates was a favorite of former OC Tony Sparano, who coached him in Miami, so there is no loyalty to him. However, the Jets have one of the worst receiving corps in the NFL, and Santonio Holmes’ health is still a major question mark. If Gates flashes at all in camp, it’d be hard to see him getting cut.
Kealoha Pilares (Car, 132nd pick overall) – The Panthers’ primary kickoff returner in recent seasons, Pilares hasn’t been able to scratch the lineup as a receiver much, with only 2/42/1 receiving in two seasons, with a 17-yard rush as well. Pilares’ 2012 season ended in early November with a serious shoulder injury, as the team was beginning to work him into action a little bit more. Here’s what we saw from Pilares: He has speed, YAC ability, and an understanding of how to run routes, and on a team that’s thin at WR, he should at least have a chance to separate himself. He’ll battle Domenik Hixon and Joe Adams for snaps.
LaQuan Williams (Bal, undrafted) – In two NFL seasons, Williams has only 4 catches. The good news is that puts him 4 catches ahead of Tommy Streeter, plus only 3 grabs behind Tandon Doss and 1 catch behind Deonte Thompson, his primary competition for the Ravens’ #3 WR spot this summer (rookie Aaron Mellette is intriguing but raw). Williams is a speedster who can play special teams, which will increase his chances of making the roster, but it’s hard to really gauge his chances in this messy WR battle so soon before camp. If he can show good chemistry with QB Joe Flacco, that’s a start.
Kris Durham (Det, 107th pick overall) – Durham is a monster physically, standing an imposing 6’6”, and he has somewhat of a rapport with QB Matthew Stafford as the two roomed together at the University of Georgia. However, he’s not much of a mover. Because of a ravaged Lion receiving corps last year, Durham was signed off the practice squad and went for 8/125/1 in four appearances. His size alone makes him an interesting addition to a roster, and the Lions still don’t have much depth behind Calvin Johnson, but Durham has a ways to go to be a consistent NFL receiver.
Jerrel Jernigan (NYG, 83rd pick overall) – Although the Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz contract situations aren’t ideal for the Giants, both players are expected to be in training camp and in the Giants’ lineup come Week One. So Jernigan may have to stand out in another way to even make the Giants’ roster: kickoff returns. OC Kevin Gilbride called out Jernigan this off-season for not showing enough to lock down a roster spot, and if Nicks and Cruz are back, Jernigan looks to be, at best, the Giants’ #4 receiver (behind also Rueben Randle). But if Cruz doesn’t report for some reason, the diminutive Jernigan would be the favorite to take over in the slot.
Stephen Burton (Min, 236th pick overall) – Burton has one thing going for him: At 6’1” and nearly 230 pounds, he’ll always turn heads. But he has only 7 catches for 73 yards and a TD in his brief NFL career, and he’s struggled with drops and the playbook (in fact, a Viking reporter called him out two seasons ago for having the worst training camp he had ever seen). It’s a credit to Burton that he’s managed to stick around with the team and show improvement, including a strong OTAs this spring. But at best, he looks like the Vikings’ #5 WR heading into 2013, and he could be #6 if Greg Childs is healthy or Joe Webb makes the transition. Not exactly something to get excited about.
Greg Salas (Phi, 112th pick overall) – Salas is probably on the outside looking in for a roster spot in Philadelphia. He was claimed off waivers from the Patriots last season, but he made only one appearance and didn’t record a catch. He had 27 grabs in his rookie season with the Rams, but he doesn’t have any outstanding skills that would make him indispensable.
Ryan Whalen (Cin, 167th pick overall) – A slot receiver who may be able to contribute on special teams, Whalen has 11 catches for 80 yards in two NFL seasons. With the Bengals adding TE Tyler Eifert and RB Giovani Bernard this off-season, there is less production to go to the fringe WRs on the roster. Even if Whalen makes the Bengals’ final 53, it’d be shocking if it’s as anything more than a #5 (he’s got to battle Brandon Tate, Cobi Hamilton, and Dane Sanzenbacher).
DeMarco Sampson (Buf, 241st pick overall) – Sampson has 3 career catches, all with the Cardinals in 2011. He joined the Bills in May, and it doesn’t appear as if he’ll be anything more than a camp body. Suddenly, the Bills have one of the more intriguing sets of WRs in the NFL, and it’d be a surprise if Sampson were part of it come Week One.
Titus Young (FA, 44th pick overall) – It’s getting more and more unlikely that Young will ever play in the NFL again. Before the Aaron Hernandez murder charges, Young’s legal problems this off-season were the biggest black eye for the NFL. He’s currently facing burglary, drunk driving, and assault charges, and even Young’s parents have suggested he has mental issues. It isn’t about landing on a team at this point; it’s about trying to turn his life around.
Already broken out but even more experience helps:
Kyle Rudolph (Min, 43rd pick overall) – It’s funny that the TE position for fantasy appears to be such a wasteland this year, considering how important it’s becoming to the NFL game as a whole. Rudolph’s a great example. He had three separate 0.0 weeks and still ranked #11 at TE, speaking to weakness of the position. But while QB Christian Ponder needs to improve above all, Rudolph is also taking extra focus this off-season to make sure his production is more consistent. For the purposes of the article, we think Rudolph is already “broken out,” as he is already one of the more feared goal-line threats at his position in the NFL. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room to improve. The goal this year is for him to actually play few snaps, but to be utilized better when he’s on the field. For what it’s worth he has clearly picked up on the momentum he created by being named the Pro Bowl MVP. He’s probably going to be drafted as a legit fantasy starter, and we expect him to perform to that level this season.
Legit breakout candidates:
Jordan Cameron (Cle, 102nd pick overall) – We aren’t going to say we’re counting on a breakout from Cameron, but there’s no TE who is in a better position for one this season than he is (Rob Housler is close, though). First of all, Ben Watson is gone, and the Browns didn’t add anyone of note at the position this off-season.
But perhaps more important, the offense of Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner has been very kind to TEs in recent years, including Antonio Gates and Greg Olsen. Cameron’s gifted, the prototypical “basketball athlete” at the TE position. Inexperience and durability are the biggest factors working against him, he’ll get plenty of opportunities to excel in this Brown offense, especially with Brandon Weeden entering his second year and WR Josh Gordon suspended for the first two games of the season. If he doesn’t step up this year, the team will quickly seek a replacement, so this is a huge season for Cameron.
Rob Housler (Ari, 69th pick overall) – With Todd Heap gone and seemingly no one else standing in his way, it could be time for Housler to live up to the potential we’ve seen from him since he was in college. Housler is the clear #1 TE for the Cardinals heading into 2013, and remember how much new QB Carson Palmer leaned on the less athletic but reliable Brandon Myers last season. We have to balance Palmer’s usage of Myers last season with coach Bruce Arians’ typical reluctance to make the TE a focal point of the offense (especially given the Cards’ depth at WR), but there might be too much talent here to ignore. The Cardinals have been throwing the word “mismatch” around when it comes to Housler, and he can certainly create them if he earns the chance. This is also a huge season for him because if he doesn’t step up the team could look for an upgrade in 2014. He’ll have to work with a new QB, but it’s been clear to us that the lame QB play the last two years in Arizona has held Housler back.
Have a chance:
David Ausberry (Oak, 241st pick overall) – With Brandon Myers gone, Ausberry is the de facto favorite to be the top receiving option for the Raiders at the TE position. However, that doesn’t mean the Raiders are excited about it. A converted WR out of USC, Ausberry made some noise in training camp last season, but he managed to post only 7/92 receiving, as Myers pulled away from the pack. It doesn’t appear that the Raiders are particularly happy with Ausberry’s development, as they spent two draft picks in April on upside TEs. Ausberry has ability and could pull away from the pack with a good camp and preseason, but we wouldn’t count on his making a huge fantasy impact.
Luke Stocker (TB, 104th pick overall) – With Dallas Clark gone and the Bucs adding only Tom Crabtree and the lesser-known Zach Miller at TE, it appears that Stocker is the current favorite to start for Tampa. Stocker has only 28 catches and 1 TD in two NFL seasons, but at the least, his monster 6’5” frame makes him someone to worry about inside the 20. Stocker isn’t much of a move guy, however, and we’d think he projects more as a grinding blocker in front of Doug Martin than a serious receiving threat. In other words, his fantasy value will probably come from TDs more than anything else.
Julius Thomas (Den, 129th pick overall) – Thomas played two snaps in his second NFL season, falling behind in the Broncos’ talented TE corps after April ankle surgery. However, he’s always had a ton of talent, and that ability might be rising to the top. Thomas has been one of the standout stars of the Broncos’ spring minicamps, getting first-team reps, despite being active for all of eight games in his NFL career and catching a single pass. While he is part of a crowded TE group that includes Jacob Tamme, Joel Dreessen, and Virgil Green, Thomas might well have a chance to lead this corps in snaps by the time the season is out. He’s young and athletic, and it’s just a matter of the light coming on. Thomas has to continue his strong performance in training camp and the preseason, but he has the talent to push Tamme out. He has to earn Peyton Manning’s trust, but this kind of talent isn’t easy to find.
Lance Kendricks (Stl, 47th pick overall) – Do you remember Kendricks making an impact at all last year? Yeah, we don’t either. So what does it say about the TE position that he finished 25th with 4.7 FPG, and made 42 catches? Still, the Rams knew they could upgrade over Kendrick’s inconsistency and shaky hands, bringing in the gifted Jared Cook to start at TE. Kendricks also had his right knee scoped this off-season, which is putting him behind the 8-ball in terms of working himself into a rotation. Kendricks is a poor blocker and must improve in that department if he hopes to earn snaps in 2013. At most, he’ll be a rotational player in an offense that has a lot of talent but not a clear go-to player. That won’t mean much in the way of fantasy value.
Well, they still are third-year receivers:
Virgil Green (Den, 204th pick overall) – Green had an interesting 2012. He served a four-game suspension related to PED usage to start last season. Then he appeared in the other 12 games, playing just over 15% of the snaps, but he had just 5/63 on the season, giving him a total of 8/87 in his first 27 games. However, he also led the Bronco TEs in snaps at times, speaking to his raw potential. That said, he seems to have fallen behind fellow third-year TE Julius Thomas on the food chain this off-season, and the Jacob Tamme/Joel Dreessen combo is still present. Green’s got a chance to make an impact, but he’ll need to keep pace with a strong camp.
D.J. Williams (GB, 141st pick overall) – Williams is a receiving-first TE, which is what we like to look for when it comes to fantasy, but he still has only 9 catches for 70 yards in his two-year NFL career. That’s not a great sign, considering the Packers would have loved for one of their other options to show consistency behind the disappointing but gifted Jermichael Finley. Williams will have to battle the oft-injured Andrew Quarless and fellow third-year TE Ryan Taylor for snaps, but he probably has the most upside if the light comes on.
Niles Paul (Was, 155th pick overall) – A former WR, Paul has 10 career catches and 1 TD in two seasons. Although we kind of like the fact that a former WR is now playing TE, it’s not good that the Redskins were also “talking up” Paul’s ability to play some fullback last season, as well. That never really came to fruition, but he looks like a tweener without a true position. He’s probably behind Fred Davis, Logan Paulsen, and rookie Jordan Reed on the Redskins’ depth chart.
Lee Smith (Buf, 159th pick overall) – A blocking TE who has averaged 3.0 YPC on his eight career catches, Smith missed OTAs with a foot injury. The Bills have questions at TE with Scott Chandler coming off a torn ACL, but Smith isn’t the kind of athlete who projects to make a big fantasy impact, even if he has to play a lot. He’s expected to be ready for training camp, but he’ll have to battle for a roster spot, especially if intriguing 7th-round rookie Chris Gragg impresses.
Richard Gordon (Oak, 181st pick overall) – A pure blocker, Gordon has 3/11/1 receiving in 27 career games. He’s played both FB and TE in his career, which will help him stick on the Raiders’ roster, and he might even “start” at TE this season, but he won’t make an impact as a receiver. In fact, he’s the #4 TE on the Raider roster in terms of receiving ability, behind David Ausberry and rookies Nick Kasa and Mychal Rivera.
Ryan Taylor (GB, 218th pick overall) – a FB/TE tweener, Taylor has 2 career catches in two seasons (although one went for a TD). He plays special teams and blocks well, which will help him make a roster, but Adam Caplan has a better shot at contributing for fantasy.
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