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
|Odell Beckham Jr.||2014||198||12||22||297||319.7|
- 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
|PLAYER||SEAS||WT||DRAFT||AGE||Rookie Year||Breakout||Year 3|
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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.