During the course of NFL history, a number of wide receivers have recorded their first big statistical campaigns in their third NFL seasons. It's happened with stars like Harold Carmichael, Steve Largent, Terrell Owens, both Steve Smiths and Sidney Rice (to name a few), and was true again last season with the emergence of Percy Harvin. However, there is also a more recent trend of second-year receivers putting up nice totals and emerging as draft bargains in fantasy football leagues.
Here's a look at the top second- and third-year wideouts to target in 2012 fantasy drafts.
Third-year wide receivers
1. Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos: If you're looking for the most likely third-year wideout to break out in 2012, look no further than Thomas. He showed flashes of brilliance last season, and that was with the inaccurate Tim Tebow under center. Now that Peyton Manning is leading the offense, Thomas should be considered a potential top-10 fantasy receiver.
2. Victor Cruz, N.Y. Giants: Cruz was one of the best waiver-wire pickups last season, posting enormous numbers while finishing in the top five in fantasy points at his position. Can he do it again? That remains to be seen, but Cruz will be hard pressed to do much better than his 82 catches, 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns. He's a borderline No. 1 fantasy wideout.
3. Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys: There is no questioning Bryant's skills and upside, and his first 1,000-yard season could be on the horizon. With a talented signal-caller in Tony Romo at the helm, there's no reason to believe Bryant can't post the best fantasy season of his young career. He'll be considered a high-end No. 2 option, despite his off-field issues.
4. Eric Decker, Denver Broncos: I like Thomas to have a bigger season than Decker, but the Minnesota product is still a tremendous sleeper with Manning in the Mile High City. In fact, he could emerge as a solid No. 2 fantasy wideout across the board. Barring any setbacks following last year's knee injury, Decker will have middle-round appeal in most 2012 drafts.
5. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers: Brown was a nice waiver-wire addition last season, coming out of nowhere to record career bests across the board while finishing a respectable 24th in fantasy points. With Hines Ward now out of the mix, he'll be the No. 2 option in the pass attack for Ben Roethlisberger. He'll have middle-round value as a No. 3 or 4 wideout.
Second-year wide receivers
1. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons: Jones proved to be a major playmaker last season, posting 959 yards and eight touchdowns despite missing three games due to injuries. If he can avoid the trainer's room in 2012, there is no reason to believe he won't break out both for the Falcons and fantasy owners. Jones has the tools to be an elite No. 1 fantasy wideout.
2. A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals: Whatever "it" is, Green has it. Possessing the skills and upside to become an elite wide receiver at the NFL level, the Georgia product ranked 14th in fantasy points at his position as a rookie and could emerge as a top-10 option in 2012. He'll be taken no later than the fourth round in the majority of fantasy drafts.
3. Torrey Smith, Baltimore Ravens: A speedster out of Maryland, Smith finished a respectable 22nd in fantasy points among wide receivers as a rookie. He was inconsistent, however, as much of his production came in just five games. Still, Smith is the best fantasy wideout on the Ravens roster -- ahead of Anquan Boldin -- and should improve on his 2011 totals.
4. Denarius Moore, Oakland Raiders: Moore emerged as one of the league's most-utilized wide receivers in terms of downfield targets as a rookie, which was evident in his 18.7 yards-per-receptions average. If he can avoid injuries, which were a slight problem in 2011, Moore could develop into a sleeper in fantasy land. Consider taking him in the middle to late rounds.
5. Greg Little, Cleveland Browns: Despite his unimpressive ranking (53rd) in fantasy points among all wideouts, Little was a respectable fourth among first-year receivers in receiving yards last season. There's some definite upside here, but it's tough to promote Little as more than a late-round flier, given that he'll be playing for an offense that doesn't have much firepower in the pass attack.