Throughout the course of NFL history, a number of wide receivers have recorded their first big statistical campaign in their third NFL season. It's happened with past superstars like Harold Carmichael, Steve Largent, Terrell Owens, Steve Smith and Sidney Rice (to name a few), and it was true again last season with the emergence of Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.
However, there is also a more recent trend of second-year receivers putting up nice totals and emerging into draft bargains -- that has much to do with rules changes and the NFL becoming a passing league where recievers pile up the production. (A.J. Green and Julio Jones, anyone?) Here's a look at the top second- and third-year wideouts to target in 2013 fantasy football drafts.
Third-year wide receivers
A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals: Green had 1,350 yards, 11 touchdowns and finished fourth in fantasy points among wide receivers last season, so he clearly didn't need two full NFL campaigns to become a superstar at the position. One of the most talented and productive young playmakers in the league, Green is a lock to be one of the first five wideouts drafted in both standard and PPR formats.
Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons: Much like Green, Jones had tremendous fantasy totals in his second NFL season with just under 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns. While he wasn't as consistent as Green in the stat sheets, the Alabama product remains a valuable, young wideout both for the Falcons and fantasy owners alike. Jones is an absolute lock to be drafted in the second or third round in all leagues.
Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers: Cobb showed flashes of brilliance last season, posting 954 yards with eight touchdowns while finishing among the top 20 wideouts in the league based on fantasy points. With Greg Jennings (Vikings) gone, the Kentucky product will be a great position to have a statistical breakout -- especially with Aaron Rodgers under center.
Torrey Smith, Baltimore Ravens: Smith has been a nice playmaker in the Ravens vertical pass attack at times, but he's lacked the sort of consistent production that would make him a regular fantasy starter. He'll need to step up after the trade of Anquan Boldin (49ers), so Smith should have more chances to improve his statistical production. Target him as third option in the middle rounds.
Cecil Shorts, Jacksonville Jaguars: One of the best waiver-wire pickups of 2012, Shorts posted 979 yards with seven touchdowns and ranked in the top 25 among wideouts. Whether he turns into a one-year wonder with the questionable Blaine Gabbert under center remains to be seen, but Shorts will be a popular middle- to late-round pick as a No. 3 fantasy wide receiver.
Second-year wide receivers
Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns: Gordon showed flashes of potential as a rookie, posting 805 yards and five touchdowns as one of the top options for Brandon Weeden. With a year of experience under his belt, not to mention the presence of new coordinator Norv Turner, he'll be a popular sleeper candidate heading into 2013. Target the Baylor product somehwere in the middle to late rounds.
T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts: Hilton came out of nowhere to record 861 yards and seven touchdowns in his first pro season -- that was good enough to finish 24th in fantasy points among receivers. With Donnie Avery (Chiefs) no longer in the mix and Andrew Luck under center, Hilton is going to have some upside for 2013. He's going to be worth a middle- to late-round selection.
Justin Blackmon, Jacksonville Jaguars: Blackmon was invisible for the first half of his rookie season, but he broke out down the stretch starting with a 236-yard, one-touchdown performance against the Houston Texans. It's tough to argue with his talent, but Blackmon does lose some luster with Gabbert at the helm while also facing a four-game suspension to start the 2013 campaign.
Kendall Wright, Tennessee Titans: Wright didn't make a major impact as a rookie in standard fantasy football leagues, ranking just 55th in points among wide receivers. The good news is that he hauled in a very respectable 64 passes in 15 games and is in line to see more targets from quarterback Jake Locker in 2013. A viable fantasy sleeper at his position, Wright is well worth a late rounder and could develop into a viable No. 4 fantasy wideout.
Chris Givens, St. Louis Rams: The Rams have lost Danny Amendola (Patriots) and Brandon Gibson (Dolphins), so Givens and Brian Quick will be expected to pick up the slack. The former recorded almost 50 percent of his rookie targets when Amendola was injured in 2012, so Givens has deep sleeper appeal. The addition of rookie Tavon Austin did hurt his appeal, though.