Do wide receivers really break out by year three?
Posted: Tuesday July 3, 2007 5:08PM; Updated: Tuesday July 3, 2007 5:22PM
One popular notion among fantasy owners is that third-year wide receivers are most likely to have a breakout season and are great draft day targets. Is this true or is it just a tale passed on from generation to generation of fantasy football fanatics?
We'll look at WRs during the first three seasons of their careers to see if there are any discernable patterns than we can uncover to help you locate those draft day bargains. We'll look at historical trends, last year's stats as well as those to watch in 2007.
Because of the variety of different scoring systems used in fantasy football today, I've established these benchmarks as worthy of the moniker of "breakout receiver" (note: these numbers are a subjective "cutoff" point, but we had to start somewhere): 60 receptions, 800 yards, 6 touchdowns
A receiver who reaches two of those three plateaus could have a strong fantasy season, like Chris Henry in 2006, who had only 36 receptions and 605 yards but scored six TDs. However, in order to be considered a breakout WR, he has to reach all three statistical levels in one season during one of their first three NFL campaigns.
In a recent study, covering a 10-year span between 1995-2004, there were 337 WRs who played at least one game in the first three seasons after he was drafted. Of the 337, only 31, or 9.2 percent, had a breakout season in at least one of their first three years in the league. Thus expectations should be slightly muted of finding that breakout wide receiver in any season since there just aren't that many WRs who produce the big numbers early in their careers.
The 31 receivers who qualified are in the table on the right. The players are listed only once, the first season that they recorded a breakout season. A player could theoretically produce a breakout season in each of his first three seasons but only be listed once in the first year column.
Here are the percentages, plus average stats for those players:
1st year breakout = 2.4% (8 out of 337); 75 catches, 1,090 yards, 9 TD
2nd year breakout = 4.1% (10 out of 243); 73 catches, 1,171 yards, 7 TD
3rd year breakout = 8.7% (13 out of 149); 76 catches, 1,120 yards, 9 TD
In total, 31 of the 149 receivers (20.8 percent) had a breakout season by the end of year three.
*The numbers for years two and three do not equal 337 because (a) once a player reached the breakout level, he is no longer counted in subsequent seasons; and (b) not all players participated in more than one or two seasons.
There were only 22 wide receiver breakout seasons last year, regardless of experience. The breakdown by year is on the right.
The most notable name on the list is Mike Furrey. Furrey has been in the NFL for four seasons and misses out on a 1st, 2nd or 3rd year WR breakout despite a 98-catch, 1,098 yards, 6 TD season in 2006 for the Lions. Furrey switched between offense and defense early in his career and returned full-time to wide receiver last year. He technically didn't make our three-year cutoff point and was added to the "over" category instead.
To sum up, there was one first-year receiver, one second-year receiver, four third-year receivers and 16 "older" players who recorded at least 60 receptions, 800 yards and 8 TDs. Of the six receivers who qualified as a breakout, only Larry Fitzgerald has reached those numbers in more than one season.