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2018 NFL Draft and the Importance of WR Breakout Age

Back in 2014, Shawn Siegele penned what I would consider to be one of the foundational pieces to RotoViz wide receiver prospect analysis. Put simply, he was able to show that breakout age is the skeleton key to WR evaluation. My goal in this piece is to re-emphasize the importance of breakout age, and how it greatly increases WR hit rates. Let’s get started.

Methodology

My process will be different than Siegele’s, but should still give us a great idea of the value of breakout age. Sean Slavin1 was able to hook me up with a dense college football player database. Using that, I pulled all WRs drafted since 2002 who:

  • Played their entire FBS career since 2000
  • Were drafted
  • Had a date of birth listed in the NFL database
  • Have at least three years of NFL experience2

In total, there were 247 WRs for me to use. I defined a WR a “hit” if they posted a season of at least 200 PPR points within their first three years in the NFL.3 I chose this because I did not want to penalize players who were not immediate contributors, but also wanted to be sure production occurred within a reasonable time frame.

For breakout age, I used the same requirement as Siegele’s original piece: a dominator rating of at least 0.30. Only four of the 42 players labeled a “hit” were drafted outside of the first 100 picks. As a result, it made sense to narrow the focus to WRs selected inside the top 100.

The Results

The initial and important takeaway is the value of a breakout at anytime.4

Top 100 Picks – Breakout vs. Non-Breakout

SplitHitsTotalHit %Average Draft
Breakout3510932.1%46.8
No Breakout32711.1%61.7

Though the overall hit rate for top 100 picks is roughly 27.9 percent, we can see that is heavily skewed towards the breakouts.  A WR breaking out at any time in their college career is about three times as likely to hit as one who did not. The relationship between breakout age and success increases even more when we split the data by age of breakout.

Top 100 Picks – Breakout Age

SplitHitsTotal%Average Draft
BA <=20183946.2%38.1
20 < BA <= 21123435.3%46.4
21 < BA <= 2242119.0%52.3
BA > 221156.7%62.3

As you can see, there is a direct relationship between the age of a breakout, and the likelihood of that player being a hit. Players who break out by their 20th birthday hit at a rate of 46 percent! Meanwhile, just one of 15 players to break out after their 22nd birthday have managed to find success.

Conclusion

Both the binary result of breaking out and age of breakout appear to be baked into draft position, but are nonetheless important. Non or late breakouts are still taken early in the draft, and it will be important to identify and avoid these players where possible. And since we don’t have draft position at this point in time for the 2018 WR class, it’s one of the better indicators we can use of potential success at the next level.

  1. Slavin wrote that one thing that one time for RotoViz but is also someone I work with at TwoQBs.  (back)
  2. This eliminated players drafted in 2016 and 2017.  (back)
  3. 200 points is roughly the end of the WR2 tier and is the same level Siegele has used in his recent studies of WR breakouts, including 99 WR Breakouts in 16 Years.  (back)
  4. All four of the hits taken after 100 had a breakout.  (back)

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