A year ago Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon was just a talented player on the rise. After a solid rookie season, he was looked at as a potential breakout candidate in fantasy football.
Unlike most yearly fantasy sleepers, he actually paid off – like, really paid off.
Gordon ripped off a ridiculous 1,646 receiving yards and nine touchdowns off of just 87 catches. Despite having a disturbing musical chairs situation at quarterback and missing the first two games of the 2013 season due to suspension, Josh Gordon still finished the year as fantasy’s #1 ranked receiver.
And fantasy owners got him in the eighth round of fantasy drafts, on average.
This year, just like any year following a ridiculous breakout season, everyone wants to get their hands on the next Josh Gordon. Of course, there’s always the realistic possibility that there simply isn’t one.
After all, Gordon lept from fantasy’s 38th best receiver in 2012 to the game’s most dominant performer. He did that all in one year.
While it’s probably impossible for one person to predict exactly who will do that again, it’s also fairly unlikely anyone will. Still, someone is bound to make a pretty big leap, and every fantasy owner is going to want to know who it will be.
There isn’t just one option. There are several young wide receivers with the talent, role and/or supporting cast to make a huge leap. But to narrow it down to find the next true version of Gordon, let’s focus on merely second-year wide receivers that could be capable of that quantum leap.
If we’re being realistic, that criteria restricts us to the likes of Cordarrelle Patterson, Terrance Williams, Tavon Austin, Kenny Stills, DeAndre Hopkins, Aaron Dobson, Markus Wheaton, Justin Hunter and Robert Woods.
Yes, there are more actual second-year wide receivers out there, but none have the combination of talent and opportunity that the aforementioned wideouts possess. This makes them the most likely Josh Gordon-type breakout candidates.
So, which one is the most likely?
Patterson is the easy call. After all, he was fantasy’s 38th ranked receiver a year ago (ring a bell?), thanks to an insanely versatile game and explosive playmaking ability. He also inherits offensive coordinator Norv Turner (who coached Gordon in Cleveland last year) and should see an expanding role.
Naturally, the sheer possibility of Patterson soaring up the ranks is having his ADP slowly rise to about the fifth round. By the time most fantasy football drafts roll around, he could be going considerably higher.
That should have many fantasy owners hoping to land the next Josh Gordon via a different player in a later spot. Williams might be the next guy up who fits the bill, as he’s being taken around the seventh round, which is 3-4 rounds after Patterson, depending on how the draft shakes out.
Williams will be operating in a Scott Linehan offense, starting across from Dez Bryant and catching passes from Tony Romo. All of that sounds fantastic, plus Williams was fairly impressive as a rookie with a solid final stat line of 44 catches for 736 yards and five scores.
He was able to be a quality fantasy performer for spots last year, despite having an up and down role in his rookie season. Needless to say, the burner has some serious upside with a key role in a pass-happy system.
You can probably make a case for any of the other guys listed above, as well as some other third or fourth year breakout candidates. However, the last one with serious upside to be the next Gordon might be DeAndre Hopkins.
Hopkins already flashed #1 receiver ability as a rookie in 2013, finishing with 802 yards on 52 catches. He’s already reportedly developed a strong rapport with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, while veteran receiver Andre Johnson has been skipping practice and wants out via a trade.
Hopkins might have underrated value either way, but a trade sending Johnson out of town would vault him to the top receiver spot and give him much more fantasy value than he currently has. In fact, Fitzpatrick was part of Kendall Wright getting fed over 90 receptions a year ago in Tennessee, so there is still upside to be had here, despite the supposed shaky play under center.
In the grand scheme of things, Patterson is the popular pick to be the next Josh Gordon for a reason: he’s immensely talented, has a big role and is working in the same offense that made Gordon a huge success last year.
He’s the easy and logical pick. With that said, there are plenty of receivers just waiting to bust out that deserve your attention. And the best part? You don’t even have to risk an early pick to snag most of them. Take a couple chances on them and toss them on your bench. You just might snag a guy that ascends into the top-10 in 2014.