Anyone who plays fantasy football can attest to having their own superstitions or methods when it comes to the draft. Some managers are more analytical and study VBD (Value Based Draft) and AVT (Average Value Theory) while others use magazines and expert rankings as gospel. There really isn't a right or wrong answer when it comes to drafting because so many variables are interpreted differently and everyone's style is unique, but I will say I do appreciate one strategy over most and that's when someone adds fantasy football urban legend into their decision making process.
I'm guilty as most and consider things like RBs who carried the ball over 420 times the year before or which QB/WR on the same team are worth the risk (Double Daggers) or avoiding the guy headlining Madden 2013 (I really hope Rodgers turns it down otherwise I might seriously think about passing on him). The rabbit hole goes even deeper if you get into the sabermetrics of fantasy football, but there has always been one myth that seems plausible and actually has enough data to make it arguably true…WRs breakout during their 3rd year.
Let me throw out a few names (maybe you've heard of them) that had phenomenal third semesters and proved this myth might have some merit after all: Plaxico Burress, Greg Jennings, Ocho Cinco, Terrell Ownes, Jerry Rice, Rod Smith, Steve Smith, Santana Moss, Braylon Edwards, Javon Walker and Roddy White. It could be a coincidence or maybe 3 is the magical year where WRs figure "it" out.
2012 has a strong class of juniors and it wouldn't be fair to rank them this early out, but what I can do is point out a few names to put on your radar:
Dez Bryant – On a collision course for greatness or disappointment (depending on who you ask), but what can't be speculated is that Dez saw a 43% increase in his targets compared to 2010. He will look to increase his performance next year with a healthy Mile Austin and Tony Romo.
2010 – 72 Targets, 45 Receptions, 561 yds and 6 TDs
2011 – 103 Targets, 63 Receptions, 928 yds and 9 TDs
Demaryius Thomas – Has only played in 21 games during his first two years but displayed huge potential after finishing strong in the regular season and then amassing 297 yds. and 10 receptions during Denver's (2) post-season games. The majority of his production was tied to Tebow (ironic seeing that Tim isn't known for being a slinger) but regardless of how Denver's QB situation pans out he can't be ignored as playmaker.
2010 – 22 Receptions, 283 yds and 2 TDs
2011 – 32 Receptions, 551 yds and 4 TDs
Antonio Brown – What can Brown do for you? Apparently everything. He spent 2011 outshining his entire sophomore class and providing the greatest uptick in improvement. With Hine Ward's imminent departure and Mike Wallace establishing himself as the #1 deep threat in Pittsburgh that pretty much leaves everything else for Antonio Brown.
2010 – 16 Receptions, 167 yds and 0 TDs; 507 Total Return Yds
2011 – 69 Receptions, 1108 yds and 2 TDs; 1062 Total Return Yds
Damien Williams – The final piece Tennessee needs to be dangerous at this position. Kenny Britt's Week 3 injury forced Nate Washington to take over as the primary WR and also introduced Williams as a viable option for Hasselbeck and Locker. Although his 2011 Catch% was low, he did see 94 targets, scored 5 TDs during an 8 game span and has yet to fumble the ball. I'm sure which ever QB Tennessee chooses will be looking forward to a combination of Britt and Williams on the outside and Washington in the slot.
2010 – 16 Receptions, 219 yds and 0 TDs
2011 – 94 Targets, 45 Receptions, 592 yds and 5 TDs
Eric Decker – Few identified him as a sleeper last year and even less actually drafted him, but what a surprise he turned out to be. Decker had the opportunity to play under both Orton and Tebow and performed well in both scenarios. During Orton's 2011 tenure he posted 270 yds and 4 TDs during the Broncos' first four games and then scored another 4 TDs during a 5 game stretch with Tebow. Even though Demaryius solidified himself as Tebow's go-to-guy toward the end of the season, that doesn't necessarily mean Decker will be lost in the shuffle this year. The latest news out of Denver is that Elway plans on starting camp with 4 QBs, which means Decker could end up being the #1 WR if the team goes with another QB not named Tebow.
2010 – 6 Receptions, 106 yds and 1 TD
2011 – 94 Targets, 44 Receptions, 612 yds and 8 TDs
Brandon LaFell – True definition of an up-and-comer because not only does he have the talent, but is also in a great situation to succeed. Cam Newton annihilated all expectations last year by throwing for 4,050 yds. and rushing for 706 on the ground. Most teams will plan accordingly next year to make sure Cam doesn't get that rushing opportunity, which means he'll probably be looking to pass more. Steve Smith will enter the 2012 season at 33 and as hard as he's trying to do his best impersonation of Dorian Gray, time escapes no man. Cam is going to need a partner to break records with over the next 10 years (i.e. Manning/Harrison, Brady/Welker and Favre/Driver) and LaFell is his best young option in Carolina.
2010 – 38 Receptions, 468 yds and 1 TD
2011 – 36 Receptions, 613 yds and 3 TDs
Mike Williams – Fell ill to "Michael Claytonitis" last year which (if you are not familiar) is when you start your NFL career on fire and then immediately freeze the following year and are at risk of never recovering. While doctors haven't discovered a cure for this disease they have isolated the problem to being indigenous to the Tampa Bay area. Most of Williams' decline came at the expense of Freeman taking a step back, but with a full off-season of OTAs, mini camps and training camp I think he can shake this off and have a strong 3rd year.
2010 – 128 Targets, 64 Receptions, 955 yds and 11 TDs
2011 – 124 Targets, 65 Receptions, 771 yds and 3 TDs
Note: Arillious Benn and Dezmon Briscoe are also entering their 3rd year in Tampa and both are strong candidates for breakout seasons. Briscoe led the team with 6 receiving TDs last year and Benn led the team in yards per reception (14.7) and the longest catch (65 yds of the season).
Time will tell for these young players, but in the meantime I hope they find motivation in listening to SchoolHouse Rock's classic "Three is a Magic Number".
3rd Year Honorable Mentions: Golden Tate, Jacoby Ford, Emmanuel Sanders, Jordan Shipley, Riley Cooper