How to find a wide receiver who’s poised for a breakout season


(AP Photo/AJ Mast)

We have seen it touted in fantasy football draft strategies for years: Target third year wide receivers in the mid to late rounds of your fantasy football draft because the third season is when a wideout typically has a breakout year.

Unfortunately, it isn’t true.

Sure, there are some receivers that have their breakout year during their third season, but over the past decade a larger percentage has peaked in Year 2, at least for fantasy football purposes.

Defining a breakout is not easy, and there is no “one size fits all,” but the definition I am using here is having the most fantasy points in that three-year window. And as you can see, it isn’t in Year 3.

Of the 125 wide receivers in the pool, 53 had the most fantasy points in Year 2, slightly more than the 49 in Year 3. If we widen the net a bit and look for “super breakouts,” where they score 100 or more fantasy points in a season than their previous best, there were nine of those instances in year two and 10 in year three. Marvin Jones of Cincinnati is a good example of a “super breakout.” He caught 18 passes for 201 yards and one touchdown (31 fantasy points) as a rookie and followed it up with a 51-catch, 712-yard and 10-touchdown campaign in his sophomore season (138 points).

So how do we identify who is going to break out? We can create a profile. Here are the average stats for receivers for the year prior to their breakout season, and it is almost the same for those who took a step forward in both years.

WRbreakout

If you combine to two profiles we are looking for a wideout who started four or five games, caught 27 passes for 366 yards and two touchdowns, on average. They also need opportunity, so let’s stick with those that are in the top four of the team’s depth chart at wide receivers. That leaves us with the following list:

  • Jarius Wright, MIN
  • Rishard Matthews, MIA
  • Jermaine Kearse, SEA
  • Mike Brown, JAX
  • Cole Beasley, DAL
  • Tavon Austin, STL
  • Chris Owusu, TAM
  • Ryan Broyles, DET

Two players I would target are Cole Beasley and Tavon Austin.

Beasley showed he was a capable slot receiver for Dallas, averaging 1.8 yards per route run last season and dropping just one pass. On passing plays he converted third downs 38.9 percent of the time when targeted last season, higher than Dallas did when they targeted another receiver (31.6 percent). He is currently listed behind Dez Bryant on the depth chart and could see his role expanded to beyond that of just a slot receiver.

Tavon Austin caught 40 passes for 418 yards and four touchdowns during his rookie year but the Rams’ first depth chart of the season lists him as the starting wideout.

Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said the team would be looking to expand Austin’s role.

“Moving him around to a lot of different spots,” Schottenheimer said. “You’ll see us hand him the ball, do some different things. He’s playing so much faster just because he knows what we’re doing. He has the system down cold.”

Neil Greenberg analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Fancy Stats blog and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd.
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