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The Myth of the Third-Year Breakout Wide Receiver

If you’ve been around football long enough, you’ve heard the old adage. “Wide receivers are candidates to break out in their third year in the league!” That the nuances of the position can only be learned after two years of experience is one of the NFL’s most commonly cited folk tales.

Yet, in spite of this myth being busted even in the days of poster children Roddy White and Reggie Wayne, it persists through today. That’s why you’re littered with the idea in trade offers. Bad wide receivers like Rondale Moore and Rashod Bateman are being shipped to your doorstep with fluff pieces to accompany them.

They sell the dream, the gospel. That these wide receivers are just a couple of mental clicks away from taking the leap.

So what should you do? Well, if you have the right assets, it’s time to start preaching!

After all, Nico Collins is a hot commodity. If he’s on your team, it may be in your best interest to start spreading the myth of the third-year breakout wide receiver. Because it’s time to sell high!

Are there any third-year breakout wide receivers?

Look at the current top receivers in the game. Not many of them had many struggles after their rookie year. On KeepTradeCut, among the top 22 wide receivers listed for dynasty trade value, Brandon Aiyuk had the lowest peak in his two years in the league. His best was a 56 catch, 825 receiving yards, and 5 touchdowns line. But even Aiyuk had a 1000-yard pace his rookie season if not for injuries causing him to miss a quarter of the season.

There never was much evidence that wide receivers need more than a year to learn. But today, the idea of being ready immediately coming out of college is starting to seem common. With the complexity of college schemes and advancements in coaching, wide receivers come into the  NFL more prepared than ever.

You don’t have to look further than the top 10 receivers on KeepTradeCut to recognize that. Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase, Amon Ra St. Brown, CeeDee Lamb, Garrett Wilson. It goes on and on of rookie sensations who are the top wide receivers today.

And while it’s possible there is another gear for these players to hit, it won’t be because of some magical time-gate they’re passing through. It’s because they fit into the league immediately and polished their talent over time.

Nico Collins and Tutu Atwell are the only potential third-year breakout wide receivers to make a leap so far.

For every one of these third-year breakout wide receiver tales, there will be many duds as well. Among players not having a stellar third year are Kadarious Toney, Elijah Moore, and Terrace Marshall Jr.

Sure, you can say none of these guys were sure things. But you wouldn’t have to look far to find hype articles from before the season singing their praises as potential steals.

It’s possible Collins and Atwell have hit another gear. It’s just far more likely that they have limited ceilings. Neither wide receiver posted a yardage total higher than 500 in either of their first two years in the league.

Even players like Chris Godwin and Cooper Kupp who are seen as taking the leap posted 800-yard seasons before going over 1,000. This while Kupp didn’t play a full season his second year. He was on a 1,100-yard pace.

Most receivers peak after the age of 27, well after their third year.

While it may be obvious now to not buy players entering their third year with any added cost, there’s another angle here as well. Recent years have seen production from age 30 and older receivers decline. Fast dropoffs from players like Antonio Brown and Julio Jones didn’t help.

Meanwhile, wide receivers are storming the league right out of college, as previously covered. There may be a school of thought moving towards discounting older wide receivers in general.

Don’t fall into the trap. While you should still take a discount on older receivers for the limited number of years they can provide, they could be saving their best for last.

Nearly 60% of wide receivers since 2000 saw their best seasons from 25 – 29. In other words, don’t assume that a productive wide receiver is done growing. If they do well but don’t make a big leap in their third year, it’s not the end.

There may be more to unlock. But they have to be better than what Collins and Atwell have shown their first two years. Much like young quarterbacks like Desmond Ridder, it’s likely just too late.

Also check out our Week 7 Fantasy Football Rankings: Quarterback | Running Back | Wide Receiver | Tight End | Half-PPR by Position | Flex Rankings | Positional Ranks w/ K & DST | Dynasty | Superflex Dynasty

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