Third-year Wide Receivers Poised For Fantasy Football Explosions

by Taylor Smith ·

Fantasy gamers love clinging to narratives. If you’ve been around long enough, you’ve definitely heard the “third-year wide receiver breakout” narrative. The logic is that most receivers learn the playbook as rookies, dip their toes into the proverbial waters as sophomores, then explode in their third season. This logic held water for a few years, but in recent memory, we’ve seen more and more wideouts come into the league ready to explode as rookies and sophomores. While most of the receivers on this list already experienced a breakout, they are still primed for a third-year leap into elite territory. Here are four wide receivers ready to blow up based on PlayerProfiler’s advanced stats, metrics, and analytics.

D.J. Moore

D.J. Moore is the can’t-miss, slam-dunk fantasy pick of 2020. Heading into his third year, Moore’s team has added Joe Brady, a former Saints assistant and architect of LSU’s video-game offense last season, to call plays. That team saw historical passing game production, meaning the Panthers should expect a massive boost through the air.

The groundwork is already in place for Carolina to have an offensive surge. In 2019, the team ranked No. 4 in pass-to-run ratio, throwing the ball 64.1-percent of the time. They also played at the speed of light, averaging an NFL-leading 2.42 plays per minute. That is largely due to their porous defense, which forced them to play from behind at the second-highest rate in the league. A lightning-quick offense that throws the ball at a high rate is the ideal formula for fantasy football production.

More importantly, Moore gets a significant upgrade over the one-legged Cam Newton and the noodle-armed Kyle Allen. Teddy Bridgewater was extremely accurate last season, posting a 76.4-percent True Completion Percentage, ranking No. 4 among qualified quarterbacks. Bridgewater was able to hit that mark because he averaged 6.0 yards of Pass Attempt Distance per attempt, dead-last in the NFL. With a pinpoint-accurate check down machine, a possession YAC receiver like Moore will destroy in PPR leagues.

At the young age of 23, Moore already has a breakout season under his belt and will see a massive improvement in his surrounding situation. After he records a Michael Thomas-level season in 2020, he’ll be planted in the elite tier of fantasy receivers for the next half-decade.

Calvin Ridley

The Atlanta Falcons are also set up to be fantasy producers. Their defense was a bottom-half unit in 2019, ranking No. 20 or worse in points, yards, points per drive and yards per drive. They put a band-aid on their secondary by over-drafting cornerback A.J. Terrell with their first-round pick, but this team is many pieces away from scaring opposing offenses. That along with a brutal schedule means this offense will be in plenty of shootouts. Atlanta ranked No. 1 in pass-to-run ratio last season, which will undoubtedly continue.

This is music to Calvin Ridley’s ears. Atlanta will be without key offensive pieces in Austin Hooper, Devonta Freeman and others, leaving an NFL-high 258 targets up for grabs. While Julio Jones can only be force-fed so much, Ridley has plenty of room for growth. He’s capped out at 92 (No. 38) and 93 (No. 34) targets over his first two NFL seasons, and should be expected to obliterate that number. Given Ridley’s established rapport with Matt Ryan and minimal competition, he can realistically see 150 targets.

That volume might break the fantasy football point scale, especially when looking at Ridley’s efficiency. In his first two years, he’s ranked top 20 in QB Rating When Targeted, Fantasy Points per Target, and Target Separation. Most impressive of all, he’s finished top 6 in Production Premium in back-to-back seasons. Among all qualified receivers in the PlayerProfiler Database, only Will Fuller and DeSean Jackson have ever accomplished that feat. If Ridley can sustain that elite efficiency on his increased targets, fantasy gamers will see a massive ceiling from the third-year receiver. He is among the best high floor, high ceiling fantasy targets.

Courtland Sutton

According to the Law of Conservation of Targets, Courtland Sutton didn’t have the best offseason. The Denver Broncos overhauled their offense, signing Melvin Gordon and drafting pass-catchers Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler, and Albert Okwuegbunam. While that seems like a lot of players fighting over one ball, Sutton is the only one with any professional connection to Drew Lock. He also proved that the offense can run through him, recording a 26.1-percent (No. 8) Target Share and 35.1-percent (No. 6) Dominator Rating. He also averaged 2.48 (No. 12) Yards Per Pass Route despite poor quarterback play.

Check out Courtland Sutton’s 2020 Projection on PlayerProfiler’s “World Famous” Draft Kit:

At 6-3, 218-pounds, Sutton has the best size in this receiver room and profiles as a true alpha. Hamler is a situational deep threat, and Jeudy’s slim frame may limit his ceiling as a heavy volume receiver. Sutton’s size combined with his 105.4 (84th-percentile) Speed Score and 10.68 (97th-percentile) Agility Score means he has virtually zero holes in his profile. He has shown the ability to make acrobatic contested catches and abuse smaller defensive backs with the ball in his hands.

The key to Sutton’s third-year leap is his quarterback. Lock didn’t impress as a rookie, but only had one established receiver to throw it too. In addition to stocking his arsenal with dynamic weapons, the team poached Graham Glasgow, PFF’s No. 13 ranked guard last season, to play center and shore up the interior of the offensive line. They also landed former Giants head coach Pat Shurmur. New York ranked top 5 in pass-to-run ratio in both of his seasons, meaning Denver will air it out in Mile High City often. Sutton will benefit the most from these offensive strides.

Anthony Miller

The sneaky breakout candidate for this group is Anthony Miller. His first two pro seasons have been plagued by Mitchell Trubisky. That’s limited him to just over 1,000 career receiving yards, but a quick zoom out will show what Miller is all about. He broke out in his second collegiate season at Memphis, posting back-to-back seasons with 90-plus catches, 1,400 yards, and double-digit touchdowns. He finished with a 39.9-percent (80th-percentile) College Dominator Rating while commanding 30.4-percent (87th-percentile) of the team’s Target Share. Miller also has solid athleticism with a 128.8 (86th-percentile) Burst Score and a 10.91 (85th-percentile) Agility Score. It’s clear he has the talent, Trubisky’s accuracy issues have been the problem.

While Trubisky’s arm isn’t an easy fix, the team did at least bring in Nick Foles for added competition. It’s hard to say whether Foles is truly a better option than the former No. 2 overall pick, but the passing attack is nearly guaranteed to improve in 2020. Our metrics have Chicago facing the easiest passing game schedule in the NFL. The Bears’ first six games feature the Lions, Giants, Falcons, Colts, Buccaneers, and Panthers. Those teams either have bottom-dwelling pass defenses or have the offensive firepower to create shootouts.

Chicago gave Miller a vote of confidence with their offseason moves. They didn’t draft a receiver in the first four rounds and only brought in 35-year-old Ted Ginn in free agency. Miller will play every snap and will be locked into the second-highest Target Share in this offense. From Weeks 12-15 last year, he finally saw consistent looks. He turned in 27 receptions, 377 yards, and two touchdowns on his 41 targets in that four-week stretch, showing that he’s capable of producing when given the opportunity. Expect similar production with his expanded 2020 role.