It wasn’t that long ago when we, as NFL fans, understood it would probably take players two full years to acclimate to the NFL. Especially at the receiver position, the Year 3 breakout was when patience wore thin and expectations hit new highs.
Nowadays, society isn’t too fond of waiting on players to come into their own. However, that doesn’t mean Year 3 breakouts have gone by the wayside. And a Year 3 breakout typically leads to a nice, lucrative contract extension.
These are the third-year pros primed to breakout in 2022.
Jeudy was incredibly hyped entering the NFL out of Alabama. That’s what happens when you’re the youngest player in college football history to win the Biletnikoff Award, and you’re playing for the national title-contending Crimson Tide. As a rookie, Jeudy was good but didn’t quite meet the lofty expectations set for him, with 52 grabs, 856 yards, and three scores.
The big year was coming in 2021, right? Maybe. But we’ll never know because injuries derailed it. And now Jeudy has Russell Wilson throwing him the ball? HELLO. Plus, alpha wideout Courtland Sutton should be back to 100%, and his presence has gravitational pull on coverage.
Jeudy’s famously sharp route-running skills will get him open at the intermediate level and down the field for Wilson all season in what will amount to the leap we all saw coming.
Shenault has gone about his business in his first two NFL seasons without much attention or fanfare. He had 600 yards as a rookie and 619 yards in Year 2. Solid, but barely noticed.
In watching all of Trevor Lawrence’s drop backs last season, Shenault’s tremendous cutting skills and tackle-breaking ability were apparent every game. He forced 20 missed tackles in 2021, the second-most among all receivers in the NFL, behind only receiving triple crown winner Cooper Kupp. And Kupp forced 24 missed tackles on 145 receptions. Shenault’s 20 forced missed tackles came on 63 passes. Absurd.
If that doesn’t hint at a breakout, I don’t know what does. Sure, with Christian Kirk in the mix, there won’t be as many targets to go around on the Jaguars. I don’t care. Shenault has one of the most unique skill sets at receiver in football. Seriously. He’s 6-1 and almost 230 pounds with dynamite feet and feature back-like contact balance. Breakout for Shenault in Year 3. You heard it right here first. And, if the Jaguars are really bad again, maybe he’s a trade deadline acquisition for a contender.
Greenard had eight sacks in 2021. Of all the players on this list, he’s probably the closest to someone who’s already experienced a breakout. Thing is, on last year’s Texans, no one outside Houston noticed.
And Greenard didn’t just luck into eight coverage or cleanup sacks. On 215 pass-rushing snaps, he generated 27 total pressures. Small sample, yes, but that 12.5% pressure-generation rate is respectable and represents a noticeable uptick from his 5.3% rate as a rookie. Greenard looks the part too, like he was chiseled out of stone at 6-foot-3 and 263 pounds.
As a Year 3 bonus, Greenard will be able to pick the brain of longtime pressure-creator Jerry Hughes, recently signed by Houston. Greenard will be in a full-time role this season, so be prepared for 40+ pressures — 50+ wouldn’t surprise me — and around double-digit sacks.
Everyone remembers the last time we saw Davis on the field. Four touchdowns. He scorched the Chiefs in the off-the-rails divisional-round playoff extravaganza in Kansas City. To some, the eight-grab, 201-yard gem would be considered a “breakout.” And that’s not a crazy notion. Me, I need a larger sample size. You probably wouldn’t have guessed this, but Davis actually had fewer receiving yards in the regular season in Year 2 (549) than he had as a rookie (599).
He does have 18 total touchdowns on 84 NFL receptions to date (counting the postseason), so he’s proven he play a little bit. Now, as the Bills clear-cut No. 2 wideout, one of the only pure perimeter targets on the roster, Davis is aligned to have a massive Year 3 with Josh Allen throwing him rockets all over the field. He has a sixth sense to get two feet down on back-shoulder lasers down the sideline.
This is almost purely based on a pre-draft crush. Well, that’s not exactly true, Benjamin did show a spark as a receiver in his second season with 68 yards on eight receptions. On those grabs, he forced four missed tackles. Small sample, yes. But that equates to an encouraging elusiveness rate.
Now, at Arizona State, Benjamin was an absolute stud. One of my life’s greatest mysteries will forever be how and why Benjamin wasn’t picked until the seventh round in 2020. He caught 77 passes over his last two campaigns at Arizona State, averaged 5.0 yards per carry, and in 2019, he forced 62 missed tackles as a runner. His bounce and short-area quickness are standout traits. In Arizona, there’s James Connor and Damien Williams in front of Benjamin. That’s it. In Kliff Kingsbury’s spread offense, that provided plenty of room for backs to operate, Benjamin will thrive in Year 3.