Fantasy Football Forecast: Wide Receiver Pick-ups

Kenbrell Thompkins

At this point, your fantasy football league has most likely had its draft, and all the expected big names -- Calvin Johsnon, Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, just to name a few -- are off the board. If you were lucky enough to grab one of the big boys, congratulations! But if you haven't, or are looking for additional depth which may spell the difference between a W and an L, we here at the Fantasy Football Forecast (MFFF) are here to help. Here's a few pointers below about who may be hot (or not) for the 2013 season.

The Third-year Rule

There's a popular theory that any WR who will ever amount to anything will see a significant jump in his numbers in Year 3. If that's the case, owners of Atlanta WR Julio Jones, Green Bay WR Randall Cobb, Cincinnati WR A.J. Green  and Baltimore WR Torrey Smith must be ecstatic, because this quartet is already putting up starter-quality stats. But what about the rest of the potential third-year wonders out there?

You should start with Jacksonville WR Cecil Shorts, who put up impressive numbers despite a lackluster passing offense last year. With fellow starting WR Justin Blackmon sidelined due to suspension for the first four weeks, it's Shorts' time to shine. Want a sleeper? How about San Francisco WR Jon Baldwin? The former first-rounder washed out of Kansas City but he remains a talented player who has already made a mini-splash in preseason, and the receiver-poor 49ers desperately need someone to step up, so he'll get his chances. Another potential breakout player is San Diego WR Vincent Brown -- yes, it seems a little strange to think of a first-stringer as a breakout guy, but with head coach Mike McCoy and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt overhauling the Charger passing game and a dearth of dependable healthy targets to throw to, Brown is the best choice for QB Philip Rivers to build a connection with. Speaking of overhauls, with a new coaching staff in Cleveland and another year of experience for QB Brandon Weeden, WR Greg Little has the potential to break though; limit your expectations, though -- the Browns will lean heavily on RB Trent Richardson for their offensive punch.

We're slightly more dubious about Washington WR Leonard Hankerson, who wasn't the most consistent weapon last year (8 games with less than 25 yards), even though he had a knack for the long ball. Ditto for Oakland WR Denarius Moore who had a disappointing follow-up to his promising 2011 rookie campaign and now must contend with a QB situation that is shaky at best.

Sleeper Picks

New England WRs Kenbrell Thompkins and  Aaron Dobson -- 74 catches for 911 yards and 4 TDs. Not bad production for a WR2 or WR3, right? Well, those happen to be the numbers for WR Brandon Lloyd in New England's offense last year, and by all accounts it was a below-par season for Lloyd. With injuries, player departures (Danny Woodhead and Wes Welker) and arrests (Aaron Hernandez, ahem) taking away prime targets from QB Tom Brady's arsenal, the stage is set for Thompkins and Dobson to equal or perhaps even outdo Lloyd's numbers from last year. Thompkins has the inside track to be "the man" thanks to his sterling preseason, but keep an eye on Dobson, who has also flashed and may be ready to step in if injury strikes.

San Francisco WR Lavelle Hawkins -- He received plenty of press for getting penalized for taunting the opponent twice in a single preseason game, which must be a new record, but Hawkins has also demonstrated superior kick-return skills and the ability to shake coverage. It may take him a while to get acclimated to NFL regular season-speed, but if your league rewards return yards and touchdowns, he's an up-and-comer.

New Orleans WR Kenny Stills -- Sean Payton is back to coach and call the plays, and QB Drew Brees never met a pass he didn't like throwing, which all bodes well for Stills, who has nailed down the third WR slot with the Saints. In the past this position has seen erratic production with the likes of Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem, but with starting WRs Lance Moore and Marques Colston a year older, and prone to getting nicked, Stills is going to see more targets -- it's up to him to take advantage.

Seattle WR Jermaine Kearse -- Want a deep sleeper? Try Kearse. While he's currently #4 or #5 on the Seahawks' depth chart, oft-injured starter WR Sidney Rice hasn't lived up to his billing, and Kearse has flashed deep threat ability in preseason. Give him an inch and he might find himself in a much larger role as the season goes on.

Kansas City WR Donnie Avery -- Nothing about Avery spells "star power," but the veteran wideout did gather close to 800 yards receiving last year, and Andy Reid has been known to work wonders with unheralded receivers in the past. If Avery can approach the numbers of a #2 WR such as say, Jeremy Maclin (who averaged over 800 yards and 5 TDs a season), who flourished in Reid's pass-happy offense in Philly, he could be a good supplemental player and spot starter.

Receivers to Avoid

Any WR with the Jets, Bills or Raiders -- It's pretty simple. If you don't have a starter-quality QB, or you have a young QB more likely to spend his time running downfield or getting sacked (the Raiders' Terrelle Pryor, the Jets' Geno Smith or the Bills' E.J. Manuel), you're not going to see consistent or strong production from your wideouts. Sorry, Stevie Johnson owners.

Baltimore WR Jacoby Jones -- Jones was secret MVP of the 2012 playoffs, catching a game-tying bomb against Denver and returning a kick for a TD in the Super Bowl. He's always a threat to break one, but still needs to prove himself as a day-in, day-out player, and without a dependable intermediate threat to take the pressure off, he's likely to see more attention this season.

Houston WR DeAndre Hopkins -- Already sidelined with the dreaded "C" word (concussion), Hopkins has tools, but will also need to find a role in on offense heavily dependent on RB Arian Foster, WR Andre Johnson and TE Owen Daniels. QB Matt Schaub is known to play it safe, so don't expect major numbers from Hopkins this year as he gets acclimated.

Indianapolis WR Darrius Heyward-Bey -- You're part of a prolific passing attack, and are officially listed as WR2 on the depth chart, so why don't we like Heyward-Bey? Because he's basically a starter above WR T.Y. Hilton in name only, and Hilton is expected to continue his ascent as one of the more explosive game-breakers in the league.

Tennessee WR Kenny Britt -- He's always had the look of a #1 receiver, but a slow start to his career and a slow return from an ACL injury has devalued him, especially now that the Titans have recommitted to the run game with RBs Chris Johnson and Shonn Greene.

The Walking Wounded

Don't forget about Seattle WR Percy Harvin and San Francisco WR Michael Crabtree, who are both on the PUP list and could come back around Week 9. If we had to lay odds, we'd bet that Crabtree will have more of an impact when he returns, due to his chemistry with QB Colin Kaepernick.

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