After the epic 2014 WR class, it’s not surprising that the encore disappointed, but the failure of that 2015 group partially explains the larger collapse at the WR position. Seventeen WRs were drafted between Amari Cooper and Stefon Diggs, and none of them have reached the 200-point plateau that roughly corresponds with a WR2 finish. That group includes epic busts like Kevin White, Breshad Perriman, Devin Smith and Dorial Green-Beckham. Fortunately, a solid group of post-hype candidates emerged in 2017, and they present a few intriguing possibilities for secondary breakouts.
Depending on your perspective, the 2015 class has been even worse than the opening implies. Cooper is coming off of his worst season, and Diggs hasn’t actually recorded a 200-point season, although he’s hit 190 twice and his career per game average (13.5) is well above the 200-point pace for a 16-game season. Former UDFA Tyrell Williams is the only other member of this class to reach 200 points, and he struggled during his encore season last year.
The remaining members of the class will look to join the 18 players who have broken out in Year 4 going back to 2000.
- 18 players broke out in Year 4, including eight players drafted outside the first 190 picks (five of whom were former UDFAs).
- UDFA breakouts matched former first rounders (5).
- 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.
- Fourth-year breakouts averaged 173 points the following season. This is similar to Year 3, quite a bit higher than Year 5, and much lower than the results for players who break out in their first our second campaigns.
This prevalence of undrafted players reminds us of an important trend that Blair Andrews investigated in WR Breakouts: How Long Should You Hold On?
It becomes increasingly difficult for late-round picks to stick on NFL rosters, and we want to take seriously the ones who do. Unfortunately, there aren’t many quality late-round options this season.
The Secondary Breakout Candidates
Devin Funchess and Nelson Agholor pop as the two most obvious candidates from the early-round reclamation section. They look similar to Donte Stallworth and Reggie Wayne, two players who emerged as third-year receivers before fully breaking out the following season.
Both players sport surprisingly palatable ADPs as their high TD rates have many projection systems selling the efficiency and worrying about volume. The Sim Scores aren’t as concerned, especially in the case of Funchess who sits at No. 12 overall.
I wouldn’t ignore the efficiency red flags, but I’m also not overly concerned about Agholor, an upside receiver who sports one of the highest volatility scores in the NFL. The No. 2 in Philadelphia caught a TD once every 12 targets last year, numbers he’s unlikely to repeat,1 but the former first-round pick has room to grow in the offense, especially with Alshon Jeffery’s health constantly in question. The Eagles have serious incentive to see what he can accomplish on more volume.
Funchess (WR42) and Agholor (WR46) went very late in the Apex Experts draft. At discounts to their 2017 production, you get the secondary breakout scenario free.
Small Receivers, Big Production
The 104th pick in 2015, Jamison Crowder was one of our breakout recommendations in 2016, and he almost reached 200 points with a WR30 finish that season. Instead of a further step forward, he struggled with a slow start that shaved a point off of his 2017 per game scoring.
Crowder is once again impressing in camp, and the volume situation looks encouraging. Using the Projection Machine to create his NFC East preview, Dave Caban puts him right at 200 points.
But perhaps my favorite fourth-year breakout candidate is Tyler Lockett.
Way back in 2015, prospect guru Jon Moore gave Lockett a chance to be the next T.Y. Hilton or Antonio Brown due to his college production, athleticism, rushing ability, and return prowess.2 Rushing and return usage are indicators of NFL upside, especially for smaller receivers, and it didn’t take long for Lockett to start making good on the potential. The former K-State record-breaker caught the imagination of the fantasy community as a rookie when he gained 628 yards and scored six TDs on only 65 targets.
Unfortunately, he capped a disappointing second season with a serious leg injury that kept him from ever feeling 100 percent during his third year. His TD rate fell to more realistic levels, and he lacked the volume to make much of an impression otherwise.
The pro-Lockett thesis depends a lot on how you see his injury. He finished up his college career with two seasons that combined for over 2,800 yards and 22 TDs. The Wildcats offense wasn’t the passing juggernaut of his Big 12 foes, so those were huge numbers in context.3
Those two seasons merged with his rookie exploits to put him on the fast track to stardom. Reports indicate that Lockett is back – which is certainly the angle you want from camp puff pieces – and the competition has mostly evaporated. Paul Richardson and Jimmy Graham are gone. Doug Baldwin is on the mend, but may not return as a star.4
Lockett isn’t exactly free – he went before Agholor in the Apex draft – but he’s not particularly expensive either.5
- He converted four of his 18 red zone targets into TDs after going 0-for-21 over his first two seasons. (back)
- This would have always been a ceiling projection, of course, but before you write off the comparison entirely, consider that, while Brown was solid in Years 2 and 3, he didn’t become Antonio Brown until his fourth season. (back)
- He crested 40 percent in final season market share. (back)
- Lockett is not 100 percent at this exact moment either, after being kicked in the leg in practice today. (back)
- I recently traded Brandin Cooks for Lockett and two future firsts in dynasty league. (back)