From 2001 to 2013, fantasy owners watched as 19 third-year wide receivers hit 200 points for the first time. Over the following four years, only Davante Adams managed the feat, and buzz over the third-year WR breakout disappeared. Even during the earlier era, second-year receivers still held a sizable edge. They’ve now widened that lead considerably as NFL offenses scheme to unleash their highly-drafted stars as soon as possible. But as the Myth of the Third-Year Breakout WR is dispelled, it opens up other opportunities for savvy owners.
Last year we recommended drafting Tyler Boyd in the last round of every league, and he made us look good to the tune of a WR14 finish on 15.8 PPG. Boyd’s third-year breakout was an evidence-based pick that came from understanding some overlooked features of his resume and from realizing that the profiles are different for each breakout class. Understanding these profiles helps us refine our target list and find the best prices.
As we celebrate Independence over this holiday weekend, it’s a great time to catch up the fantastic Wrong Read column from Blair Andrews. In an absolute must-read, Blair has shown that WR breakout and age curves are not always what you’d expect. Blair and I use slightly different methodologies, but we get similar results with different breakout definitions. While third-year breakout candidates are not nearly as valuable as rookie breakouts for dynasty and not nearly as numerous as second-year breakouts for redraft, targeting these players still results in plenty of value.
Year 3 Wide Receiver Breakouts
- 21 players broke out, including eight former first-round picks. Of the first-rounders, only two went on to become long term WR1s (Demaryius Thomas, Roddy White).
- Unlike the fourth-year WR breakouts, a class which featured 10 members drafted outside the first 100 reality selections,1 only two third-year breakouts emerged from outside the top-100 picks.
- This cohort has heavily favored second- and third-round picks. Steve Smith, Eric Decker, and Davante Adams all went on to be stars, while Laveranues Coles, Chris Chambers, and Sidney Rice established themselves as strong options. Tyler Boyd will now look to continue this dominance.
- Excluding Boyd, nine of the 20 WRs hit the 200-point threshold again the following year.
- Of those who did not, only the Panthers’ Steve Smith rebounded to be a long term WR1.
- Among the busts, the subsequent seasons for Braylon Edwards and Roy Williams were shocking. Both had been top-10 picks and scored well the year before breaking out. They appeared ready to join the elite tier for the long term. Surprisingly, neither would have another 1,000-yard season.
- Most of the third-year breakouts put up solid point totals in the prior season, but Stevie Johnson (3), Jerricho Cotchery (44.5), Rice (53.1), and White (80.9) were exceptions. White then went on to score 200-plus points in six of the next seven years.
- Third-year breakouts have averaged 177 points the following year, similar to fourth-year breakouts (176) and above fifth-year breakouts (166). Their results lag well behind those of first- and second-year breakouts, both of which average right around 200 points.
How Did Our 2018 Recommendations Do?
I mentioned Boyd earlier, and he was one of our third-year headliners. Our other two top recommendations – Will Fuller and Sterling Shepard – also performed well, with Shepard notching 180 points and Fuller averaging over 15 PPG in his seven appearances.
But Boyd was the star. Here’s what I said about him a year ago.
You have to forgive me for holding out hope on Boyd. He was just that good in college. Positive indicators for NFL success were everywhere.
- Freshman breakout
- 43 percent career market share
- Ran for over 500 yards
- Notched over 1,300 return yards
- Declared early
- Top three comps from the Box Score Scout were Randall Cobb, Antonio Brown, and Stefon Diggs.
Readers who participated in our prospect workshops will recognize just how important those elements are. Boyd’s emergence wasn’t a fluke, and he remains a strong buy low in dynasty.
2018 didn’t feature a fifth-year breakout at WR, but Boyd partnered with our favorite fourth-year breakout candidate, Tyler Lockett, to give us two big hits before we get to the Year 1 and Year 2 classes. If you stacked Boyd and Lockett, your team likely cruised into the fantasy playoffs.
Who To Target in 2019
In Phase 2 of the WR Breakout Series, we’ll examine the individual candidates in detail, but we can already see the big picture coming together.
Chris Godwin, Corey Davis, Mike Williams, Dede Westbrook, and Zay Jones all scored within 20 points of each other a season ago, but they’re coming off the board at wildly diverging ADPs.
Davis entered the offseason as the most expensive of the group, but the signing of fifth-year breakout candidate, Adam Humphries, and the drafting of A.J. Brown has removed the last of his luster. Meanwhile, Godwin, a former third-round pick, and Williams, a top-10 pick who missed most of his rookie season, are on course for a 2019 liftoff.
There are questions about the passing offenses in Jacksonville and Buffalo, but it’s surprising to see the lack of enthusiasm surrounding Westbrook and Jones, two players who posted solid sophomore seasons in the NFL after prolific college careers. Meanwhile, the best package of breakout/price belongs to the receiver who came in 30 points behind Jones. We’ll discuss him in more detail in Part 2.
Image Credit: Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Tyler Boyd.
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- Nine of which came outside of the first 190 picks. (back)