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Third-Year WRs that Could Emerge in 2018 (Fantasy Football)

by David McCaffery | @mccaffmedia | Featured Writer
Jun 2, 2018

If Will Fuller can stay healthy, the sky is the limit for his 2018 production

It has long been opined that an NFL wide receiver doesn’t reach his true potential until his third season. After all, it took former All-Pro talents like Terrell Owens, Steve Smith Sr., and many others three years to truly dominate at the professional level. However, that notion has taken a hit in recent years, as players like A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr., and Mike Evans have found incredible success early on in their careers.

While receivers seem to be better prepared for success coming out of college than in years past, there is still something to be said for a player’s ability to refine his technique with an extended amount of experience and seasoning. Not everyone can mature at such a remarkable level, and even for some of the most talented young men, the process takes a little more time. This is the case with most of the wideouts entering year three in 2018.

Now clearly, not much needs to be said about third-year studs like Michael Thomas and Tyreek Hill. Through two seasons each, these men have combined for two Pro Bowl berths, one All-Pro nod, and three 1,000-yard campaigns. Their breakouts have already taken place, and they both have top-30 FantasyPros Average Draft Positions (ADPs) to prove it.

However, many pass-catchers are entering a crucial third season in 2018. From former first-rounders to UDFAs, many players have only scratched the surface of their NFL potential. Let’s take a look at some of the young men who could be poised to take the next step toward notoriety.

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Will Fuller (HOU) Current ADP: 81st overall, WR33
Fuller’s numbers from his four-game stretch with a healthy Deshaun Watson as his quarterback are remarkable — 13 receptions, 279 yards, seven touchdowns, and 21.46 yards per reception. Excuse me for a moment, while I wipe the drool off my keyboard. A former first-round speedster, Fuller has never looked like more of a game-breaker than he did during that remarkable stretch, although Watson’s ACL tear would ultimately put an end to the mini-breakout.

The silver lining? Watson’s recovery is coming along nicely. The former Clemson standout is ahead of schedule in his rehab and should be back on the field for Week 1. While it would be foolish to expect that statistical bonanza to continue, it’s apparent that these two have a strong connection and Watson has proven more than willing to look downfield for his electric teammate. DeAndre Hopkins is always going to be the focus of opposing defensive coordinators, and that will provide Fuller with favorable looks more often than not as the clear number two option in the Texans’ passing game.

The biggest impediment to Fuller’s success is health (something that will be quite a theme on this list), as he has missed eight contests over his first two campaigns. Still, of all the names on this list, he is the likeliest breakout candidate, and at his current ADP, he could prove to be an absolute steal if he can stay on the field in 2018.

Robby Anderson (NYJ) Current ADP: 107th overall, WR40
The less said about Anderson’s offseason, the better, but it needs to be reiterated that he could be facing a possible suspension in the aftermath of his January 2018 arrest for multiple felony charges. It was his second run-in with the law in less than a year, so the NFL front office could come calling.

With that said, his 2017 season was very fruitful from a fantasy perspective on the field. In fact, the former undrafted free agent showed tremendous chemistry with quarterback Josh McCown, en route to hauling in 63 receptions for 941 yards and seven touchdowns, and finishing as the overall WR16 on a Jets team that was supposed to be dreadful on offense.

However, things are looking up for the franchise in 2018. McCown is back as a potential bridge quarterback, but the team also signed Teddy Bridgewater in free agency and drafted Sam Darnold with the third overall selection of the 2018 NFL Draft. Suddenly, the Jets have an enviable quarterback situation (when’s the last time someone said that?), and Anderson could be a primary beneficiary.

While he will compete for targets with Terrelle Pryor and a now-healthy Quincy Enunwa, Anderson has cemented himself as the team’s de facto number one wideout. Were it not for his legal troubles, he would be ranked considerably higher. Keep an eye on his situation throughout the summer, but if he avoids a lengthy suspension, he will return considerable value at this cost.

Sterling Shepard (NYG) Current ADP: 117th overall, WR46
After an impressive 65-catch, 683-yard, eight-touchdown rookie season, Shepard looked so close to breaking out in year two. Even with Odell Beckham out for the season and the Giants’ offense crumbling, Shepard put the NFL on notice in 2017 with two 11-catch performances and three contests in which he surpassed 130 receiving yards. Unfortunately, the injury bug bit him hard as he missed five games with an ankle sprain and migraine headaches. These issues ruined a promising campaign that saw the second-year man averaging 66.5 yards per game on an impressive 70.2% catch rate.

But health isn’t the only concern I have about Shepard’s outlook. Quarterback Eli Manning struggled mightily last season, and Shepard will be vying for looks in an offense that includes Beckham, sophomore stud tight end Evan Engram, and rookie phenom Saquon Barkley. It’s getting crowded in New York, and hopefully, Shepard won’t find himself on the outside looking in.

One potential positive? Recent reports indicate that the Giants have been giving him more work on the outside during OTAs after he took 75 percent of his snaps from the slot a season ago. Adding a new element to his game could lead to increased opportunities, and that’s what fantasy drafters are looking for. The upside here is considerable, and the cost of acquisition is reasonably low for the player who has arguably shown the most potential of anyone on this list.

Josh Doctson (WAS) Current ADP: 156th overall, WR55
Of all the wideouts to come out of the 2016 NFL Draft, Doctson’s athletic profile might be the most suitable for the role of a true number one receiver. With solid size and speed, plus athleticism, and a robust catch radius, there aren’t a lot of tools missing from his toolbox. But to this point, very little of his dynamism has translated to the NFL level. As a rookie, he missed all but two contests, so it’s hard to punish him for that, but inconsistency marked his sophomore season.

Indeed, Doctson secured only 44.9% of his 78 targets for 35 receptions and 502 yards. The only positive takeaway was that he showed something of a nose for the end zone, scoring six touchdowns in the process.

However, the recent scuttlebutt out of OTAs is that new quarterback Alex Smith is frequently targeting Doctson on contested catches and that the two are establishing a rapport together. Doctson’s skill set remains top-notch. Now it’s just a matter of harnessing it, and Smith seems determined to do so.

Right now, the most appealing thing about drafting Doctson in 2018 is his potential volume. Terrelle Pryor and Ryan Grant moved on during the offseason, taking 102 wide receiver targets with them. That leaves Doctson and Jamison Crowder as the team’s clear-cut top wideouts.

A decent bump in market share and continued red zone opportunities could finally help Doctson fulfill his lofty potential. Think of him as a high-upside late round option.

Corey Coleman (CLE) Current ADP: 225th overall, WR72
Coleman was the first receiver off the board in 2016, and per Player Profiler, his closest comparable athlete is the aforementioned Odell Beckham. Indeed, he is an elite SPARQ athlete with a remarkable catch radius and a history of high-end college production. On paper, it looks like a recipe for success, but that hasn’t been the case over the course of his first two NFL seasons.

For starters, a laundry list of injuries have limited him to 19 of a possible 32 contests, the Browns have had less-than-enviable quarterback play, and Coleman has been limited to a dreadful 42.8% career catch rate. It just hasn’t gone well for the former Baylor standout.

I will go on record as saying I’m still an ardent backer of Coleman’s talent, and I think he can accomplish big things in the NFL. Furthermore, with Tyrod Taylor and first overall pick Baker Mayfield in town, he will enjoy the best quarterback play of his professional career. However, his role in the Browns’ offense looks questionable at best.

Josh Gordon appears to have snared the role of the team’s big-play receiver and the franchise just dealt two draft picks (and an enormous contract) for perennial 100-catch man, Jarvis Landry. Furthermore, sophomore tight end David Njoku looks primed for big things, and running back Duke Johnson is coming off a career-high 93 targets. Oh, and the Browns also drafted upside wideout Antonio Callaway in the fourth round, while rumors are swirling that they might consider dealing Coleman away during the offseason.

Frankly, that might be the best thing for his value, as he appears to be the odd man out in Cleveland. If he ends up in a better setting, I’m buying his upside all day. If he remains stuck in this situation, he’s nothing more than a waiver wire candidate, which is truly unfortunate considering his incredible talent.

Malcolm Mitchell (WR – NE) Current ADP: 251st overall, WR79
Mitchell showed promise as a rookie, snaring 32 receptions for 401 yards and four touchdowns, but his most notable accomplishment was a six-catch, 70-yard performance in Super Bowl LI. Unfortunately, he never had the opportunity to build off that impressive showing, as he missed his entire sophomore campaign with a knee injury.

While Mitchell doesn’t appear to have fallen out of favor with his coaching staff the same way Coleman has, he faces an equally arduous path to targets. Even with Brandin Cooks out of town, the Patriots have Rob Gronkowski, Chris Hogan, Jordan Matthews, a now-healthy Julian Edelman, and a plethora of capable pass-catching running backs in the mix. Even an all-time great like Tom Brady can’t support that many fantasy-relevant contributors.

Frankly, a repeat of the 48 targets he enjoyed as a rookie might even be a stretch. Right now, Mitchell is a late-round flier at best, and waiver wire material at worst, but should he earn a substantial role, the merging of his talent and the Patriots’ perennially elite offense will make him a tremendous value.

There is a lot of talent on this list, and in the right situation, any of these wideouts could prove to be capable contributors. Each man comes with his share of question marks, but is dripping with upside should the chips fall in the right order. A lot of them have seen their values depress over time for reasons beyond their control, but in the end, the cream usually rises to the top.

A breakout season is far from a guarantee for any of them, but the potential for great things represents the ultimate tease in fantasy football. It’s always a prudent move to acquire the occasional post-hype sleeper. Keep an eye on what these six players can accomplish during the preseason, and react accordingly.

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David McCaffery is a correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from David, check out his archive or follow him @mccaffmedia.

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