A cliché thrown around on #FFTwitter and throughout the community is that wide receivers take time to develop. Somewhere along the way, it was decided that in year three of their careers, a wide receiver would be rounding into form. While that may have been the case in the past, more recently we have seen productive wide receivers early in their career and some have attempted to squash that narrative. I took a look at some recent data to attempt to debunk the belief that the third year unlocks production for receivers. We’re here to debunk the idea of a third-year breakout.
The Breakout Data Set
Before we get into findings, we always must first define the criterion. I only looked at wide receivers drafted from 2015-2019 that had at least 250 receiving yards in their rookie season. Including all receivers would have given us a huge data set consisting of many players that never make an impact nor are expected to do so. That lone criterion gave us a data set of 62 wide receivers.
Next, I needed to define ‘breakout.’ You could use an arbitrary number of receptions, or receiving yards to determine whether a player ‘broke out’ or not. However, I chose to use points per reception (PPR) points per game as my data point. In the end, all we care about is whether a player is producing for our fantasy teams. How they score those points, whether that be lots of receptions, receiving yards, or touchdowns, doesn’t exactly matter.
When determining the threshold for PPR points per game, I chose 12.5 as the baseline of a ‘breakout.’ Why? From 2015 – 2019, the overall WR24 averaged 12.5 points per game. While a WR2 season may seem like a weak definition of a breakout, when considered in totality of all of the wide receivers, finishing as a top-24 fantasy producer is still very impressive. From a fantasy standpoint, finding as many of those players that will return at minimum a top-24 season is extremely beneficial.
Breakouts Themselves Are Not Common
Despite the recent success of rookie wide receiver classes of 2019 and even 2020, it is important to remember that are a lot more misses than hits. Of the 62 wide receivers in the data set, only 24 achieved a top-24 season (so far, at least), good for a 39% hit rate. We can examine a number of factors that help us predict which players may breakout. But there is a good chance we will be wrong more than we would like to admit.
When Does The Average Breakout Occur?
As of late, breakouts have been occurring in a player’s rookie or second season. There have been 24 players drafted from 2015-2019 that achieved a WR2 season for fantasy. Of those 24:
- Eight broke out as rookies (33%)
- 11 broke out in year two (46%)
Simple math shows that nearly 80% of the breakouts from our data set come in the first two seasons of a player’s career. Viewed in the totality of the data, 19/62 is still only 31%.
What About the Rest?
There were only five players that broke out in year three or beyond. Those players:
- Tyler Boyd (Year 3)
- Will Fuller (Year 3)
- Chris Godwin (Year 3)
- Corey Davis (Year 4)
- DeVante Parker (Year 5)
So far, Davis and Parker have only achieved ‘breakout’ status once. So it remains to be seen if waiting on them eventually pays off with year over year success.
Who Are We Giving Up On?
While we attempt in fantasy football to find advantages anywhere we can, I tend to use data to drive my actions as to what is MOST likely to occur. Does that mean I miss out on players like Boyd, Fuller, and Godwin? Absolutely. I have zero Curtis Samuel shares and as a result ‘missed’ out on his Year Four breakout in 2020.
However, I also was not holding on to names like Devin Funchess, Corey Coleman, Zay Jones, or Anthony Miller (all early round NFL Draft picks, to note) waiting for a breakout. Had you waited on third year breakouts for these specific players, you would have enjoyed an average season of 60 targets, 36 receptions, 400 yards, and 6 PPR points per game. Not only did you waste a roster spot. But you now have held onto an asset that has seen a drastic decrease in value.
Wide Receivers to Cut Loose
Using the data I have, some of the receivers I would look to move away from and recoup value while I can:
- Anthony Miller – I doubt anyone would categorize themselves as a Miller ‘truther,’ however, if Allen Robinson leaves Chicago the narrative could be that Miller will step into a larger role. If that results in any perceived value increase, I would trade him in a heartbeat.
- Allen Lazard – while he did not make the cut on this data set due to a rookie year in which he only played in one game, his decent 2020 season (nearly 10 PPR points per game) could have people intrigued by his future. The time to move off Lazard was earlier this season. But if you missed your opportunity, I would jump on the next chance.
- Mecole Hardman – I have never personally been a Hardman fan. But putting personal bias aside he remains a player to cut loose. Hardman has seen marginal improvement from year one to two, so one could wonder if the magical 3rd year would result in a breakout. I will not be wondering that, nor will I be hanging around to find out.
- Marquise Brown – again, another player I never particularly liked, and again, another player that actually saw improvement from year one to two. With solid production down the stretch of 2020, Brown’s value is surely going to rise some this offseason. I would take advantage and get out from under Brown. A consensus early-mid 2nd round rookie pick in 2019, I would look to recover equal value in a trade. You may miss out on a future Will Fuller, but you could also be sitting on a perennial WR3 waiting for a breakout that never occurs.