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If You’re Not Targeting Second-Year Breakout WRs, You’re Giving Away the Biggest Edge in Fantasy: 7 Things to Know

From 2001 to 2018, 34 wide receivers hit 200 points for the first time. If you think a rate of almost two a year is impressive, consider this: Since 2010, 22 WRs have broken out during their second years, more than any other breakout class has managed during the entire 18-year window. While fantasy owners used to believe in the third-year WR breakout, savvy owners know to target receivers for that second-year jump.

Capitalizing on second-year breakout WRs has always been a cornerstone of what we do at RotoViz. In our debut season of 2013, we recommended Josh Gordon and Alshon Jeffery. They went off the board at WR34 and WR44 respectively before exploding for 314 and 284 points. The reverberations were felt throughout the fantasy community, and if you owned them both, it was almost impossible not to win.1

We’ve continued to hone our WR models through the years, and you can see the value of evidence-based picks in our results. In 2018, Tyler Lockett paid off as our favorite fourth-year breakout candidate, while Tyler Boyd was the third-year breakout player we wanted to own in every league.

The results were even better with the second-year breakout model. It showed JuJu Smith-Schuster as a value despite his lofty ADP, and he added 105 points to his rookie total. Among less established players, three of our four recommendations hit. Kenny Golladay put up 207 points, Cooper Kupp averaging 16.9 PPG, and Chris Godwin making a 93-point jump to WR26.

More Ammunition for the Second-Year Breakout Thesis

My research on breakout WRs fits with the excellent work from Blair Andrews in the Wrong Read. He examines this question from a slightly different perspective and also finds that second-year WRs represent the best breakout opportunity.

With that in mind, let’s break down all 34 second-year breakouts and discuss the trends we see for breakout players at the position.

Year 2 WR Breakouts

PlayerYearDraftRookieBreakoutSubsequent
Darrell Jackson200180160.2228.2174
Plaxico Burress2001851.3202.8252.5
Koren Robinson2002999.9237.6180.1
Rod Gardner200215145.7219.7159.3
Chad Johnson20023666.9215.6285.5
Andre Johnson20043190230.2144.8
Nate Burleson20047186.1227.568.2
Larry Fitzgerald20053185.4308199.6
Brandon Marshall200711964.1282.2266.1
Greg Jennings200752126.2217263.1
Calvin Johnson20082158.8282202.7
DeSean Jackson200949178.8253.4204.2
Hakeem Nicks201029161.7250.2232
Mike Wallace201084155.4249.2245
Jeremy Maclin201019154.5229.1179
Percy Harvin201022188.5204.8263.5
Dez Bryant201124136.5211.6301.7
Victor Cruz2012UDFA0291.8255.2
Randall Cobb20126468236.6106.1
Josh Gordon201333159.7314.454.3
Alshon Jeffery20134578.7283.6261.6
Ty Hilton201392181221.9260.5
Kendall Wright201320148.6215.8169.9
Michael Floyd201313113.2201.4167.2
DeAndre Hopkins201427144.2233329.1
Allen Robinson201561114.8304197.3
Jarvis Landry201563189.4268.45233.5
Brandin Cooks201520139.3253.6246.3
Allen Hurns2015UDFA154.7227100.7
John Brown201591147209.5103.7
Tyrell Williams2016UDFA17216.9139.8
Robby Anderson2017UDFA116.9200160.4
JuJu Smith-Schuster201862191.7296.9NA
Kenny Golladay20189694.6207.1NA
Average128.5242.1200.2

Takeaways

  • 34 players broke out, including 14 first-round picks, nine second-round picks, and six third-round picks.
  • Brandon Marshall was the only drafted player selected after the first 100 picks.
  • Victor CruzAllen HurnsTyrell Williams, and Robby Anderson broke out as former UDFAs.
  • 16 of the breakouts improved their scores by at least 100 points.
  • Josh Gordon (314), Larry Fitzgerald (308), and Allen Robinson (304) all scored over 300 points. This is more than the other four breakout classes combined.
  • Of the 32 players with a third season, 17 again returned WR2 value or better. It’s been a poor recent stretch, however. Five of those who did not were from the last three seasons (Robinson, John Brown, T. Williams, Hurns, and Anderson).
  • Second-year breakouts score an average of 200 points the subsequent year, a big jump from the third-fourth-, and fifth-year breakout classes.

After analyzing the trends, you can see why we put so much emphasis on looking at the different classes as unique groups. Each breakout class is different in terms of the types of players we should be targeting, the indicators that help predict their breakouts, and their average subsequent values.

We still have rookie breakouts upcoming, but the interaction between experience and draft position is the biggest takeaway from looking at the second- through fifth-year breakouts. This again fits with Blair’s research.

These results are intuitive. The players with the most early opportunity – especially if you assume that they’re drawn from the group with the most talent – break out earliest, with the late-round survivors breaking out when they finally force teams to take them seriously. But even though the results are intuitive, they’re also dramatic. If you believe in a player drafted in the first two rounds, you should expect him to break out during his first two seasons or not at all.

There is a real immediacy here. If you miss the breakout, you’ll subsequently be required to pay prices that represent more downside than upside.

Who Are the Top 2019 Candidates?

As we’re doing for each breakout class, we’ll dive deep into the breakout indicators in Part 2. Today, let’s grab a handful of appealing candidates and take a quick look at July pricing.

Excluding Calvin Ridley who crested 200 points as a rookie, 2018 featured eight rookies who scored 100 or more points. Three other names are likely also of interest.

D.J. Moore finished with a monster projection in our rookie model a year ago, and he’s a priority target for most RotoViz writers. Curtis Patrick points to one metric that loves Moore,2 while Cort Smith notes that his rookie-year comps are littered with Hall of Famers.

Anthony Miller, Dante Pettis, Tre’Quan Smith, and Robert Foster all carved out lower season-long target market shares, but used those targets to record impressive efficiency numbers, all of them posting 20-plus reFPOE.

What do they currently cost?

  • Antonio Callaway’s ADP cratered with the acquisition of Odell Beckham. He’s still an interesting stash, but his volume is expected to decline after last year’s difficulty with drops led to poor efficiency numbers.
  • Christian Kirk’s summer rise has corresponded with increasing enthusiasm surrounding the Cardinals offense. He’s still a strong value, but folks who bought when Michael Dubner issued his buy advice this spring have already seen a big profit.
  • Miller looks like the best pure value play. There are some red flags in his profile that we’ll discuss in Part 2, but the Bears don’t have much competition for WR targets and his rookie season was impressive even before you factor in the serious shoulder injury.

  • Dante Pettis and Keke Coutee missed time as rookies but enjoyed scalding hot stretches when on the field. Neither generated the collegiate production you’d like to see in an elite breakout candidate, but they both possess plus-athleticism and front office hype.
  • Reports that Marquez Valdes-Scantling was the favorite to emerge as the No. 2 in Green Bay have pushed his ADP toward the single-digit rounds, a steep climb from an April low well outside the top 200.

Stay Tuned for Part 2, but be sure to check out Cort Smith’s series looking at the closest comps for each of the 2018 rookie WRs. You’ll also want to check out the Wrong Read No. 49: Does Rookie Efficiency Matter? I included those numbers in the above table for a reason. You’ll be shocked to discover that some of the things you’ve been told about efficiency and volume might not be as true as you’ve been led to believe. (It’ll also help you locate some serious breakout upside.)

Third-Year Breakout WRs: 8 Stats You Need to Know and Why 2019 Is Loaded With Candidates
Fourth-Year Breakout WRs: These Inexpensive Breakouts Haven’t Come From the Players You’d Expect
Fifth-Year Breakout WRs: The Underdog Success Stories That Win Fantasy Leagues

Image Credit: Steven King/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Kenny Golladay.


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  1. Their presence powered my high stakes teams to a 1-2 finish in the NFFC Primetime.  (back)
  2. Curtis loves Moore and is drafting him everywhere but actually has one of the worst ranks for him among our ranking team.  (back)

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