FANTASY PLAYS: WRs with potential to break out in third year

Conventional pro football wisdom suggests that pass catchers begin to hit stride in their third year. That’s when some greats like Jerry Rice and Lance Allworth had their first chart-topping seasons toward Hall of Fame careers.

While it’s far too early to suggest anyone from the rookie class of 2016 are locks to reach Canton, fantasy football players should take a closer look at several third-year receivers who have a chance to be highly productive this season.

Michael Thomas (Saints) and Tyreek Hill (Chiefs) have already established their fantasy credentials and will be gone early in fantasy drafts. Hunter Henry (Chargers) would have been a lock to be off most boards by the seventh round but a torn ACL sustained in practice last week ended his 2018 campaign.

One third-year receiver to watch is Houston’s Will Fuller, whose draft value could have been several rounds higher had quarterback Deshaun Watson not suffered a season-ending knee injury. With Watson throwing, Fuller had a four-game stretch where he caught seven touchdowns on just 22 targets. If both he and Watson are healthy, the duo could be good for 8-10 scoring strikes, especially if Fuller’s average targets per game increases. Fuller will be a great back-end draft selection.

Sterling Shepard of the Giants will benefit from the arrival of running back Saquon Barkley and the return of Odell Beckham, Jr. Even with Eli Manning’s struggles in 2017, Shepard would have eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards had he not missed five games. Shepard improved his catch percentage to 70.2 percent and his yards per game to 66.5, potential signs of a breakout in 2018. He would make a sneaky good flex option in point-per-reception formats and could equal the eight touchdowns he scored as a rookie.

Cleveland’s Corey Coleman, Josh Doctson of Washington and Malcolm Mitchell of the Patriots are each later stage targets who have both the upside and opportunity to take bigger steps forward. In the case of Mitchell, his recovery from knee surgery makes him a deep sleeper worth an endgame play.

RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL REDBIRD

Cardinals pitcher Alex Reyes made his return to the mound on Wednesday, his first appearance since having Tommy John surgery in 2016. One of the game’s elite prospects, Reyes will cause a frenzy in leagues where he is eligible to picked up in free agency. Those looking to pursue the hard-throwing Reyes should proceed with caution as the Cards will treat him with kid gloves. There is strikeout potential there, but expectations need to be tempered.

Reyes’ return will also spark a run on trade proposals for those who own him in keeper/dynasty leagues. Reyes owners could sell high, especially if winning immediately is a priority.

SAY ”YES” TO BOWYER AT POCONO

Clint Bowyer has yet to win at Pocono Raceway, site of Sunday’s NASCAR Monster Energy Pocono 400. Bowyer ($9,400 at DraftKings, $10,600 at FanDuel) has 10 top 10 finishes in 24 career visits to the track, including a sixth-place finish last year.

Since a second-place finish at Dover, Bowyer has finished 15th at Kansas and 12th at Charlotte, breaking what had been a streak of four straight top 10 finishes. Look for him to have a solid outing as he stands a good chance to earn his first checkered flag at Pocono.

This column was provided to The Associated Press by the Fantasy Sports Network, http://FNTSY.com