2012 Fantasy Football: Identifying Breakout WRs

Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin
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By John Paulsen (Senior Editor) on April 4, 2012

John was named the Most Accurate Fantasy Football Expert by FantasyPros for the 2010 season, finished as runner-up in 2011 and 4th in 2012 for an unprecedented three straight top 5 finishes. Cumulatively, John was the most accurate expert from 2010-13 while also winning the 2011 Fantasy Sports Trade Association award for the most accurate preseason rankings.  Follow John on Twitter: @4for4_John.

One tool I use to project a receiver's upside is Fantasy Points / Target (FP/T). If a player produces with limited targets, he is primed for a breakout if his role expands and his targets increase. Last week, I used Robert Meachem as a case study and now I'm going to discuss a few other productive WRs whose roles are changing heading into the 2012 season.

 
Julio Jones, Falcons
Jones has already had his breakout year, but provided he can stay healthy, he should be in for even bigger things in 2012. His FP/T (1.53) ranked #9 in 2011 amongst WRs with at least 30 targets, but since he missed three games, he should see a jump in targets provided he can stay on the field. Roddy White is getting older, and Jones finished #19 in total fantasy points amongst WRs. So with three extra games he may very well finish with top 10 numbers in 2012.
 
Kenny Britt, Titans
Britt didn't see enough targets in 2011 to qualify for my rankings, but his 1.80 FP/T would have finished #4. It was no fluke, as he posted the same FP/T in 2010 on 73 targets, finishing #2 to Mike Wallace. He tore his ACL early in the year, which is good news in terms of his chances to return to form in 2012. He's always a threat to work his way into a knucklehead suspension, but he's newly married, so maybe he's ready to settle down. If that's the case, he's a real threat to finish as a top 5 fantasy WR.
 
Malcom Floyd, Chargers
I discussed Meachem at length last week, but Floyd also stands to benefit from the departure of Vincent Jackson and the continuing decline of Antonio Gates. Floyd's FP/T (1.65) ranked #4 in 2011 and he checked in at #10 in 2010, so his production is no fluke. Floyd's problem has been staying healthy -- he has missed at least three games in five of his last six seasons. If he can stay healthy, he should produce top 20 numbers, but his durability is a big question mark.
 
Lance Moore & Devery Henderson, Saints
Meachem's departure frees up 40+ targets in the Saints' prolific offense, and Moore and Henderson stand to benefit the most. Henderson's skill set more closely resembles Meachem's, though Moore should also see a few extra looks. Henderson's FP/T (1.25) ranked #25 in 2011, while Moore's (1.54) ranked #8 due to his heavy use in the redzone. Moore is the safer pick since he has been productive throughout his career, but Henderson is a worthwhile flier due to his upside in this offense with Meachem gone. Fantasy owners have been burned repeatedly by Henderson, so he should be available in the later rounds.
 
Torrey Smith, Ravens
Smith's 126 fantasy points were good enough for him to finish WR24 on the season, but his Targets / Game increased by 20% over the second half of the season. If he gets 6.5 targets per game (his average over the final eight games) and produces at his 22nd-ranked FP/T (1.33), then he'll produce 138 fantasy points. Those are top 20 numbers.
 
Laurent Robinson, Jaguars
Robinson's 1.90 FP/T was the third-highest in the league (behind Jordy Nelson and James Jones) in 2011. In reality, Robinson has already had his breakout season, but he should see a jump in his targets per game as he heads to Jacksonville as the Jaguars' likely WR1. However, going from Tony Romo to Blaine Gabbert is definitely a downgrade, so the quality of Robinson's targets is very likely to decrease. Barring a huge jump in Gabbert's production, Robinson will be hard-pressed to match his 2011 numbers (54-858) and is certainly unlikely to score double-digit TDs anytime soon. There's some potential here, but it depends on Gabbert, not Robinson.
 
Doug Baldwin, Seahawks
File this one under "someone has to catch the ball in Seattle." Baldwin's FP/T (1.21) ranked a very respectable #30, and the QB play should improve considerably with Matt Flynn throwing the pigskin (if/when he wins the starting QB job) instead of Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst. If Sidney Rice is able to return, Baldwin may not see a big jump in targets, but the targets he does get should improve considerably.
 
Denarius Moore, Raiders
Moore's FP/T (1.21) ranked #31, but he was in and out of the lineup due to injury, and should benefit from a full offseason of work with Carson Palmer, who believes that Moore is going to be a star. If he plays a full season and his FP/T and T/G (5.8) are unchanged, he should produce WR30-type numbers, and those are just a baseline. With a year of work, his Rec % (43.4%) should improve, and so will his production.
 
Demaryius Thomas, Broncos
Thomas's FP/T (1.13) was above average but not terribly impressive, thanks in no small part to Tim Tebow's erratic arm. With a (hopefully healthy) Peyton Manning under center, Thomas should go a long way to fulfilling his considerable potential. Since he missed the first five games, his total targets should increase and the quality of those targets should increase even more with Manning throwing the ball.
 
Brandon LaFell, Panthers
Things are lining up quite nicely for LaFell as he enters his third season. Adam Schefter reported that the Panthers have shown little interest in re-signing Legedu Naanee, and that's because the team is high on LaFell. So a good portion of Naanee's 75 targets could go to LaFell, who posted the 16th-highest FP/T (1.42) in the league. If he can produce at 90% of that rate (1.28 FP/T) and sees 90 targets (5.6 per game, within reason if he's the WR2), then he'll post around 115 fantasy points, which are WR30-type numbers. David Gettis is back in the mix, so LaFell is no sure thing, but he's a nice risk/reward WR who should be available late in fantasy drafts.

 

Filed Under: 2012, Preseason