10 Young Wide Receivers Primed for a Breakout

10 Young Wide Receivers Primed for a Breakout

By John Paulsen (Senior Editor), last update Aug 15, 2017

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John was named the Most Accurate Fantasy Football Expert by FantasyPros for the 2010 and 2014 seasons, finished as runner-up in 2011 and 4th in both 2012 and 2015 for a total of five Top 5 seasons in the last six years. Cumulatively, John was the most accurate expert from 2010-15 while also winning the 2011 Fantasy Sports Trade Association award for the most accurate draft rankings. 

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I’ve played fantasy football for over twenty years, and for a long time the expectation was that a young receiver would break out in their third season. These days, many rookies come into the league more prepared to play in pro-style offenses, and oftentimes they’ll break out in their second season (like Brandin Cooks or DeAndre Hopkins) or as rookies (Odell Beckham, Michael Thomas).

So now, every offseason, I’ll look at the group of young receivers who have yet to break out and try to identify a few players who have a chance to emerge as every-week fantasy starters.

More Breakout Candidates: QB | TE | RB (coming soon) 

For the purposes of this article, I’m designating a breakout season as a top 30 finish in PPR formats. This roughly equals 900 yards receiving, or about 200 fantasy points. If a player has already finished in the top 30, I won’t discuss him at length in this space.

I’ll mention Fantasy Points Per Target (FP/T) which is (obviously?) the number of PPR fantasy points scored per target for that receiver. I may also mention adjusted FP/T (aFP/T) which adjusts the player’s per target production by the efficiency or inefficiency of his quarterback. This is especially useful for receivers who will see a change of quarterback in 2017.


Willie Snead, Saints (Age 24, 3rd/4th Year)

Snead entered the league as an undrafted free agent signed by the Browns in 2014. He was cut late in camp, tried out for the Giants and made the Panthers’ practice squad before finally landing on the Saints’ practice squad in December of 2014. The following season, he drew 101 targets, catching 69 passes for 984 yards and three touchdowns. He followed that up with 72-895-4 on 104 targets in 2015, finishing as a low-end WR3 in both seasons while playing 15 games per year. He’s a great route-runner, and should benefit from the departure of Brandin Cooks, who leaves 117 targets unaccounted for. If he sees an additional 20 targets at his career FP/T (1.80), then a top 20 finish is in the cards.

Chances of Breakout: High


Jamison Crowder, Redskins (Age 24, 3rd Year)

Crowder took a step forward in his second season, racking up 67 catches for 847 yards and seven scores after registering 59-604-2 as a rookie. With both Pierre Garcon (114 targets) and DeSean Jackson (100 targets) signing elsewhere, there are a boatload of targets up for grabs in Washington. Newly signed Terrelle Pryor figures to take over the Jackson role, while Josh Doctson is expected to serve as the team’s WR3. That should leave a 10-20% target increase for Crowder, who was recently described as “an excellent, dynamic player” as part of a gushing rant by head coach Jay Gruden.

Chances of Breakout: High


Stefon Diggs, Vikings (Age 23, 3rd Year)

Diggs got off to a blistering start last season, catching 16 passes for 285 yards and a touchdown (on 20 targets) through the first two weeks. Throughout the year, Diggs was on and off the injury report, and there was a stark contrast in his production when he was healthy. In the seven games where he was listed on the injury report at some point during the week, he averaged 4.0 catches for 37 yards and 0.14 TD. In those games, he never cracked the 60-yard mark and found the end zone just once. In the six games where Diggs was not on the injury report, he averaged 9.3 catches for 107 yards and 0.33 TD (on 11.5 T/G). He cracked the 60-yard mark in five of six such games and gained 100-plus yards three times. If he can stay relatively healthy, Diggs has the route-running skills to crack the top 20.

Chances of Breakout: High


Martavis Bryant, Steelers (Age 25, 3rd Year)

Bryant sat out the 2016 season after multiple failed drug tests, so he's a risky pick, even if he is on track to be reinstated. Given his production, he's worth the reward, though his ADP has risen into the 5th round. In 24 career games, including the postseason, Bryant has averaged 4.0 receptions for 65 yards and 0.67 touchdowns, or 14.5 PPG (PPR). That would have been good enough to finish as the #13 WR in 2016, ahead of Jarvis Landry and Julian Edelman. He has posted similar numbers (4.4-67-0.56) in his last 16 games, which extrapolate to a 71-1074-9 season. In 2014, he finished 1st overall in FP/T (2.69). It was the highest mark since Jordy Nelson’s 2.99 FP/T back in 2011.

Chances of Breakout: High


Cameron Meredith, Bears (Age 24, 3rd Year)

Meredith began to play starter’s snaps in Week 5, and from that point on, he averaged 5.0 catches for 70 yards and 0.33 TD, or 14.0 PPR fantasy points per game. That’s what Demaryius Thomas scored as the #16 receiver in PPR scoring formats. The numbers are especially impressive considering Meredith had a three-week stretch from Week 7 to Week 10 where he only saw two targets per game. His FP/T checked in at 1.84, which was good for 28th in the league. When that’s adjusted for quarterback play, he jumps to 10th. Meredith figures to be the top fantasy receiver in Chicago, despite the return of Kevin White.

Chances of Breakout: High


DeVante Parker, Dolphins (Age 24, 3rd Year)

In 15 games, Parker was the #50 WR last season, catching 56 passes for 744 yards and four touchdowns on 88 targets. He was on the injury report for six of those games (3.3-39-0.33, 9.2 PPG in PPR formats) and healthy for nine (4.0-57-0.20, 11.0 PPG). Those "healthy" PPG numbers are about what Anquan Boldin scored as 2016's #41 fantasy receiver. He finished a very solid 28th and 42nd in FP/T in his first two seasons. If he can stay healthy, he should provide WR3 numbers, but that’s a big “if.” For what it’s worth, he has drawn rave reviews for his work this offseason. His OC (Clyde Christensen) even went so far as to say that he expects Parker will have a “gigantic year.” HC Adam Gase said that Parker looks “hungry” this offseason and is applying himself like never before.

Chances of Breakout: Moderate


Quincy Enunwa (Age 25, 4th Year) & Robby Anderson (Age 24, 2nd Year), Jets

With both Brandon Marshall (128 targets) and Eric Decker (21 targets before injury) moving on, there’s room for both Enunwa (105 targets) and Anderson (78) to see more targets. Enunwa had more consistent success last season (58-857-4), but Anderson had a three-game stretch in which he racked up 14 catches for 240 yards and two touchdowns on 29 targets. Keep in mind that he saw most of his targets from Bryce Petty, who obviously has a man crush on Anderson, but is unlikely to start many games for the Jets. Josh McCown is penciled in as the starter, and he’s been able to support multiple fantasy receivers in the past. Enunwa finished 29th in aFP/T, while Anderson finished 58th.

Chances of Breakout: Moderate (Enunwa), Low (Anderson)


Corey Coleman, Browns (Age 23, 2nd Year)

Coleman was targeted 73 times as a rookie (7.3 T/G), but only managed 33 catches for 413 yards and three touchdowns. The usage and playing time are encouraging, but his efficiency is not. He heads into the 2017 season competing with Kenny Britt to become the Browns’ WR1. Britt is a more complete receiver and probably wins that role, but Coleman should be heavily involved throughout the season. The Browns would do well to feed the ball to the sophomore in space, where he can do the most damage.

Chances of Breakout: Moderate


Donte Moncrief, Colts (Age 24, 4th Year)

Moncrief is a curious case. His fantasy scoring with Andrew Luck over the past two seasons (12.2 PPR FP in 15 games) would be good enough for a top 30 finish, and he certainly has upside as a solid route-runner who plays in a good pass offense with a talented quarterback. But his dependency on scoring touchdowns (0.73 per game with Luck) is worrisome when it’s not a very sticky stat year-to-year. With Luck, Moncrief has averaged just 3.7 catches for 41 yards on 6.6 T/G over the past two seasons. That’s not a top 30 profile.

Chances of Breakout: Moderate


Other Young Receivers to Watch: Marqise Lee, Breshad Perriman, Will Fuller, J.J. Nelson, Robert Woods, Kevin White, Tyler Lockett and Josh Doctson


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