You might have noticed we’ve latched on to a a couple of themes here recently: the importance of a prospect’s age, and how dominant the prospect was in college. At RotoViz, neither is a new idea. What is new, however, is the idea of wedding the two concepts into a unified perspective.
Essentially we’re looking at when a collegiate receiver posted their first significant Dominator Rating (DR). Consider a DR of 30% to be a threshold indicative of potential NFL success (DR is the average of a player’s percentage of team receiving yards and percentage of team receiving touchdowns). Now call the age when the player first crossed that threshold their “Breakout Age” (BOA). In general, the earlier the breakout age, the better. A 23 year college senior putting up “dominant” numbers against opponents 2 years his junior is less meaningful than an 18 year old true freshman putting up the same numbers against opponents 2 years his elder.
Though still evolving, a lot of good work has already been done. Jon Moore, Shawn Siegele, and The Douche have been the main players, and if you haven’t read (and re-read) their work, go do that first. Here’s a refresher:
- The Douche is responsible for the genesis of both ideas. In these two articles from last year, he took a preliminary look at the affect of age on the performance of rookie wide receivers.
- Dominator Rating is a Shawn Siegele devised metric, which also builds on the Douche’s work regarding market share for receivers. It’s the average of a player’s market share of receiving yards and market share of touchdowns.
- Jon Moore started looking more formally at the impact of prospect age in this article. About the same time, he shared with the RotoViz staff a database (still being built) to help track ages and other metrics for players current and past.
- This inspired Mr. Siegele to pen Three Holy Grail Components to Wide Receiver Evaluation, Early 2014 Wide Receiver Rankings, and finally, Why Breakout Age is the Skeleton Key.
- Mr. Moore followed with The RotoViz Skeleton Key: Picking Better WRs for Fantasy Football, wherein he explored the relationship between a player’s collegiate breakout age and NFL fantasy football production.
Interesting ideas, right, but what do they actually mean in practice? Never mind the implications for real teams drafting real players, let’s look at what it means for fantasy football. As I mentioned above, Mr. Moore’s recent article took you “from college to the pros” to see how players with different DR & BOA configurations fared. In this article, I’m doing the reverse: starting with successful NFL fantasy WRs, and looking back to see their collegiate DR and BOA.
Here’s what I did:
- Found the top 30 WRs (o.5 PPR scoring) for each of the past 5 seasons, for a total of 150 seasons (actually 149, because I’ll be damned if I can find stats for Donald Driver and the Alcorn State football program from pre-1999).
- With the help of Mr. Moore’s database, College Football Reference, College Football Stats, and collegiate program websites, reconstructed the BOA and DR for each of the 72 unique players in this data set.
- Two Notes: I’m not making any consideration, at this point, for when in the player’s NFL career these Top 30 seasons happened. They all happened in the past 5 years, but it could be the player’s 1st, or 10th season, for example. Also, for breakout ages: I’m using the player’s age on December 31st of the season in which the breakout happened.
Here’s what I found:
- 85% of the top 30 WR seasons over the past 5 years have come from a player who managed at least one collegiate season with a DR greater than 30%. Yes, that’s right. Only 15% of Top 30 WR seasons come from players who were not dominant college receivers.
- A majority (52%) of the Top 30 seasons came from players who had their college breakout by age 20.
- A full 75% of Top 30 seasons came from players who had their college breakout by age 21.
- Only 10% of Top 30 seasons came from players whose breakout came at age 22 or later.
Breakout Age of Top 30 WRs
|Breakout Age||# of Top 30 Seasons||Pct||CumPct of 30% DR WRs|
The moral of the story? An early breakout age is a huge part of predicting future (fantasy at least) NFL success. This chart shows the average fantasy points/game (FPG) produced by players with a given breakout age. The “zero” column are those Top 30 seasons compiled by players who never had a collegiate DR greater than 30%.
Notice the players with an older BOA performed less well? These older BOA players still made it into the Top 30. But compared to the rest of the cohort, they’re lagging behind. This suggests that age does matter, even if the player puts up a great DR.
This next chart helps illustrate that idea. This is the average DR posted by players at each BOA. Note that the players who broke out between age 19 and 21 had DRs higher than those that broke out at later ages.
So what are we seeing here? Younger WRs who post Top 30 fantasy seasons tended to have higher DRs than older WRs who post Top 30 seasons. In other words, the younger studs dominated their older peers both in college and the pros.
Consider this article the “Yang” to Mr. Moore’s “Yin”. Together they help demonstrate that both DR and BOA are crucially important factors in WR success. Over the past 5 seasons, over 85% of the Top 30 WR fantasy seasons came from players who posted a collegiate DR greater than 30%, and 75% came from players whose 30%-plus DRs came before age 21.
There’s a lot more to be done in this area, and look for the aforementioned Messrs Douche, Moore, and Siegele to do a lot of the heavy lifting. In the meantime, here’s a table showing the players included in this article, along with the number of Top 30 seasons they’ve posted, their collegiate breakout age, and Dominator Rating.
2009-13 Top 30 WR Seasons by Breakout Age & DR
|Player||# Top 30 Seasons||Breakout Age||Dominator Rating|