Every year, all of us fantasy owners get all excited about the prospect of drafting the next great wide receiver to break out in third year. The legend of the magical "Third Year Breakout Season" for wide receivers has somehow become this immutable axiom that people put more stock into than Microsoft. We put so much blind faith into this "rule", that we use it to draft fantasy players, to defend unproductive players on our favorite teams and as an excuse to "give him until his 3rd year before we judge this receiver".
I often wonder how such a law came into existence. After all, the proliferation of wide receiver stats is a relatively new phenomenon. Prior to the 80's only a handful of wide receivers really played a heavy role in their team's respective offenses. It wasn't until Don Coryell came along in the late 70's and early 80's that systems began to really focus on spreading the ball around to multiple receivers on a very regular basis. In the 80's, we saw guys like Jerry Rice, Steve Largent, James Lofton, Andre Reed and Art Monk (to name but a few) start to feature heavily in the box score. From here on, you can say that people began to pay attention more to the production of wide receivers, but I am pretty confident nobody was touting any "3rd year" magic. In fact, most of the big name wide receivers in those days were drafted early and were making impacts on their teams in their 1st and 2nd seasons. Art Monk, Cris Collinsworth, Mark Duper, Mike Quick, Irving Fryar, Jerry Rice, Ernest Givins, Webster Slaughter, Tim Brown, Sterling Sharpe, Michael Irvin and Andre Rison were all drafted in the 80's and all of these guys became major contributors in their 1st or 2nd second seasons.
In the 90's, you had guys like Rob Moore, Herman Moore, Isaac Bruce, Joey Galloway, Antonio Freeman, Marvin Harrison, Terrell Owens, Keyshawn Johnson, Randy Moss, Torry Holt all come in and get off to relatively quick starts. All of these men were getting it done prior to their 3rd season. I suppose it bears at least mentioning that we all are going to define "breaking out" and "getting it done" differently. Outside the realm of fantasy football, I think I am defining it here as starting and contributing on a regular basis, as opposed to x amount of catches and y amount of yards.
Even in the current decade, we see little overwhelming support of this "rule" being as cut and dry as talking heads would have you believe. Based on a cursory look at some of the bigger names drafted in this decade, only Santana Moss, Steve Smith (Carolina), Roddy White and Braylon Edwards can be said to have really "broken out" in their third years. However, last season alone there were four such players: Sidney Rice, Mike Sims-Walker, Steve Smith (NYG) and Robert Meachem.
I began this exercise prepared to argue that the third year is statistically "the year" that receivers break out. After all, I have absolutely spent the last two seasons giving Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly a pass. But trolling through the internet on a Google mission (key words: third year wide receiver breakout) I simply can't make the case. And that is really saying something since I am pretty sure I made the case for why Jim Zorn was a great coach for this team.
The above "analysis" (Googling your way through an argument is not exactly The Scientific Method) is skewed to the bigger names/higher draft picks. All of the aforementioned guys were drafted in the 3rd round or above I believe. Perhaps the "3rd-year breakout rule" should be more appropriately applied to lower profile players/draft picks. Either way, let's just say I am all of a sudden very pissed (at myself) about Devin and Malcolm.
Nothing I say here is going to stop people out there (yeah, including me) from justifying the use of a draft pick on a 3rd-year receiver who has yet to break out. We are all big, dumb animals in that regard. What's more, we need a full bag of excuses on draft night and can ill afford to lose one of the better ones in all of fantasy sports.
So let's vote on which 3rd-year wide receiver is going to break out this year! For the purposes of this debate, let's think about these guys in terms of fantasy output (as opposed to being "good locker room guys", or having great twitter accounts). Please tell me who you voted for and why in the comments section below. If you vote for Malcolm Kelly, you're probably going to be disappointed, and you will likely get laughed at on the night of your draft.
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