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4th-Year Breakout Wide Receivers: These Inexpensive Breakouts Haven’t Come From the Players You’d Expect

Shawn Siegele deploys the RotoViz Screener to provide all the key stats on fourth-year breakouts at the wide receiver position.

Fantasy leagues are won by rostering breakout players. This is also makes these players an obvious trap. How much sense does it make to go through your draft selecting players who haven’t been productive? In 20 Rounds of Death, I detailed each of my 20 picks and explained the rationale. As is usually the case, my team was younger than most rebuilding dynasty teams. This is almost always the case with my redraft teams. It’s how you win.1

But if we want to make our living with breakout players, we must understand breakouts – when they happen, why they happen, which players ascend, and which players find themselves out of the NFL. I’ve been penning the WR Breakout Series since the birth of RotoViz, and we’ve located a lot of breakout players in that time, while also helping you avoid trendy misses. In Part 1 of the 2019 series, we looked at the 5 Things You Need to Know About 5th-Year Breakouts. Today, we move to fourth-year breakouts and discover similarities and key differences.

Breakout Wide Receivers – Year 4

In the current version of the WR breakout study, a breakout season occurs when a player hits the 200-point threshold for the first time.2

Unlike the fifth-year breakout cohort that was on a five-year hot streak entering 2018, we hadn’t had a fourth-year breakout since Antonio Brown’s eruption back in 2013. After that lengthy cold spell, two new fourth-year breakouts joined the ranks in 2018.

PlayerYearDraftPriorBreakoutSubsequent
Hines Ward200192144.5226.6329.1
Peerless Price200253196.2271.9166.1
Donald Driver200221345.5237.4130.4
Peter Warrick20034152218.625.1
Drew Bennett2004UDFA107.1276.9156.1
Reggie Wayne200430193.8269.6218.5
T.J. Houshmandzadeh20042040199.9227.8
Deion Branch200565104.4207.8152.5
Mike Furrey2006UDFA0242.6133.4
Donte' Stallworth200613168.4206.7140.5
Wes Welker2007UDFA141.7280.9249.1
Lance Moore2008UDFA80.923041.3
Vincent Jackson200861121.3217.7239.8
Miles Austin2009UDFA58.8278.8230.6
Santonio Holmes200925168232.4164.3
Jordy Nelson201136115.2284.3165.5
Pierre Garcon2011205186.2203.5133.6
Michael Crabtree201210185250.353.4
Antonio Brown2013195175303.45383
Tyler Lockett201869118.3220.4NA
Stefon Diggs2018146198.2264.3NA
Average126.7244.0175.8

Takeaways

  • Of the 21 breakouts, nine of them were drafted outside the first 190 picks. Those players were no slouches going forward either. Six of them notched at least one more 200-point season.
  • The late-round breakouts easily outnumbered early selections. We have only five first-rounders in this group, and they also underperformed going forward. Only Reggie Wayne and Michael Crabtree managed another 200-point season.
  • Overall, seven of the 19 receivers who’ve played a fifth season went on to repeat their 200-point seasons the following year, but it was a bit of bad injury luck that the numbers weren’t higher. Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, Pierre Garcon, and Crabtree all returned to 200-point status in Year 6.
  • Fourth-year breakouts averaged 176 points the subsequent season, far below the level of rookie and second-year breakouts. Although these numbers are deflated by injury, the PPG numbers are also much lower than for receivers who break out earlier.

You can look at breakouts by seasonal points or PPG, and I use full-season points because it requires receivers to maintain excellence for the whole year and because using PPG doesn’t significantly change the outcomes. Only three players with a subsequent 200-point season would gain an earlier breakout by using a standard of 14 PPG with at least 10 games played. Two of those receivers are Santonio Holmes and Stefon Diggs,3 fourth-year breakouts who would move to Year 2.4 If you make that adjustment, the Year 4 cohort gets smaller while Year 2 swells even further.

Tyler Lockett was our top fourth-year breakout candidate a season ago, and his 220-point, WR16 season helped RotoViz subscribers make their fantasy playoffs. Back in 2015, we billed Lockett as the next Antonio Brown, and he overcame early-career injuries to emerge right on schedule.5

The Big Picture

As we saw with fifth-year breakouts, late-round picks are heavily represented. It provides a strong reminder of the privilege of draft position. High draft picks have to prove they can’t play, while late-round picks have to prove they can. Blair Andrews investigates these trends in detail for his series the Wrong Read and illustrates this dynamic in WR Breakouts: How Long Should You Hold On?

Many late-round picks never get a real opportunity to prove their worth, and are simply recycled the following season for the next crop of late-round flyers. We want to take special notice of those who avoid the yearly churn at the roster fringes. Instead of targeting former early-round picks in Year 4, make sure to keep your eyes on lower-profile players.

The Next Step

By understanding the differences in profile for receivers who break out at different experience levels, we can make sure to pay prices that reflect the likelihood of different outcomes. There isn’t much enthusiasm right now for Josh Doctson or Laquon Treadwell, and our study agrees with the lack of interest.

On the other hand, players like Geronimo Allison, Rashard Higgins, Chester Rogers, and Demarcus Robinson might be a little more intriguing than their ADPs indicate. Keep in mind, five of our fourth-year breakouts scored fewer than 100 points in the season before breakout.

Over the course of the summer, we’ll look at all of the breakout classes. Then in Phase Two, we’ll find the best 2019 candidates to crush draft position.

Image Credit: Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Tyler Lockett.

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  1. Breakout players have been the key to my fantasy philosophy since I started playing high stakes in 2008. Alshon Jeffery and Josh Gordon were the keys to my 2013 NFFC Primetime overall title – we covered both players extensively on RotoViz that season – and breakouts have been the key for my recent run in best ball.  (back)
  2. 200 points has historically acted as a rough cutoff for the WR2 tier. I discuss why I use this instead of PPG numbers a little later in the article.  (back)
  3. This is Diggs’ third consecutive season averaging 14-plus points per game. He’s not really the type of player we’re hoping to find with the analysis, although he did move into the back end of the WR1 tier in 2018. When we focus on Breakout Candidates in Part 2, our focus will be more on players about to make the jump.  (back)
  4. The other is JuJu Smith-Schuster, who would become a rookie breakout.  (back)
  5. Which is to say he broke out in Year 4 like Brown, but not to the same level. Dynasty owners certainly wish he’d scored more and earlier.  (back)

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