Why the 3rd Year WR Breakout Theory Might Not Hold True Pt. 2

In part 1 of the 3rd year WR breakout theory, I broke down the receiver data from the past 5 seasons (3 rookie classes), and determined that their breakout actually took place more often in year 2.

I also suggested that this season may spark the 3rd year breakout renaissance, but we’ll get into that in a little later.

*Note* If you didn’t read part 1, you’re probably going to lose this season. Studies have shown that people who read my articles perform 80% better in their leagues than those who don’t.

Ok, I made that up, but there’s also nothing to prove otherwise. So technically, it’s kinda valid.

Moving on.

While the data suggests that in recent years receivers have actually had their breakout season in year 2, there are numerous factors which contribute to the trend. Most of the players studied played a significant role in year one, saw a nice jump in year 2, then slightly regressed in year 3. After sifting through some thoughts, I settled upon the most feasible notion: they caught everyone’s attention by the end of year 2.

The 1st class studied (2012) featured T.Y. Hilton, Alshon Jeffery, Kendall Wright, Michael Floyd, Josh Gordon… Not a bad group. Then, 2013 actually provided the highest percentages of 1st year breakouts, and produced seven 500 yard rookies. But, those seven fall second to the ten 500 yard finishes from the 2014 rookies, and you may have heard of a few of those guys: Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans, Sammy Watkins, Brandin Cooks, Davante Adams… Arguably, the most talented receiver class we’ve seen in… Ever.

Alright, so they’re talented cats, playing significant roles in the offense early, and defenses adjusted by the 3rd year… What’s the point?

Well, while the 2016 rookie class (this year’s 2nd year breakout candidates) produced seven 500+ yard receivers, two of them – Sterling Shepard, & Tajae Sharpe – are likely to see a decrease in targets due to their team’s off-season acquisitions, Tyler Boyd benefited from the injuries to A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert (and the Bengals drafted John Ross), and Will Fuller suffered a broken collarbone in camp.

That’s 4 of the top 7 second year guys, and there’s only one who didn’t reach the 500 yard mark in 2016 that is likely to put up at least 750 yards this season… Corey Coleman.

Point being, if Chester Rogers goes from the 273 yards and 0 TDs he put up in year 1 to 437 yards and 3 TDs this season, who cares? It’s not likely to make a difference for your fantasy teams (unless you’re in an AFC South only league), and given the circumstances, the majority of the 2016 rookie class will likely fall under this umbrella – outside of the guys mentioned in part 1, of course.

Basically, what I’m saying is, the newfound 2nd year breakout theory is… well… shifting back to the 3rd year breakout theory. I guess now would be the right time to circle back to the aforementioned 3rd year breakout renaissance.

Since looking forward to next season’s potential breakout candidates won’t help you prepare for this year’s draft in the slightest, I’ll instead point out that this year’s crop of 3rd year receivers is looking like they might just get the renaissance started a year early.

The talent is there. The opportunity is there… It’s probably wise to hold on to the 3rd year theory for at least one (two) more season(s). Besides, data is overrated.

Here’s who I’ll be targeting in my upcoming drafts:

1. Willie Snead – NO

1st, 2nd, 1st, 3rd, 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, 10th, 1st, 1st – Drew Brees‘ pass attempt rankings over the past 10 seasons. I won’t go into his yards, or TD rankings because it’d be a massive waste of time; the numbers look very similar.

Hey, wanna know a secret?

Receivers that play in prolific passing offenses tend to put up stats like steroid users put on size. Barring injury, it’s inevitable. Which is one of the reasons Snead put up 720 yards in his rookie campaign, and backed it up with 903 last season… As the #3 receiving option.

He’s also pretty damn good.

Now, yes, the Saints added Ted Ginn Jr., so the 117 targets vacated by Brandin Cooks won’t be distributed evenly between Thomas and Snead. But, Snead will almost certainly see an increase in targets, and should break the 1,000 yard mark for the 1st time of his young career.

He’s also caught 65% of the passes thrown his way in the red zone over his 2 seasons, so you can expect to see a career high in touchdowns as well.

2. Stefon Diggs – MIN

It’s pretty clear that the Vikings are committed to improving their 32nd ranked rushing offense from a season ago. They signed Latavius Murray, drafted Dalvin Cook, and (on paper) improved their offensive line.

Any semblance of run game will boost Diggs’ production.

Jerick McKinnon, the Vikings lead back in 2016, saw 8+ men in the box for 25.8% of his snaps last season. While that number isn’t abnormally low, Ezekiel Elliott saw stacked boxes 28.9% of the time for comparison, it does suggest that defenses weren’t exactly fearing the run. And when you don’t fear the run, you can place more attention on the receivers.

The improved run game should help alleviate some of the attention paid to Diggs.

In addition, the Vikings ran play action on 19% of their passing plays last season – tied for 12th highest in the league. Thing is, without a productive running game, the impact of play action is limited. Yet, Minnesota managed to find success with the PA pass, averaging the 5th highest yards per play (9.2).

Sounds like there’s pretty good odds on that number increasing in 2017.

While there’s no guarantee the Vikings run game will be improved (and this is largely based on that assumption), it can’t be any worse than it was last season, and any improvement should help. If not, Diggs managed 903 yards, and 3 TDs in only 13 games last season, so given a healthy 16, you have to like him to put up solid WR2 numbers.

3. Quincy Enunwa – NYJ

Yes, there are inherent risks that come with drafting a Jets receiver, but there are also some positives.

For starters, this offense will be without Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, and while Decker missed most of the season, the 2 received a total of 149 targets a year ago. The Jets drafted two receivers, but with the lack of veteran options, it’s safe to assume Enunwa is the de facto #1.

One issue, Brandon Marshall didn’t do much as the Jets #1 a season ago. He finished as the 52nd ranked fantasy wide receiver, but honestly, that may be more reason to like Enunwa – who finished ahead of Marshall as the #42 fantasy WR though receiving less opportunity to produce.

Enunwa put up a decent 8.1 yards per target last season, and while that didn’t help in the yardage category – he finished 36th in yards out of the 47 receivers who received at least 100 targets – the low yardage total can be attributed to his 55% catch rate; 105 targets led to only 58 receptions.

I hear you loud and clear poor QB play advocates, and the scary thing is, Josh McCown‘s career averages are almost identical to Ryan Fitzpatrick‘s…


  Cmp% TD% Int% Y/A Y/C Y/G Rate
Career 59.1 3.7 3.3 6.7 11.4 173.7 78.2


  Cmp% TD% Int% Y/A Y/C Y/G Rate
Career 59.7 4.3 3.4 6.7 11.2 203.8 79.7

… It’s not likely Enunwa sees much improvement in the form of QB play.

But, if his targets increase by say 20, and his catch rate/yards per reception stay about the same, you now have a 1,000 yard receiver… And, since 2012, 76% of the receivers to reach 1,000 yards have finished in the top-25 in fantasy points.

Honorable Mention: Jamison Crowder – WAS, Cameron Meredith – CHI, DeVante Parker – MIA, Breshad Perriman – BAL, J.J. Nelson – ARI

As always, thanks for reading! Be sure to subscribe, and check me out on Twitter: @maxingyourodds to stay up to date with the latest fantasy advice.




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