When drafting my fantasy teams, I always struggle to find a No. 3 receiver, and I always have so little confidence in that final skill player in my starting lineup. I generally have two wideouts on my bench with the hope that someone comes out of nowhere to have a big season. And that seldom happens.
Outside teams' No. 1 receiver, it can be a crapshoot to fill out that position. You're looking at guys who are second, third or fourth options on their own teams. These players are generally slot or possession receivers who you hope will find the endzone.
You know the guys I'm talking about — the Nate Burlesons and Donald Drivers of the world. The guys that, on a good day, could haul in 70 receiving yards and a score, but could just as easily have three catches for 25 yards. The guy you just toss in your lineup and when you check the box score, you're thrilled if he scored. It's the equivalent in baseball when your last hitter gets a home run. You rarely expect it, but he comes through just enough to be in the starting lineup.
How do you find that No. 3 receiver that can be consistent for you, especially when it comes to finding the endzone?
Pro Football Focus did an analysis of slot receivers from 2010, looking at targets, receptions and yards for guys that lined up in the slot. For fantasy purposes, we will ignore Wes Welker, Marques Colston, Percy Harvin, Austin Collie, Anquan Boldin and Santana Moss, as they are ranked in PFW's top 30 fantasy wide receivers and are not your prototypical No. 3 WR.
The slot receiver with the most targets in 2010, according to PFF, was Danny Amendola. The Rams' receiver ended up being Sam Bradford's top target because of injuries to Donnie Avery and Mark Clayton. Amendola finished 46th in fantasy points among receivers (according to Pro Football Weekly's stats). With Josh McDaniels entering the fold in St. Louis, Amendola could still see plenty of targets out of the slot, even with Avery and Clayton returning, as he reminds McDaniels of what Wes Welker brings to the Patriots. But with more options for Bradford, including a pair of rookie wideouts, it still makes Amendola no more than a No. 3 WR in fantasy.
Other players in the top 15 of targets from the slot include Eddie Royal, Donald Driver, Jordan Shipley, Jason Avant, Nate Burleson, Earl Bennett, Hines Ward and Mike Thomas. Of that group, Thomas, who was essentially Jacksonville's No. 2 wideout, had the most fantasy points.
Avant is your prototypical slot receiver that can be incredibly frustrating in fantasy. PFF had Avant with the most snaps from the slot in the league, and he had 51 catches for 573 yards overall, but only one touchdown, finishing 72nd in points among receivers.
What is common about the players ranked? Some of them are on teams that often ran plays with three wide receivers. Considering these players don't find the endzone often (of our group, Burleson led with six touchdowns, while most had three or four), you want to focus on drafting the slot guys that get the most targets. They obviously will give you the most opportunities for yards and scores.
Considering the depth charts on their respective teams, Thomas and Shipley could see their numbers go up, while Amendola could see his go down. Driver and Ward are aging and in decline while Royal enters a new offense with John Fox. Avant is expected to have similar numbers, while Bennett's production could go up if we are to assume the Bears' offense improves in its second year under Mike Martz. With a healthy Matthew Stafford, Burleson's value goes up, but rookie Titus Young could cut into his touches.
As you search the NFL for No. 3 wide receivers to find your No. 3 wide receiver, give yourself a chance for some consistency and take one of these players who proved in 2010 that they are targeted often, even if they are not their team's first option.