The depth at wide receiver has famously made it a position you can wait on in fantasy football drafts and still have a pretty good shot at scoring a breakthrough performer for your starting lineup. The increase in pass-heavy systems has only augmented that.
Our top wide receiver breakout picks below mostly come from pass-friendly offenses—namely, two of Tom Brady's targets—and have yet to truly show their statistical ceilings. One problem we have with the names we came up with is a lot of fantasy people like these guys quite a bit. It makes it tough to get them at an appropriate draft-day value.
Regardless, it won't stop them from posting career years. Snatch these breakout receivers at their respective draft positions with confidence.
1. Danny Amendola, New England Patriots
On a trip to Foxborough for Patriots training camp this July, it became very clear Brady has his new Wes Welker. Fantasy is about to get him, too. In fact, Amendola is a better bet to star for fantasy owners as the clear No. 1 in New England than Welker is as a potential No. 3 for Peyton Manning in Denver.
This is about opportunity, not necessarily talent or risk. Amendola hasn't stayed healthy for a full season since his 85 catches in 16 games in 2010, so there are some who might see him as a potential bust instead of a breakout.
We have to say to those cynics: Just watch Brady and Amendola work. It looks like Welker circa 2007, and that came with 112 catches for 1,175 yards and eight touchdowns.
We will admit Welker came with far fewer durability questions when he arrived, and he had Randy Moss to stretch the defense to allow him to do significant damage underneath. And yes, Amendola is going to work underneath, but the lack of reliable Patriots receivers on the outside and down the seam will also allow him to gash more routes deeper downfield.
The Patriots need Amendola like we all need oxygen, and they will do everything to keep him on the field for a full season. It is Brady and the Patriots, after all—even when things are falling apart around them, they find a way to pull it together. This might seem like a mere gut feeling to you, but Amendola is going to surprise everyone by staying healthy.
He started this first preseason with the Patriots as a potential bust because of injury. After watching him move in practice and work over defenses early in the preseason, he is a burgeoning fantasy monster. Consider Amendola very capable of smashing even his optimistic expectations and draft position.
2. Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers
Cobb already enjoyed a breakthrough in his second year with the Packers, but if you follow the third-year fantasy receiver breakout theory, there is plenty more room to grow here. A 100-1,200-10 fantasy monster awaits.
The Packers have one of the most potent passing attacks in the NFL, if not league history, so Cobb can more than adequately fill the holes left by veteran receiver Greg Jennings and another knee issue that is currently dogging Jordy Nelson in the preseason. Cobb is a high-volume threat that is going to be an impact pick in PPR formats, too.
Among receivers with at least 50 targets a year ago, Cobb led all wide receivers with a 76.9 completion-to-target rate. This is a significant stat, because it is the kind of number that instills genuine trust in a quarterback-receiver relationship and leads a team's offensive coordinator to call more passes the receiver's way going forward.
Granted, a lot of that percentage is inflated with easy targets out of the backfield, but the idea of Cobb running more downfield routes with Jennings gone and Nelson banged up only generates more excitement for what he can be statistically.
Consider Cobb one of the wisest picks you will make after the top 10 receivers are off the board.
3. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers' loss of Mike Wallace is clearly Brown's gain. Say what you will about the team's offensive line and desire to ground-and-pound and likely focus on low-scoring defensive ballgames, but Ben Roethlisberger is still one of the elite downfield playmaking passers in all of football.
And Brown is now his primary option.
The fourth-year receiver lost a few catches and over 300 yards as the Steelers offense took a step back under coordinator Todd Haley last season. Considering Wallace is now in Miami and Brown has another year of experience in the Haley system, we should expect more of the 2011 production to return for Brown. The touchdowns should also come at a career-best rate.
Don't let Brown fall out of the top 25 receivers you target on draft day. He stands to be the highest-ceiling receiver that will be on the board that long.
4. Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears
Jay Cutler hasn't looked like much in Chicago—particularly with the perennial offensive line drama he has had to deal with—but it is all too easy to forget how productive he was in a West Coast system in Denver. A West Coast-Bill Walsh tree branch is now in Chicago, too, in the form of Marc Trestman.
Explosive potential still lies within Cutler, who is entering a pivotal contract year.
Brandon Marshall already produced at a max rate a year ago, so if that Bears offense takes off under an offensive head coach instead of a defensive one (Lovie Smith) like we expect, Jeffery stands to be one of the major beneficiaries. The second-year receiver started well and finished strong as a rookie, only to be dogged by injury in the middle of the season.
We still believe Year 3 is the better year to anticipate a breakout in fantasy, but if there's a surprise breakthrough from the 2012 draft class, Jeffery is it. He is a huge bargain at his Round 11-plus draft position.
5. Aaron Dobson, New England Patriots
This pick looked a lot more solid before training camp, but like we said with Amendola above, Brady is going to create fantasy stars from somewhere. We are sticking with the initial thought that Dobson is going to be the best of the Patriots rookie receivers. Josh Boyce hasn't done much in camp, and Kenbrell Thompkins, the rookie free agent out of Cincinnati, is still running with the first team, but Dobson is a field stretcher.
He is also tall and built like a basketball player, which can make him a threat in the red zone for a quarterback that seems to find 30-plus touchdowns every year no matter to whom he is throwing. With Rob Gronkowski (back) out to start the season and everyone expecting the tight ends to be favored by Brady in the end zone, Dobson can emerge and perform like a fantasy starter.
Granted, Dobson hasn't shown much in practice or the first two preseason games, but when did the Patriots get classified as a team that shows all of its cards? Amendola clearly will be working hard for Brady and often for the Pats, but Dobson just might be the secret weapon lying in the weeds for coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
Keep the faith in Dobson's late-round sleeper and breakout potential.
More Emack Breakout Receiver Picks
Vincent Brown, San Diego Chargers
We already hyped him in the Top 5 WR Sleepers, so we will merely point you there. In fact, look to that list for more than five to 10 potential breakouts at the position.
Keenan Allen, San Diego Chargers
If not for a troublesome knee, Allen would have been considered a first-round talent in this past April's draft. He now gets a potentially potent Philip Rivers-led offense and might even win a starting job now that Danario Alexander (knee) is out for the season and Malcom Floyd (knee) might not be ready for the start of the season.
We were going to hype Allen as a late-round breakout pick before those injuries. He is a viable consolation prize if you miss out on his teammate (Brown) above.
DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
Andre Johnson not only draws a lot of coverage his way; he also struggles with staying healthy. Hopkins was a very productive college receiver, and he is fully ready to contribute for a top contender. Consider him a reserve receiver pick who could rise to perform like a low-end starter as a rookie.
Mohamed Sanu, Cincinnati Bengals
If not for a season-ending injury, Sanu would have been an impact fantasy receiver down the stretch a year ago as a rookie. He was becoming a favorite in the red zone for the Bengals before the injury, and he can help take the pressure off of elite receiver A.J. Green.
Sanu is one of this writer's favorite late-round fliers.
Rueben Randle, New York Giants
The Giants have had injury issues with their receivers in the past, so they need a reliable third option to Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. If something happens to those two stars on the outside, Randle is going to emerge as one of the best late-round picks in all of fantasy.
Ryan Broyles, Detroit Lions
He is coming off another major knee reconstruction, but the Lions have hope he will be ready to contribute at the start of the season—at least in some capacity. If they work his rehab properly, Broyles could emerge as a fantasy-starting option by midseason.
Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, is the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this season. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game. You can also listen to him on his podcast that he deprecatingly dubbed the Fantasy FatCast.
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