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Randall Cobb is a Three Year Wide Receiver to target for your 2013 fantasy football draft
"As a Three Year WR in 2013, all kinds of people will be hanging on Randall Cobb in their 2013 fantasy football draft."
(Zuma Press / Icon SMI)

Wide Receiver Three Year Rule

Fantasy football draft strategy

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Updated: July 4, 2013
Original Release: June 28, 2003


When it comes to preparing for your fantasy football draft, knowing the trends of certain positions can help you assign appropriate values to players. This article focuses on evaluating draft value for wide receivers. While running backs are crucial to your fantasy success, you probably won't be bringing home the league championship without some wide receiver help. This article focuses on evaluating draft value for wide receivers when putting together your Fantasy Wide Receiver Rankings.

Unlike their running back counterparts, wide receivers as a whole are a little trickier to target during your fantasy football draft. Cleary some of the bigger household names are givens when it comes to drafting, but starting in the middle rounds of your draft, things become a little more difficult to predict with respect to which wide receivers to select. With a running back, you pretty much know what you are getting. If healthy, talented, and on the first team, a running back will produce and positively contribute to your fantasy football team regardless of whether the running back is a rookie or a seasoned veteran. However, this is not the case with a wide receiver. Talent will only get a wide receiver so far, so fast. With two, three, and even four wide receiver sets in the NFL, it is not enough to be on the first team or have experience beyond a rookie year. It is also not enough to be healthy and loaded with God-given athletic ability. There is a huge adjustment factor involved for wide receivers. Adjustments must be made to harder hitting, quicker NFL secondaries. Adjustments must be made to an entirely new playbook and routes. Adjustments must be made to a brand new quarterback that throws entirely differently than what a wide receiver was previously used to in college. In fact, one of the most critical aspects for a wide receiver is developing the trust and timing from his quarterback. Run a route wrong or be slightly off in timing against NFL caliber defenses translates to six going the other way and an upset quarterback that just got an interception he didn't deserve. A good relationship between a quarterback and wide receiver does not develop overnight. It takes time...

How much time does it take for a rookie wide receiver to adjust to the NFL?
Typically between one to three full NFL seasons with the mean, median, and mode of the data indicating two full NFL seasons. Consequently, entering their third year of NFL play is most likely when a wide receiver will blossom, hence the name of the "Wide Receiver Three Year Rule". To help drive this point home, let's examine the performance of wide receivers taken in the 1998 - 2010 NFL drafts). Under each year, statistics are given in a receiving yards / TDs format. It is important to note that many wide receivers drafted never amount to anything. To help make the tables a little more clear, only wide receivers that either eventually broke out or were selected in the first round of the NFL draft are listed.

Breakout seasons are denoted in red text..

The Numbers:

Table 1, Wide Receivers from 1998 NFL Draft


Season Statistics for Wide Receivers from 1998 NFL Draft
Player Pick 1st Year 2nd Year 3rd Year 4th Year
  Kevin Dyson
16 263 / 2 658 / 4
104 / 1*
825 / 7
  Randy Moss
21 1313 / 17 1413 / 11
1437 / 15
1233 / 10
  Jerome Pathon
32 511 / 1 163 / 0*
646 / 3
330 / 2
  Jacquez Green
34 251 / 2 791 / 3
773 / 1
402 / 1
  Germaine Crowell
50 464 / 3 1338 / 7
430 / 3*
292 / 2*
  Joe Jurevicius
55 146 / 0 318 / 1
272 / 1
706 / 3
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  Hines Ward
92 246 / 0 638 / 7
672 / 4
1003 / 4
  Donald Hayes
106 62 / 0 270 / 2
926 / 3
567 / 2
* Indicates player missed games due to injury.


Table 2, Wide Receivers from 1999 NFL Draft


Season Statistics for Wide Receivers from 1999 NFL Draft
Player Pick 1st Year 2nd Year 3rd Year 4th Year
  Tory Holt
6 788 / 6 1635 / 6
1363 / 7
1302 / 4
  David Boston
8 473 / 2 1156 / 7
1598 / 8
512 / 1*
  Troy Edwards
13 714 / 5 215 / 0
283 / 0
157 / 2
  Kevin Johnson
32 986 / 8 669 / 0
1097 / 9
703 / 4
  Peerless Price
56 393 / 3 762 / 3
895 / 7
1252 / 9
  Marty Booker
78 219 / 3 490 / 2
1071 / 8
1189 / 6
  Donald Driver
213 31 / 1 322 / 1
167 / 1
1064 / 9
* Indicates player missed games due to injury.


Table 3, Wide Receivers from 2000 NFL Draft


Season Statistics for Wide Receivers from 2000 NFL Draft
Player Pick 1st Year 2nd Year 3rd Year 4th Year
  Peter Warrick
4 592 / 4 667 / 1
606 / 6
819 / 7
  Plaxico Burress
8 273 / 0 1008 / 6
1325 / 7
860 / 4
  Travis Taylor
10 276 / 3 560 / 3
869 / 6
632 / 3
  Sylvester Morris
21 678 / 3 Retired
Retired
Retired
  R.J. Soward
29 154 / 1 Retired
Retired
Retired
  Dennis Northcutt
32 422 / 0 211 / 0
601 / 5
729 / 2
  Todd Pinkston
36 181 / 0 586 / 4
798 / 7
575 / 2
  Jerry Porter
47 6 / 0 220 / 0
688 / 9
361 / 1
  Laveranues Coles
78 370 / 1 868 / 7
1264 / 5
1204 / 6
  Darrell Jackson
80 713 / 6 1081 / 8
877 / 4*
1137 / 9
* Indicates player missed games due to injury.


Table 4, Wide Receivers from 2001 NFL Draft


Season Statistics for Wide Receivers from 2001 NFL Draft
Player Pick 1st Year 2nd Year 3rd Year 4th Year
  Koren Robinson
9 536 / 1 1240 / 5
896 / 4
495 / 2*
  Rod Gardner
15 741 / 4 1006 / 8
600 / 5
650 / 5
  Santana Moss
16 40 / 0* 433 / 4
1105 / 10
838 / 5
  Freddie Mitchell
25 283 / 1 105 / 0
498 / 2
377 / 2
  Reggie Wayne
30 345 / 0* 716 / 4
838 / 7
1210 / 12
  Quincy Morgan
33 432 / 2 964 / 7
516 / 3
144 / 3*
  Chad Ochocinco (Johnson)
36 329 / 1 1166 / 5
1355 / 10
1274 / 9
  Chris Chambers
52 883 / 7 734 / 3
963 / 11
898 / 7
  Steve L. Smith (CAR)
74 154 / 0 872 / 3
1110 / 7
60 / 0*
  Justin McCareins
124 88 / 0* 301 / 2
813 / 7
770 / 4
  T.J. Houshmandzadeh
204 228 / 0 492 / 1
0 / 0*
978 / 4
* Indicates player missed games due to injury.


Table 5, Wide Receivers from 2002 NFL Draft


Season Statistics for Wide Receivers from 2002 NFL Draft
Player Pick 1st Year 2nd Year 3rd Year 4th Year
  Donte Stallworth
13 594 / 8 485 / 3*
767 / 5
945 / 7
  Ashlie Lelie
19 525 / 2 628 / 2
1084 / 7
770 / 1
  Javon Walker
20 319 / 1 716 / 9
1382 / 12
27 / 0*
  Antonio Bryant
63 733 / 6 550 / 2
812 / 4
1009 / 4
* Indicates player missed games due to injury.


Table 6, Wide Receivers from 2003 NFL Draft


Season Statistics for Wide Receivers from 2003 NFL Draft
Player Pick 1st Year 2nd Year 3rd Year 4th Year
  Charles Rogers
2 243 / 3* 0 / 0
197 / 1*
Retired
  Andre Johnson
3 976 / 4 1142 / 6
688 / 2*
1147 / 5
  Bryant Johnson
17 438 / 1 537 / 1
432 / 1
740 / 4
  Anquan Boldin
54 1377 / 8 623 / 1*
1402 / 7
1203 / 4
  Nate Burleson
71 455 / 2 1006 / 9
328 / 1*
192 / 2
  Kevin Curtis
74 13 / 0* 421 / 2
801 / 6
479 / 4
* Indicates player missed games due to injury.


Table 7, Wide Receivers from 2004 NFL Draft


Season Statistics for Wide Receivers from 2004 NFL Draft
Player Pick 1st Year 2nd Year 3rd Year 4th Year
  Larry Fitzgerald
3 780 / 8 1409 / 10
946 / 6*
1409 / 10
  Roy Williams
7 817 / 8 687 / 8*
1310 / 7
838 / 5*
  Reggie Williams
7 268 / 1 445 / 0
616 / 4
629 / 10*
  Lee Evans
13 843 / 9 743 / 7
1292 / 8
849 / 5
  Michael Clayton
15 1193 / 7 372 / 0*
356 / 1*
301 / 0*
  Michael Jenkins
29 119 / 0 508 / 3
436 / 7
532 / 4
  Rashaun Woods
31 160 / 1 Retired
Retired
Retired
  Devery Henderson
50 0 / 0* 343 / 3
745 / 5*
409 / 3
  Jerricho Cotchery
108 60 / 0* 251 / 0
961 / 6
1130 / 2
* Indicates player missed games due to injury.


Table 8, Wide Receivers from 2005 NFL Draft


Season Statistics for Wide Receivers from 2005 NFL Draft
Player Pick 1st Year 2nd Year 3rd Year 4th Year
  Braylon Edwards
3 512 / 3* 884 / 6
1289 / 16
873 / 3
  Troy Williamson
7 372 / 2 455 / 0
240 / 1*
30 / 1*
  Mike Williams
10 350 / 1 99 / 1*
90 / 0*
Retired
  Matt Jones
22 432 / 5 643 / 4
317 / 4*
761 / 2*
  Mark Clayton
22 471 / 2 939 / 5
531 / 0
695 / 3
  Roddy White
27 446 / 3 506 / 0
1202 / 6
1382 / 7
  Reggie Brown
35 571 / 4 816 / 8
780 / 4
252 / 1*
  Vincent Jackson
61 59 / 0* 453 / 6
623 / 3
1098 / 7
* Indicates player missed games due to injury.


Table 9, Wide Receivers from 2006 NFL Draft


Season Statistics for Wide Receivers from 2006 NFL Draft
Player Pick 1st Year 2nd Year 3rd Year 4th Year
  Santonio Holmes
25 824/2* 942/8*
821/5
1248/5
  Chad Jackson
36 152/3
Injured
19/0
Cut
  Sinorice Moss
44 25/0*
225/0
153/2
18/1*
  Greg Jennings
52 632/3
920/12
1292/9
1113/4
  Brandon Marshall
119 309/2
1325/7
1265/6
1120/10
  Devin Aromashodu
233 Cut
96/0*
Cut
298/4
  Marques Colston
252 1038/8*
1202/11*
760/5*
1074/9*
* Indicates player missed games due to injury.


Table 10, Wide Receivers from 2007 NFL Draft


Season Statistics for Wide Receivers from 2007 NFL Draft
Player Pick 1st Year 2nd Year 3rd Year 4th Year
  Calvin Johnson
2 756/4* 1331/12
984/5*
1120/12*
  Ted Ginn Jr.
9 420/2
790/2
454/1
163/1*
  Dwayne Bowe
23 995/5
1022/7
589/4*
1162/15
  Robert Meachem
27 Injured
289/3*
722/9
638/5
  Craig Davis
30 188/1*
59/0*
52/0*
259/1*
  Anthony Gonzalez
32 576/3*
664/4
0/0*
5/67*
  Sidney Rice
44 396/4*
141/4*
1312/8
280/2*
  Steve Smith
51 63/0*
574/1
1220/7
529/3*
  Mike Sims-Walker
79 injured
217/0
869/7*
562/7*
  Steve Breaston
142 92/0
1006/3
712/3*
718/1*
* Indicates player missed games due to injury.


Table 11, Wide Receivers from 2008 NFL Draft


Season Statistics for Wide Receivers from 2008 NFL Draft
Player Pick 1st Year 2nd Year 3rd Year 4th Year
  Donnie Avery
33 674/3* 589/5
Injured
45/1*
  Eddie Royal
42 980/5*
345/0*
627/3
155/1*
  DeSean Jackson
49 912/2
1167/9*
1056/6*
961/4*
  Mario Manningham
95 26/0
822/5*
944/9
523/4*
* Indicates player missed games due to injury.


Table 12, Wide Receivers from 2009 NFL Draft


Season Statistics for Wide Receivers from 2009 NFL Draft
Player Pick 1st Year 2nd Year 3rd Year 4th Year
  Darrius Heyward-Bey
7 124/1* 366/1
975/4
606/5
  Michael Crabtree
10 645/2*
741/6
874/4
1105/9
  Jeremy Maclin
19 762/4*
964/10
859/5*
857/7
  Percy Harvin
22 790/6*
868/5*
967/6
677/3*
  Hakeem Nicks
29 790/6*
1052/11*
1192/7*
692/3*
  Kenny Britt
30 701/3
775/9*
289/3*
589/4*
  Mike Wallace
84 756/6*
1257/10
1198/8
836/8
  Mike Thomas
107 453/1
820/4
415/1
108/1*
  Brian Hartline
108 506/3
615/1
549/1
1083/1
  Johnny Knox
140 527/5*
960/5
727/2
Injured
* Indicates player missed games due to injury.


Table 11, Wide Receivers from 2010 NFL Draft


Season Statistics for Wide Receivers from 2010 NFL Draft
Player Pick 1st Year 2nd Year 3rd Year 4th Year
  Demaryius Thomas
22 283/2* 551/4*
1434/10
TBD
  Dez Bryant
24 561/6*
928/9*
1382/12
TBD
  Eric Decker
87 106/1*
612/8
1064/13*
TBD
  Mike Williams
101 964/11
771/3
996/9
TBD
* Indicates player missed games due to injury.


Table 12, Running Total of Breakout Wide Receivers since 1998


1st Year 2nd Year 3rd Year 4th Year
7 25 31 15


While there is some scatter, the statistics indicate that the third year for NFL wide receivers often marks a season of dramatic improvement in fantasy football production. There is a fairly significant number of players that emerged in their second and fourth years, but overall the data mean (2.69 year average), median (3), and mode (3) indicate the third year is optimum (based on statistics from 1998 - 2010). This is the time when most receivers seem to finally make the transition to the NFL and install confidence in their quarterback that they will deliver as a quality receiver. For a complete list of two, three, and four year wide receiver candidates for the upcoming fantasy football season, simply click on the articles below.

Note in each of these articles, we highlight in yellow players with favorable circumstances for breakout potential in 2013:
2013 "Two Year" Wide Receivers & Commentary
2013 "Three Year" Wide Receivers & Commentary
2013 "Four Year" Wide Receivers & Commentary


When should I take players that fit the "Wide Receiver Three Year Rule"?
In the mid to late rounds of your draft. Why? Because these players aren't going to have the nice stats from the previous year to drive their fantasy value way up to justify there being any real demand for these players in the early part of your draft. They seemingly explode out of nowhere for a big year entering their third year in the NFL. Consequently, you can just start plucking these players in the mid to late rounds of your draft while other folks are distracted with kickers, washed up veterans, injured players, and even backing up their Tight Ends. For a more accurate estimation of when a particular "Three Year Wide Receiver" should be taken, refer to our Fantasy Football Mock Drafts article.

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