Draft Strategy

Surprising Facts from the Last 15 Years of WR Breakouts

Investing in wide receiver breakout performances is the key to fantasy championships. This will be especially true in 2016 as ADP changes siphon some of the veteran value.

I’ve had good success in the past by selecting players with age-adjusted collegiate performance that wasn’t fully priced into their ADPs, but it’s always worth going back to the beginning and questioning those assumptions. Even if the general principles of my approach are right, I want to refine my strategy as much as possible.

In this three-part series on WR breakouts, I’m going to begin by describing the breakouts of the past 15 years. In Part 2, I’ll look at metrics like draft position, age, previous NFL production, and collegiate receiving market share to see what we can predict about breakouts. In Part 3, I’ll offer my list of the 7 Breakout Candidates You Must Own in 2016.

Before we begin, we must define our terms. Over the last 15 years, 200 PPR points have represented the approximate WR2 threshold. We’ll use that as our “breakout” line and consider any player who hasn’t reached it previously. When we look at predicting a breakout in Part 2, we’ll be concerned with total points, not thresholds, but this gives us a framework for beginning the conversation.1

Rookie Year Breakouts

PLAYERSEASWTDRAFTAGERookieYear 2
Odell Beckham Jr.20141981222297319.7
Anquan Boldin20032205423286.8124.6
Mike Evans2014231721245.1213.1
Michael Clayton20041971522244.369.4
Eddie Royal20081854222229.971.6
Kelvin Benjamin20142402823227.80
Mike Williams201021210123225.5160.4
Keenan Allen20132067621224.3179.3
Marques Colston200622525223221.8281.7
A.J. Green2011211423216.9301.8
Amari Cooper2015211421215.90
Julio Jones2011220622203261.8
Jordan Matthews20142124222202.2232.7
Sammy Watkins2014211421200218.8
Dwayne Bowe20072212323199.5230.2
  • 15 receivers broke out, including nine first round picks.
  • Two players were drafted outside the first 100 selections (Mike Williams, Marques Colston).
  • Of the 13 players to have played a subsequent season,2 eight managed 200-plus point seasons the following year.
  • Michael Clayton is the only first-rounder to break out as a rookie and then fade from relevance.

2nd Year Breakouts

PLAYERSEASWTDRAFTAGERookie YearBreakoutYear 3
Josh Gordon20132253321159.7314.454.3
Larry Fitzgerald2005218321185.4308199.6
Allen Robinson20152206121114.83040
Alshon Jeffery2013216452278.7283.6261.6
Brandon Marshall20072301192264.1282.2266.1
Calvin Johnson2008236222158.8282202.7
Jarvis Landry20152056322189.4268.450
Brandin Cooks20151892021139.3253.60
DeSean Jackson20091754922178.8253.4204.2
Hakeem Nicks20102082921161.7250.2232
Mike Wallace20101998423155.4249.2245
Koren Robinson200220592199.9237.6180.1
Randall Cobb2012192642168236.6106.1
DeAndre Hopkins20142142721144.2233329.1
Andre Johnson2004225322190230.2144.8
Jeremy Maclin20101981921154.5229.1179
Darrell Jackson20012018022160.2228.2174
Nate Burleson2004198712286.1227.568.2
Allen Hurns201519832923154.72270
Ty Hilton20131839223181221.9260.5
Rod Gardner20022131524145.7219.7159.3
Greg Jennings20071985223126.2217263.1
Kendall Wright20131962023148.6215.8169.9
Chad Johnson2002192362366.9215.6285.5
Dez Bryant20112202422136.5211.6301.7
John Brown20151799124147209.50
Percy Harvin20101842221188.5204.8263.5
Plaxico Burress200122682351.3202.8252.5
Michael Floyd20132201323113.2201.4167.2
Victor Cruz2012204329250291.8255.2
  • 30 players broke out, including 14 first round picks.
  • Brandon Marshall was the only drafted player selected after the first 100 picks.
  • Allen Hurns and Victor Cruz broke out as former UDFAs.
  • The six smallest rookie point totals were from Cruz (0), Plaxico Burress (51.3), Marshall (64.1), Chad Johnson (66.9), Randall Cobb (68), and Alshon Jeffery (78.7).
  • The three easiest players to target were Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, and Andre Johnson. All were Top 3 reality picks and scored 150 or more points as rookies.
  • Of the 25 players with a third season, 15 again returned WR2 value or better.

3rd Year Breakouts

PLAYERSEASWTDRAFTAGEPriorBreakoutSubsequent
Braylon Edwards2007215323186.1304.9160.7
Javon Walker20042202025166.7299.26.7
Demaryius Thomas20122292224111.6297.8318.7
Steve Smith20091955123120.427112
Eric Decker20122158724153.3269.4281.8
Sidney Rice2009202442253.1262.257
Marty Booker20012127824107.9261.6256.7
Lee Evans20062021324168.1259.2172.5
Roy Williams2006210724161.7255.2176.7
Santana Moss20032001623102.1250.5160.6
Laveranues Coles20021937824198.6249.3242.3
Steve Johnson2010202224233249.3218.4
Steve Smith20031857423155.5240.6118.9
Roddy White2007208272580.9239.2268.8
Chris Chambers20032105224149.9229.3205.9
Jerricho Cotchery20062031082344.5216.3210.4
Mario Manningham20101859523169.2208.6115.3
Ashley Lelie20042001923116.1204.9133.4
Torrey Smith20132055823185.6201.8191.7
  • 19 players broke out, including eight first round picks. Of the first-rounders, only two went on to become long term WR1s.
  • Only two receivers emerged from outside the Top 100 reality picks.
  • The smallest previous point totals came from Stevie Johnson (3), Jerricho Cotchery (44.5), Sidney Rice (53.1), and Roddy White (80.9).
  • The easiest players to target were Braylon Edwards and Roy Williams, both of whom had been Top 10 picks and scored well the previous year. Surprisingly, neither would have another 1,000-yard season.
  • Of the 19 breakouts, only eight returned WR2 or better value again the following year.
  • Of the disappointments, only Steve Smith has rebounded to be a long term WR1. Torrey Smith enthusiasts wait with bated breath.

4th Year Breakouts

PLAYERSEASWTDRAFTAGEPrior BreakoutSubsequent
Antonio Brown2013
18619524175303.45383
Jordy Nelson20112173625115.2284.3165.5
Wes Welker200718532925141.7280.9249.1
Miles Austin20092173292458.8278.8230.6
Drew Bennett200420632925107.1276.9156.1
Peerless Price20021905325196.2271.9166.1
Reggie Wayne20041983025193.8269.6218.5
Michael Crabtree20122141024185250.353.4
Mike Furrey2006185329290242.6133.4
Donald Driver20021942132645.5237.4130.4
Santonio Holmes20091922524168232.4164.3
Lance Moore20081903292480.923041.3
Hines Ward20012059224144.5226.6329.1
Peter Warrick2003192425152218.625.1
Vincent Jackson20082306124121.3217.7239.8
Deion Branch20051936525104.4207.8152.5
Donte' Stallworth20061971325168.4206.7140.5
Pierre Garcon201121020525186.2203.5133.6
  • 18 players broke out in Year 4, including seven players drafted outside the first 190 picks, five of whom were former UDFAs.
  • UDFA breakouts outnumbered former first rounders (4).
  • The smallest previous point totals came from Mike Furrey (0), Donald Driver (45.5), Miles Austin (58.8), and Lance Moore (80.9).
  • Six of the 18 players returned WR2 or better status the following year.
  • Six players in this group also went on to become long term WR1s.

Overall Results

  • 82 total players achieved our breakout definition during their first four years.
  • 37 of the 75 who have played a second season returned WR2 or better production the following year.
  • 23 of 38 first or second year breakouts returned WR2 or better production the following year. Only 14 of 37 third and fourth year breakouts returned.
  • Not counting rookies, 16 of 67 players scored fewer than 100 points in the year prior to breakout.
  • Three players scored 5 points or fewer before their breakouts, providing a glimmer of hope for Jeff Janis and Sammie Coates enthusiasts.
  • 35 were former first round picks. 8 were selected outside the first 100 picks. 7 were undrafted.

I find it helps to begin by reacquainting myself with the past as I try to get a handle on the future. Even a superficial exercise like this reminds us that breakouts come in all shapes and sizes, ages and production profiles. It also provides glimpses of insight. It appears we might want to target second-year players, and this is confirmed when we add in some of the predictive metrics in Part 2. We’ll look at that and a lot more next week.

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  1. Any player who breaks out for the first time in 2001 or later will be considered, regardless of when they entered the league.  (back)
  2. Amari Cooper will play his second season in 2016 and Kelvin Benjamin was hurt prior to the season  (back)
By Shawn Siegele | @ff_contrarian | Archive

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