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5 Things You Need to Know About 5th-Year Breakout WRs

Shawn Siegele provides all the key stats you need to know about fifth-year breakouts at the wide receiver position.

Fantasy leagues are won by rostering breakout players, but it’s obviously not as simple as going through your draft and selecting players who haven’t been productive to that point. Reaching for unproductive players and being overweight on trendy breakout candidates is a quick ticket to last place.

In order to make sure we’re targeting the right breakouts at reasonable prices, we want to research the history of WR breakouts and have accurate expectations.

Fifth-year breakouts at WR can be especially valuable because of their low prices heading into the breakout season. On the other hand, there are clear pitfalls to targeting this smaller breakout group. Today, we discuss everything you need to know to take advantage.

Breakout Wide Receivers – Year 5

In the WR breakout study, a breakout season occurs when a player hits the 200-point threshold for the first time.1 Heading into 2018, there had been five consecutive seasons with at least one fifth-year breakout, giving us a total of seven players over that span. That compared favorably to the period from 2000 to 2012 which featured only seven fifth-year breakouts.

The 2018 candidates were relatively weak as a group, and the injuries to Paul Richardson and Marqise Lee made it even weaker. At other experience levels, last year was big for breakouts. Seven of the 22 receivers with 200-plus points hit that threshold for the first time, and we had first, second (2), third, fourth (2), and sixth-year breakouts. Year 5 was the only experience level that missed.

We did, however, get some good news for the fifth-year group, as 2017 breakout Adam Thielen posted 307 points, the most subsequent-year points for any fifth-year breakout.2

PlayerYearDraftPriorBreakoutSubsequent
Joe Horn2000135137.6277263.9
James Thrash2001UDFA135.5200176.1
Derrick Mason200198182.6239.8210.2
Jerry Porter20044771217.4199.4
Shaun McDonald200710632.6209.574.2
Kevin Curtis200774110.322484
Laurent Robinson20117579205.849.2
Julian Edelman201323267247.7222.6
Brian Hartline2013108188.3201.698.4
Brandon LaFell201478143.2212.614.2
Emmanuel Sanders201482179.5299.8228.4
Doug Baldwin2015UDFA167.3268.9249
Rishard Matthews2016227133.6213.5156.2
Adam Thielen2017UDFA197.2243.8307.3
Average130.3233.0166.7

Key Takeaways

  • Only one of the 14 players was selected in the first 50 picks. Eight were selected after pick 100 or not at all.
  • Nine of those players had just changed teams.
  • The six receivers with the highest point totals in their breakout seasons went on to repeat their 200-plus point seasons. Each of them established himself among the upper echelon of fantasy WRs. The other eight did not repeat in the subsequent year. No players from that group have ever posted another 200-point season.
  • The fifth-year cohort is the smallest group of breakout receivers with four fewer than the rookies. The Year 2 through Year 4 breakout classes all have 20 or more.
  • Fifth-year breakout WRs also have the worst subsequent-year performance. Their average of 167 points is more than 30 points below the subsequent-year performance for those who break out in Year 1 or Year 2.

What If We Include WR3 Performance?

Blair Andrews has done the heavy lifting on this, looking at all breakouts to WR3 status stretching back to 2000. His results reinforce our findings.

Breakout rates for highly-drafted players plummet after Year 2, but we see a jump in Year 5 for late-round picks. Receivers who stick around on NFL rosters despite not being priority draft picks are often ready to finally break out at this juncture, and it’s likely no coincidence that Year 5 is frequently their first opportunity to change teams.3

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. Although we need to investigate the individual candidates in greater detail – we’d certainly want to know key elements like opportunity and price before committing – we’re perhaps now more enthusiastic about Adam Humphries and less enthusiastic about Devin Funchess.

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: Rich Gabrielson/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Emmanuel Sanders.

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  1. 200 points has historically acted as a rough cutoff for the WR2 tier.  (back)
  2. Thielen spent his first season on Minnesota’s practice squad.  (back)
  3. It’s worth noting that four of our six stars from the fifth-year breakout group did so with their original team. Overall, receivers who change teams are not a good bet to maintain their fantasy production.  (back)
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