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How to Target the Right Fourth-Year WR Breakouts: 2 Solid Middle-Round Options and 1 Sleeper to Own Everywhere

Shawn Siegele looks at the history of fourth-year WR breakouts, discusses the key indicators of fantasy success, and provides three options for your 2019 fantasy football drafts.

We focus on WR breakouts by class because you’re looking for very different indicators depending on the amount of experience candidates possess. Yesterday, we found 3 Intriguing Late-Round Options for a Fifth-Year Breakout. Today, we highlight some higher profile fourth-year receivers.

What We’re Looking For

This is Part 2 of our look at fourth-year WRs. In Fourth-Year Breakout WRs: These Inexpensive Seasons Haven’t Come From the Players You’d Expect, we profiled the receivers since 2000 and discussed the key elements of their resumes. These were the two most important 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.

The Candidates

Using the RotoViz Screener, we’ll pull up a list of the major players who have not broken out through three seasons.

I’ve included fantasy points over expectation, because this ties into a key insight from The Wrong Read, No. 59. Earlier today, Blair Andrews published his research on receiver efficiency and breakouts. It will change how you draft your fantasy teams.


It turns out it doesn’t matter that much whether you’re looking for second-year breakouts or fifth-year breakouts or anything in between. In every year, WRs who break out tend to have positive efficiency in the previous season, while those who failed to break out did not.

This perhaps should not come as a surprise. Coaching staffs want to get their most efficient players more involved, and later-round picks – the exact players we’re looking for as fourth-year breakout candidates – do not continue to stick on NFL rosters without producing on their previous targets.

This helps us quickly eliminate Josh Doctson and Laquon Treadwell.1 Neither of these players appears to have a role in 2019, with Washington holding out hope that Doctson can be traded.

We can probably also remove Maurice Harris (-20.8 reFPOE) now that he’s been released by the Patriots. Chester Rogers (-0.1) was one of my preferred deep sleepers, but he faced a depth chart squeeze even before Andrew Luck’s retirement made the entire WR corps less palatable.

Sterling Shepard

Shepard’s resume and extremely inexpensive target projection will likely appeal more to value drafters than breakout chasers. He was a solid WR prospect with a poor height/weight/speed profile who posted a poor Phenom Score despite appealing raw stats. He’s paid off his second-round reality draft selection with three straight seasons between 11.0 and 13.5 PPG. His efficiency numbers are the definition of average. He projects as the clear No. 1 WR for the Giants but in a passing game that could be dreadful. Fantasy owners like him, but only after the fun players are off the board.

The Range of Outcomes app allows us to take his 2018 season and see what historically similar players have done. Maybe there’s a much more exciting scenario lurking underneath.

Or maybe Shepard continues to look perfectly average. Yesterday, Adam Humphries stood out among our fifth-year breakout candidates with multiple strong comps and a surprising high projection of 14 PPG. By contrast, Shepard’s median projection is the enticing one.

Rashard Higgins

Higgins has always been a RotoViz favorite after a prolific college career left him with market share numbers that are off the charts.

Although athleticism plays a smaller role for WRs than RBs, players who weigh less than 200 pounds and run 4.6 in the 40 have traditionally not transitioned well, especially when they are selected outside the first 100 picks. Still, Higgins’ career Dominator Rating above 35% puts him in rarefied air. KeeSean Johnson is off to a great start with the Cardinals, and his numbers pale by comparison.

Of course, we’re now four seasons removed from those years, and the most impressive thing Higgins has done is hang in the league and take small steps forward. He scored only 14 points as a rookie and watched that rise to 71 as a sophomore before jumping to 120 in Year 3. He finally looked like someone to reckon with over the last five games of 2018 when he reached double figures three times.

Higgins easily led our group with 36 reFPOE last year, and the four-game suspension to Antonio Callaway offers him a chance to lock down a starting role. The Browns spread the ball around, giving him a bigger opportunity than many No. 3 WRs. Neil Dutton uses the Projection Machine to detail just how lucrative that role could be, and if his 2018 connection with Baker Mayfield is any indication, he’ll turn those targets into points.

Geronimo Allison

Allison went undrafted following a college career that spanned Iowa Western Community College and the University of Illinois. He stuck with the Packers practice squad and then with the regular roster despite a one-game suspension and a stint on IR.

A trendy 2018 breakout candidate, Allison’s season was derailed by a concussion and groin surgery, but he posted double digits in four of his five appearances. He was ridiculously explosive in limited chances with Aaron Rodgers.


How To Play It

Over the last five days, Shepard has gone exactly where he should be taken at WR40. Emmanuel Sanders, Sammy Watkins, and Marvin Jones go immediately ahead of him. Courtland Sutton and Marquez Valdes-Scantling follow. These two second-year players are much more appealing from a breakout perspective but carry significantly more risk.

Allison goes at WR48, sliding below Larry Fitzgerald and a few more breakout candidates. He’s a trickier buy from an ADP perspective as a low-floor player. I prefer to play the Packers through Valdes-Scantling or the much cheaper fifth-year breakout option, Jake Kumerow. Given the upside in an Aaron Rodgers offense and Allison’s own connection with Rodgers, the best-case scenario is better than Shepard’s and your personal roster-construction preferences will come into play.

Higgins is the no-brainer of the group. A strong camp moved him into late-round consideration in August, but you don’t have to chase his ADP. You should also be adding him to your side as a throw-in when you execute Patrick Kerrane’s five dynasty trades to make now.

Deep Sleeper

Cort Smith profiles Chris Moore in his look at deep sleepers for the Ravens, and you can find all of Cort’s sleeper selections in 60 Deep Sleepers: Advanced Tiers, Risers, Fallers, and New Additions. It’s a must-read resource as you prepare for those crucial final rounds of your draft.

Image Credit: Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Rashard Higgins.

  1. Both players had serious red flags that RotoViz covered during their draft seasons.  (back)

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