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Year 2 Breakouts Still Happen Earlier (Well, Younger) Than You Think – The Wrong Read, No. 57

Welcome to the 57th installment of The Wrong Read. Filling your team with QBs and TEs (and RBs and WRs) entering Year 2 appears to be an easy way to improve your win rate. But obviously not every Year 2 player will break out. Simply loading up on players going into their second year does expose your team to massive breakout potential, but also to a lot of players who will do nothing. However, if you’re looking for a simple way to supercharge your Year-2-centric teams, read on.

We know that Year 2 is the season to target for breakouts at almost every position.1 But this ignores a player’s age, which we’ve found elsewhere to be extremely important. And it turns out, factoring in age makes a big difference here too. While players entering Year 2 are the only group to see an increase in fantasy scoring, this effect is heightened for players who were 21 years old as rookies, both for TEs:

And for QBs:

Both 21-year-old TEs and 21-year-old QBs see massive spikes heading into their age-22 season (which is always Year 2) — and these are the only seasons at which we see these large spikes.2

QB Breakouts and Rookie Age

Looking at rookie age also helps improve expected breakout rates. At QB, 21-year-old rookies who were drafted in the first round have a QB1 season in Year 2 40% of the time.

22-year-old rookies are almost as productive, and the rates drop below 15% past at age 23 and above.

This is encouraging for many of the rookie QBs drafted in the first round last year, as Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, and Lamar Jackson all played their rookie seasons at age 21. Both Darnold and Jackson also had strong finishes to their rookie seasons that suggest more good things may be on the way.3

Josh Allen was a 22-year-old rookie, and also looks like a strong bet to improve in his sophomore season. Baker Mayfield is being drafted as if a Year 2 breakout is already a sure thing, despite being the lone 23-year-old among 2018’s crop of first-round QBs. The good news is that Mayfield was just a few spots away from a top-12 finish even though he only appeared in 14 games. He doesn’t need to improve that much from his rookie season to break out in Year 2.4

TE Breakouts and Rookie Age

At TE, the advantage for 21-year-old rookies is just as clear, but things get a little murky after that.

A trendline superimposed on the graph above would move down and to the right, making the relation between rookie age and breakout rate appear linear. But that’s only because of the huge advantage enjoyed by 21-year-old rookie TEs, who break out at almost a 60% rate. If you remove the youngest group of TEs, the trendline would move in the other direction, suggesting older rookies are better. So what’s going on here?

TE Breakouts and Early Declare

It’s possible that the important variable here isn’t actually age, but experience — namely collegiate experience. The difference between 21-year-old rookie TEs and all other ages is that every 21-year-old rookie declared early.5 This is more good news for a few 2018 rookies, because not a single 2018 rookie TE was a 21-year-old rookie. However, two of the four TEs drafted in the first 100 picks did declare early for the draft. The bad news is they were both drafted by the same team.

Although both were among the older rookies drafted, Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst go into Year 2 as the only top-100 picks who declared early. Andrews was 23 during his rookie season, and Hurst was 25. It’s nearly impossible for both to have breakout seasons in 2019, and the smart money appears to be on Andrews. But in the event of an injury, Hurst could have the breakout year drafters are expecting from Andrews. There are probably worse options available at the end of your draft.6 If you need another reason to consider Hurst, bear in mind that Shawn Siegele wasn’t too proud to select him in the final round of the MFL10 of Death.

Image Credit: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Lamar Jackson.

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  1. Early-drafted RBs break out more often in their rookie seasons, and early-drafted WRs break out just as often in Year 1 as Year 2.  (back)
  2. Pay no attention to the spike at age 43 — the only thing this tells us is that Vinny Testaverde was better in his age-44 season than his age-43 season.  (back)
  3. Rosen is coming off a disastrous rookie season, is already playing for a team other than the one that drafted him, and has not been prettified by early camp reports.  (back)
  4. Whether a small improvement would be enough to make him a value at his lofty ADP is another matter.  (back)
  5. I don’t currently have early declare data for TEs, otherwise I’d look at that specifically. But there’s good reason to believe the effect is similar for TEs as it is for WRs.  (back)
  6. It’s worth remembering that Hurst was drafted two rounds ahead of Andrews, and also saw more targets per game with Jackson under center than Andrews did (though Andrews had more yards and fantasy points).  (back)
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