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Fantasy Football: Third-Year Wide Receiver Breakout Candidates

Conventional wisdom says that NFL wide receivers break out in their third year. We've got the players to target on draft day that could go from the fantasy fringe to must-start status in your fantasy lineup.

Sidney Rice and Mike Sims-Walker's 2009 campaigns gave credence to the notion that there will always be a few 3rd-year wide receivers to emerge from the waiver scrap heap and into starting lineups.  While some receivers (DeSean Jackson, Calvin Johnson) have bucked the trend with breakouts in their rookie years, most wideouts in the NFL need some time to shine in their offenses. 

Below are a few third year WR's, all of whom can be had in the middle to late rounds of your fantasy draft.  Target a few, and select just one.  While nabbing a breakout star is as good as it gets for any fantasy GM, keep in mind that they are risky picks that often don't achieve must start status.  As with any endeavor, a little luck can go a long way to determining a champion.  Give yourself a chance by taking a flyer on one of these no-name names. 

Don't I Know You? 

These Third Year speedsters have enjoyed success in the past, but remain excellent value with their current average draft position:

- Robert Meachem, NO (8.11) - We begin with a guy who for all intents and purposes already broke out.  But the fact that he is going frequently in the 9th round and beyond has us convinced that not everyone is a believer.  Detractors will tell you that in a quarter of the team's games, Meachem had 2 or fewer receptions.  It's a fair criticism, but one that should be levied against the Saint's offense and not Meachem.  Consider that top target Marques Colston had 8 games where he caught 4 passes or less.  The inconsistency of the Saints position players doesn't warrant letting Meacham slip into the 9th round, where he is being selected as a WR4 or 5.  His current ADP belies even a 2010 season void of improvement.  That's a lot to assume of a player who didn't drop a single pass thrown his way in 2009.  Drew Brees is always accurate, and the speedy Meachem could be in for a nice uptick in production in 2010 on an offense that shows no signs of slowing down.  A breakout campaign wouldn't surprise anyone after Meacham's 2008, though it would really be a continuation of a breakout season of a year ago.

- Eddie Royal, DEN (9.09) Maybe I should feel bad starting a breakout WR article with two receivers who already broke out.  Well I don't.  Fact is, Eddie Royal's brilliant 2008 campaign seems like a lifetime ago to fantasy GM's.  That's why he's such an intriguing option in 2010.  We already know that Royal is capable and the departure of Brandon Marshall means that there are about 150 Kyle Orton passes that need to go somewhere.  Head coach Josh McDaniels, who is coincidentally a former Patriots OC and coach to Wes Welker, admitted this week that the speedy Royal was underutilized last season.  The team plans to use him exclusively from the slot in 2010.  This is excellent news for Royal owners, as the slot fits his diminutive profile and shifty cut-and-run style perfectly.  A season of 70 receptions isn't out of the question--more than enough opportunities for Royal to shake and bake his way into the end zone a half-dozen times.  While the Bronco offense isn't known for their explosiveness they seem to recognize that Royal may be the best playmaker they have.  The fact that his sophomore campaign was so dreadful is great news for those targeting the comeback breakout nominee.

Ability, Meet Opportunity

Two junior year guys who could easily turn out to be every week starters:

- Harry Douglas, ATL (n/a) After some impressive plays during his '08 rookie year, Douglas was derailed in '09 with a torn ACL in training camp that ended his season.  But an injury this month to #2 WR Michael Jenkins means that Douglas has once again been thrust into the starting lineup.  With another season of experience for Matt Ryan and the efforts of the Falcons to keep Michael Turner healthy for a full slate of games, there is good reason to believe Douglas can post solid fantasy numbers.  And given the attention teammates Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez receive from opposing defenses, it's entirely possible that the speedy Douglas, a former 3rd round pick, lives up to once lofty expectations.  As a receiver currently undrafted in many leagues, be prepared to have a zinger ready when fantasy GM's ask "Who?" when you call Douglas' name.

- Josh Morgan, SF (14.02) The same Josh Morgan who was on everyone's sleeper list last season?  That's the one.  Morgan had a completely unspectacular sophomore campaign as the preseason hype machine gave way to anonymity once rookie sensation Michael Crabtree signed with the 49ers.  In his third year, Morgan will likely be the fourth offensive option in San Fran's attack.  But with team defenses focusing on the Pro-Bowl talents of Gore, Davis, and Crabtree, we see plenty of single coverage on the outside for Morgan to exploit.  If the 49ers (more specifically Alex Smith) are to take a step forward this season, Morgan could be a weekly starter as a flex or WR3 for your fantasy team.  Not bad for one of your last draft selections.

Break a Leg?

These wideouts should not be on GM's minds on draft day but could become waiver wire gems given the unpredictable nature of the NFL:

- Mario Manningham, NYG (14.02)  The Michigan product always seems to impress when he is on the field, but remains a little too deep on the depth chart to predict big things in 2010.  As the #3 wide receiver on a team committed to running the football, there just doesn't seem to be enough in the way of targets to maximize Manningham's ability.  We do envision a handful of touchdowns, but not enough receptions or yards to justify using him as anything more than a high-end bye week replacement.  However, an injury to either Steve Smith or Hakeem Nicks would thrust Manningham into a starting role and give him WR2 fantasy upside.

- Jordy Nelson, GB (n/a) Nelson has shown the ability to produce, pulling in 14.5 yards per catch in limited action last season.  The problem is that he sits behind Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, and James Jones in the Green Bay receiving order.  The upside is that Jennings is injury prone and Driver is 35 and coming off of surgeries to both of his knees. An injury to either would place Nelson on the field for significant time on an offense that has thrown the ball over 530 times in each of the last two seasons.  Nelson is worth a look in deeper leagues and worth remembering in case an injury befalls one of Green Bay's other receiving options.