Adjusting to life in the NFL is a challenge for many incoming players. But wide receivers generally have even more difficulty of making an immediate impact. However, with some time and learning experience, they'll often show their worth by year three. A handful of third-year receivers showed promise in their first two years, but four will look to turn into household names in fantasy.
4. Brandon LaFell, Carolina Panthers
Steve Smith surprised many opposing defenses and fantasy owners with his newfound speed and explosiveness. However, it will be a challenge for him to repeat his 2011 year. With an offseason to study film, defenses will gain a better understanding of the Smith-Cam Newton combo, so expect LaFell to take on an increased role. LaFell is in a good spot to improve on his 36-reception, 613-yard season as Smith is getting older, along with the fact that Newton is getting better with each game.
After last season's performance of 69 receptions for 1,108 yards, Brown has cemented his role as the Steelers' No. 2 receiver. Mike Wallace may have put up better stats (72 receptions,1,193 yards, eight touchdowns), but when you compare their totals, they're not far off from one another. Brown only had two touchdowns, but that total should rise with Hines Ward retiring and Rashard Mendenhall expecting to miss at least the first six games of the regular season with a torn ACL. If Brown can up his scoring while maintaining last year's numbers, he will likely finish as a top-15 receiver.
Decker had a stellar 2011 season. Coming out of nowhere, he accumulated 44 receptions for 612 yards and eight touchdowns. Those numbers are impressive considering the fact that Tim Tebow was his quarterback for 11 games and that he only had six receptions in his rookie year. Now with a future Hall-of-Famer in Peyton Manning calling the shots, Decker should be much more involved in the passing game on a consistent basis. In eight games last season, Decker recorded two or fewer receptions. Since the Broncos were so focused on running the ball, it's a shock that he even had eight scores. Expect his touchdown total to remain in the same ballpark, but look for a bump in his reception and yardage numbers.
1. Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos
Like Decker, Thomas will benefit with the addition of Manning. Statistically, Thomas' numbers were nothing to write home about, but in the second half of the season, he showed everyone why he was the first receiver taken in the 2010 NFL Draft. He'll be a big target for Manning and has the speed to score from any distance. Thomas also plans to shed some weight in the offseason, so his health and mobility may even be better entering his third year. If he can overcome his bout with injuries, there's no reason why he can't make the jump into the elite class of receivers. He's a riskier option than Decker, but has greater upside.
Travis Chan is a fantasy sports enthusiast and contributor for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. You can follow him on Twitter @Travischan1.
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