Advice

The 8 Breakout Wide Receivers You Must Own in 2014

Image via The Football Educator ( http://www.thefootballeducator.com/ )

Image via The Football Educator ( http://www.thefootballeducator.com/ )

Locating breakout wide receivers may be the single most important aspect of fantasy football. It’s probably obvious on its face, but owners of Josh Gordon and Alshon Jeffery won a disproportionate number of leagues in 2013. As the WR position continues to take over the landscape – in large part due to the necessity of using a WR as your Flex – the search for more and more depth continues.

In past years I’ve focused on collegiate Dominator Rating and Height-Adjusted Speed Score to locate breakout candidates. This has been a key part of implementing the Zero RB strategy. Even when I select receivers early, I still tend to draft breakout receivers in the middle rounds (which often makes it a true Zero RB squad). Finding players like Gordon and Jeffery is also crucial to making a Zero WR approach function. If you build your roster around a RBx5 start, you need both value and upside in the middle rounds.

I’m expanding the search a little bit this season after further research bolstered the thesis underlying what I consider the Holy Grail characteristics at WR. Games Dominated will be added to DR. The Fantasy Douche has found games dominated to be a significant variable when trying to explicate why breakout age is the skeleton key. Freak Score, a metric which helps predict the all-important touchdown production, will replace HaSS. A slightly greater emphasis will be placed on age. I’ll also refer to the tremendous work done by the Intersect looking at what a player’s rookie season can tell us about his future prospects.

Must Own?

Fantasy leagues tend to be won as a result of selecting very specific second-year players. Most drafters rely on ADP and NFL draft slot to help locate such breakout candidates, but that obviously defeats the purpose. You want to locate those players who are being valued incorrectly, not those players temporarily buoyed by the mistakes of NFL personnel men. This is why NFL Draft analysis wins fantasy titles.

The list includes eight players not because you must own them all, but because you need to create exposure to these types of players without reaching. If our board only includes one or two serious targets, the temptation to grab them early could easily wipe out the value they will generate relative to ADP.

I’m going to focus on players entering their second and third years in the NFL. Anyone who has significant potential for a statistical leap that’s not priced into ADP will be considered, even players who’ve already performed well at the NFL level. (For an examination of rookies who might offer more value than expected, check out Who Will Be 2014’s Keenan Allen?)

The No. 1 breakout candidate for 2014 is undoubtedly Cordarrelle Patterson. In an attempt to rigorously critique my own pre-draft biases, I’ve explained why I think Patterson could be a Top 10 WR in 2014 even though I seriously question the narrative attached to him. But Patterson doesn’t make this list. His objective profile is still essentially one red flag after another. Moreover, his ADP is highly problematic. He’ll almost have to be a Top 10 receiver to deliver on his cost.

The 2014 Breakout Candidates

1.  Michael Floyd

Dominator Rating Games Dominated Freak Score Age
39 18 79 25.1

Floyd emerged to the tune of 1041 yards and five TDs as a sophomore. Although he’s easily the priciest player being considered for this article, he’s also the only one who combines a solid NFL resume, elite collegiate production, and a true WR1 size/speed profile. While a further statistical development is already built into his ADP, a jump into the 1,400-yard, 10-touchdown range is not. Based on his resume, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him included in the A.J. Green, Demaryius Thomas, Julio Jones tier next season.

How to Play It: While you can’t go much higher than his current ADP, Floyd is the type of player you should be hoping to land in the fourth round of every draft.

2. Rueben Randle

Dominator Rating Games Dominated Freak Score Age
41 11 57 23.7

Randle disappointed his enthusiasts with a 611/6 line in 2013, but plenty of room for optimism remains. In fact, Randle’s prognosis is so promising, he was one of my 10 Most Undervalued Dynasty Players. Evan Silva, Rotoworld’s ADP-making superstar scribe, even prefers him to Floyd.

 

 

Looking at his final year in college, Randle represented 41 percent of his team’s receiving offense. Although you shouldn’t get caught up in the exact threshold, big, young receivers with a DR north of .40 have a very strong track record of NFL success. Randle isn’t the same caliber athlete as Floyd, but he’s a year and a half younger. That may help explain his more relaxed progress at the NFL level.

How to Play It: Currently going off the board in Round 10, you have several rounds where you could “reach” to acquire him without a worry of overpaying.

3. Kenny Stills

Dominator Rating Games Dominated Freak Score Age
29 5 60 22.7

To help put Stills into context, his size/speed/production numbers make him very, very similar to Odell Beckham. Except Stills is slightly faster, has already authored an impressive rookie season, and plays with Drew Brees. Dan Schneier has explained why his role will likely expand in 2014.

How to Play It: There’s plenty of room for his ADP to run before any type of real breakout would be priced in. I’d take him in Round 9 any time.

4. Aaron Dobson

Dominator Rating Games Dominated Freak Score Age
13 12 76 23.6

Traditionally, it’s a very poor sign when a receiver’s market share numbers crater during his final collegiate season. Dobson’s 0.13 was atrocious and helps to obscure an early career breakout and 12 games dominated. Dobson’s Freak Score of 76 speaks to true WR1 upside. Currently rehabbing a foot injury, he represents one of the great ADP bargains in fantasy football. I just traded him away in the Iron Throne rookie draft for 4.03 (Christian Kirksey), 4.04 (Lorenzo Taliaferro), and a 2015 R2. And I could still easily regret it.

How To Play It: Dobson is currently being selected in Round 11, but his ADP should rise into the eighth round if he’s healthy for training camp. I’d try to pick him up in drafts where he falls to me at that price, but a Round 7 pick isn’t out of the question.

5. DeAndre Hopkins

Dominator Rating Games Dominated Freak Score Age
39 10 53 22.6

A lot of smart football people see Hopkins as more of a 2015 breakout candidate and Pat Kerrane echoes that sentiment. Hopkins himself has expressed dissatisfaction with the situation in Houston where he’ll be catching passes from Ryan Fitzpatrick. I can also see the argument for waiting on a guy with a very average Freak Score. Hopkins probably doesn’t possess Top 10 upside from a physicality perspective. On the other hand, his Dominator Rating, games dominated, and age help explain why Jon Moore loved him so much last season, and why I thought he should be the top pick in rookie drafts.

How To Play It: Hopkins’ ADP doesn’t leave a lot of room to maneuver, but you should take advantage of any blips that allow you a shot in Round 7, or preferably, Round 8.

6. Robert Woods

Dominator Rating Games Dominated Freak Score Age
26 8 51 22.7

I’m turning around a little bit on Woods. Although the overall profile suggests a slight overdraft by the Bills, his rookie year was encouraging. Quickly usurped by Marqise Lee for the No. 1 role at USC, it’s easy to forget Woods was actually the younger of the two players. With attention focused on Sammy Watkins, Woods could be the beneficiary.

How To Play It: I’d consistently add Woods in Rounds 12 and 13. Especially in ppr leagues, he represents an excellent risk-adjusted bet.

7. Justin Hunter

Dominator Rating Games Dominated Freak Score Age
27 5 62 23.6

We might be looking at a very different resume if not for the ACL tear that ruined Hunter’s sophomore season at Tennessee. Hunter was my 2013 RotoViz Dynasty League second round rookie pick despite concerns about his ability to translate athleticism into production. Hunter isn’t elite in any category, but the red flags aren’t such that you should completely ignore a guy with a 39.5-inch vertical who’s added 15 (possibly crucial) pounds in the offseason. As is the case with Patterson’s 72, his Freak Score of 62 might undersell his athletic ability.

How To Play It: Hunter’s ADP will probably bounce around a lot based on Jake Locker’s preseason and training camp performances. That kind of news is exploitable, in part because it’s usually meaningless. Take advantage of dips to select Hunter in Rounds 8 and 9.

8. Stephen Hill

Dominator Rating Games Dominated Freak Score Age
45 10 90 23.7

Hill has become something of a punchline, so it might surprise you to discover a handful of very bright fantasy minds – guys like C.D. Carter and Chad Parsons – are still buying up shares on the cheap. Hill’s market share numbers might be misleading due to the nature of the Georgia Tech offense, but there’s no mistaking his size/speed profile. Hill went for 89 yards and two TDs in his first NFL game and has been limited by various leg injuries ever since.

My extended thesis on Hill is included in the 10 Post-Hype Super Sleepers column. You probably won’t believe some of the superstars who are almost exact comps. Skeptics of the age-based theory of prospect development don’t place much stock in this, but Hill is younger than Cordarrelle Patterson, Tavon Austin, Markus Wheaton, and Kelvin Benjamin.

How To Play It: I was planning to select Hill late in the MFL10 of Death, but Carter plucked him in Round 15. Unless he becomes the clear starter opposite Eric Decker and tears up the preseason, that’s about where you should target him in all formats.

Not every trendy receiver will fulfill expectations. Here are 5 Breakout WRs Who Won’t Break Out in 2014
If you want to know which RBs fit our breakout metrics, try 7 Breakout RBs to Buy This Season.

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By Shawn Siegele | @ff_contrarian | Archive

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