We spend a lot of time on breakout wide receivers. Selecting the right candidates can launch you into contention for $500,000. By contrast, grabbing members of the all-hype team will cost you a crucial pick in the middle rounds. I recently did a deep dive into the history of second-year WR breakouts, and my look at the second-year WR model will be published next week. Until then, here’s a quick hack that allows you to cut through the noise and draft the top candidates.
Don’t Overthink It – A Metric That Suggests Good Players are Good Picks
For my money, The Wrong Read is the most actionable analytics column on the internet. I’m biased, of course, but Blair Andrews’ research has helped me win a lot of leagues. That’s what it’s all about. If you want to win, don’t miss Blair’s work. It won’t come as a surprise that he’s provided a key hack to help you nail those second-year WR breakouts.
WRs who outperform opportunity-based expectations in their rookie years average almost 150 PPR points in Year 2. Those who fail to do so average less than 90 PPR points. This is a pretty big difference, considering the only thing that distinguishes one group from another is whether or not they score more fantasy points than we would expect based on their opportunities.
As I discussed on a recent episode of RotoViz Overtime, fantasy experts may be giving more casual players the wrong idea about volume versus efficiency. Volume is much easier to predict year-to-year, but the changes in volume are the exploitable areas. Expert ranks and ADP are not as effective at predicting year-end results as they would be if understanding prior year volume was the key to fantasy success. Instead, owners who employ contingency-based drafting and understand structural inefficiencies have the best outcomes.
Efficiency is tricky for several reasons. Big plays maintain a large role in efficiency results, and they’re exactly the types of plays that are most difficult to replicate.1 But there’s also another element. Coaches seek to minimize inefficient plays and maximize explosive ones. They should be trying to increase the volume of this second group – calling more plays for the most efficient players – until those efficiency numbers begin to balance out.
This desire to force feed players who were efficient as rookies is exactly what Blair found.
Now, one could argue that there is a simple reason for [these impressive fantasy numbers]: WRs who are efficient in their rookie seasons are given much more opportunity in subsequent seasons than those who are inefficient. This is true. But it’s also kind of the point. Players who show in their rookie seasons that they are able to convert their opportunities into excess yards and touchdowns are typically rewarded with more opportunities in Year 2 and Year 3, so we should be chasing these efficient rookie seasons.
Of course, this was not all that Blair found, and I’ll let you jump over to discover the rest.
Who We Should Target In 2019
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.
Seven of these 2018 rookies finished with positive fantasy points over expectation (FPOE), and six of them landed in the 10-plus range.
D.J. Moore (10.8 FPOE) – Moore’s ADP has exploded over the late summer, and you will have already profited handsomely if you took our recommendations from the spring. Cort Smith details the Hall of Fame rookie comps for Moore, while Curtis Patrick explains the metric that suggests stardom for the Carolina receiver. Moore was my fourth-round pick in the MFL10 of Death as I try to defend my title.
Christian Kirk (17.3) – Michael Dubner told you to buy Kirk before Arizona’s summer of love drove all of the Cardinals higher. Michael loved him during the draft process “due to his young Breakout Age (20.1), strong market share (28.1 percent), and impressive phenom index.” He’s another player with strong comps based on his rookie exploits.
Dante Pettis (28.5) – After an offseason of buzz, the training camp reports on Pettis have been critical of his performance. If competition from Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd keeps him from becoming a true breakout, it would fit with the red flags on his resume, including collegiate projection that had him over-drafted by the 49ers. Patrick Kerrane helps prepare you for what this would do to his dynasty value.
Tre’Quan Smith (26.5) – Smith was a RotoViz favorite, and he’s flying under the radar after an uneven rookie season. Although he impressed with a sweet double-move for a recent touchdown, the buzz is subdued for a player with wide open opportunity in a Drew Brees offense. If consistency is your concern, you probably shouldn’t worry about.
Anthony Miller (24.0) – When you’re drafting a senior wide receiver, you want him to be someone who averaged a 40% Dominator Rating over his final two seasons. Miller followed that up with an impressive rookie season where his FPOE finished in the 20-plus range despite playing through a serious shoulder injury. He’s a great value if you’re not concerned about the sprained ankle.
Robert Foster (24.7) – Foster falls into Tier 4 of Cort Smith’s second-year WR rankings, and whispers have him struggling to even make the Bills’ 53-man roster. That presents a buying opportunity. Kate Magdziuk explains why she prefers Foster to all of the options in Buffalo, reminding us that Josh Allen’s AYA when targeting Foster was nearly double that of any other receiver.
How to Play It
From a fantasy owner’s perspective, the best thing about this list is the way these options are spread across different sections of your draft. You can attack Moore early, grab Kirk and Pettis in the middle rounds, and then fill out your roster with Smith, Miller, and Foster.
With our targets spread throughout the draft, it’s easier to avoid the reach. That’s crucial. We know that Year 2 is the only campaign in which WR scoring jumps on average, but we don’t want to buy so early that the upside is already priced in.
Image Credit: Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Christian Kirk.
- Injuries and changes in teammates and scheme also play a large role in the efficiency that an individual player can generate in any given season. (back)