Sophomore Slump or Breakout Season: Wide Receiver Edition

The dreaded sophomore slump. We’ve seen countless players fall victim to it. Promising rookie years followed up by a season that makes everyone wonder how this player even made it to the league. Last year we saw Baker Mayfield succumb to that year-two drought. After throwing a rookie record 27 touchdown passes, he came back this past season only throwing 22 along with 21 interceptions. Yikes! He’s far from the first player to experience this drop-off.

The flip side of that sophomore slump coin is the year-two breakouts. It’s well known that the reigning MVP of the league has been a second-year player the last two years. That’s one heck of a breakout. While that certainly isn’t the norm, breakout seasons aren’t all that rare either. The list of receivers entering their sophomore year will not have A.J. Brown included because he broke out during his rookie season.

Terry McLaurin

Rank 29 | 13.7 FPTS/G | 191.9 FPTS

58 rec, 93 Targets, 919 yds, 7 TD

McLaurin came in hot Week 1 with 5 receptions on 7 targets for 125 yards and one touchdown. While he performed well, racking up 50 or more yards in 10 games his quarterback situation was sporadic, to say the least. McLaurin was the clearcut number one pass-catching option on that team by far. Even with missing two games he still almost doubled his target share compared to Chris Thompson who was number two in targets only seeing 58 so coming into the season McLaurin should still be the favorite to receive targets. With the Redskins finishing 31st in total offense, logic tells us he should be able to replicate his numbers at the very least.

What could hold him back?

The Redskins’ new coaching staff does not seem sold on Dwayne Haskins. There have been rumblings of the organization drafting Tua Tagovailoa with the number two pick. New head coach, Ron Rivera already brought in Kyle Allen, who was his quarterback last year while Cam Newton was battling a Lisfranc fracture. Another potential carousel at the most important position in all of sports and a new system in place I think McLaurin has a bit of a slump. I just don’t see how any offense Rivera puts out there helps McLaurin progress.

Deebo Samuel

Rank 32 | 12.6 FPTS/G | 189.1 FPTS

57 rec, 81 Targets, 802 yds, 3 TD

The last two seasons fantasy owners had high hopes for 49er receivers we thought were going to blow up based on strong finishes. Last year was Dante Pettis and the year before that was Marquise Goodwin. Boy were they letdowns. Is Samuel going to follow that trend? Keep in mind that the 49ers didn’t have a true number one at the wide receiver position. An in-season trade for Emmanuel Sanders was their answer to rectifying that. From week 10 and during the postseason Deebo’s targets were less sporadic, for the most part. A team that only threw the ball 27 times in two playoff games Samuel had a target rate of 33.3%. While George Kittle is Jimmy Garoppolo’s guy Deebo was undoubtedly his number two.

What could hold him back? Well for starters, Kyle Shanahan’s propensity to run the ball. San Francisco finished second in rushing attempts. They ran the ball a resounding 498 times compared to 478 pass attempts. A very good balance, but when playing fantasy football you don’t want balance. You want volume and a lot of it. Even with Samuel playing Robin to George Kittle’s Batman I still think we see him breakout.

DK Metcalf

Rank 33 | 11.7 FPTS/G | 187.1 FPTS

58 rec, 100 Targets, 900 yds, 7 TD

DK came out the gate getting a lot of looks from Russell Wilson. His 100 targets were second only to Tyler Lockett who saw 110. There were only three games where Metcalf saw less than five targets. The kid is coachable. After being asked to line up on the left side of the field and run straight almost exclusively during the first month of the season the Seahawks started working in shallow crossing routes which DK had no problem adapting to. The kid isn’t afraid of the big stage. In a week 17 game with playoff seeding on the line, Wilson looked his 12 times. The following week in his postseason debut he went off for 160 yards on 7 receptions and a touchdown. This is a big body receiver who’s a legitimate deep threat playing with a quarterback who most feels like is the best deep player in the game.

What could hold him back? His limited route tree and eight drops. While he deserves credit for being coachable and implementing more to his repertoire he still isn’t the most fluid guy. The eight drops are a bit alarming, but again that’s something that can be fixed. All in all I think he’s poised for a breakout. The route running isn’t too much of a concern for me. His value as a big-play receiver and his overall athleticism I think will supersede many the shortcomings he may have.

Diontae Johnson

Rank 41 | 9.8 FPTS/G | 157.1 FPTS

59 rec, 92 Targets, 680 yds, 5 TD

Diontae Johnson is a guy the Steelers’ organization was high on. So high that some draft pundits feel like they might’ve reached by grabbing him in the third round because they didn’t think he’d make it to their next pick. Despite James Washington leading the team in receiving, Johnson led them in targets. The litany of quarterbacks Pittsburgh went through all seemed to like looking Johnson’s way. He’s more than just a receiver, he was named Second-Team All-Pro as a return specialist as well. From what the Steelers have said they love everything about this kid. He’s an all-around football player who isn’t afraid to block and has quick feet and a good route runner.

What could hold him back? Well, lack of rapport with the franchise quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger for one. The young man seems poised to be the next big receiver that has come out of that Pittsburgh system. He could easily be what JuJu Smith-Schuster was to Antonio Brown. With Ben’s career winding down who’s going to be throwing him the ball. This is going to sound like a cop-out and maybe it is, but if Big Ben comes back healthy I say breakout. If the QB situation is another circus freak show we could very much see a slump.

Marquise Brown

Rank 46 | 10.5 FPTS/G | 146.4 FPTS

46 rec, 71 Targets, 584 yds, 7 TD

The first receiver taken in the draft at number 25 by the Baltimore Ravens came in with high expectations. Unfortunately, they weren’t reached. The receiver known as Hollywood was plagued all year by a Lisfranc injury he had surgery to correct in January. A 2016 study from The American Journal of Sports Medicine found that ”more than 90% of NFL athletes who sustained Lisfranc injuries returned to play in the NFL at a median of 11.1 months from time of injury.” Even while battling that nagging injury Hollywood still wowed teammates and opponents alike with his speed and crisp routes. While Mark Andrews emerged as the top target getter, Brown was second. And was without question Lamar Jackson’s favorite wide receiver to throw to.

What could hold him back? Well, his size for one. That was always a concern. Guys like Antonio Brown and Tyreek Hill are the exception and not the rule when it comes to how great “little guys” can be in this league. You have to wonder about injuries as well. While the Lisfranc injury should be fully healed he did have to get a screw removed from his foot earlier this year. If there are any complications with that progress disaster could be imminent. With a quarterback who can run and another option in the passing game, Hollywood could easily have a breakout year.

Article Written by Andrew Thompson

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