The third-year breakout wide receiver theory has become one of the most known theories by fantasy football players because of a few wide receivers who became dominant during their third season. Names like Braylon Edwards, Lee Evans and Javon Walker come to mind. Many fantasy football sites publish a list of third-year wide receivers every year which leads fantasy players to draft them earlier than they should. In this article I decided to look at all wide receivers in years two through five in order to see if there are actually more third-year wide receivers that break out than receivers in their second, fourth or fifth year. Moreover, I looked at the WRs that did breakout and tried to find criteria that differentiate WRs that do break out from the ones that do not.
It is important to clarify that I am using the term break out a little loosely and I still include WRs who might have had a strong rookie season, a difficult second season and a solid third season. The two criteria that a wide receiver had to respect to be considered a breakout wide receiver are:
– At least 150 points in a point per reception scoring system
– An increase of at least 40 points per 16 games or a 25% increase in
points per 16 games.
I used different criteria depending on the years of experience of the wide receivers, but in general, receivers that had a lower number of touchdowns and whose yards per reception average was not too high were more likely to breakout.
Here are the candidates for 2009 along with their percentage chance to break out, assuming they play at least 10 games and have 300 receiving yards:
You might have noticed that the third-year wide receivers have the lowest breakout rate and that there is absolutely no reason to believe that the third-year wide receiver breakout theory is a good one.
One thing I suggest is that you should draft players that had a lower number of touchdowns in the previous year because it is such an inconsistent statistic and those players are generally undervalued in fantasy drafts. Very few experts discuss the touchdown-to-reception ratio but I wanted to see if it could allow us to find breakout receivers. I decided to look at all receivers in their second, third, fourth and fifth year that played a somewhat important role with their team in the previous season (between 100 and 200 fantasy points in PPR leagues) but did not get in the end zone for any possible reason (TD per reception ratio below 0.06).
Since 1990, 87 receivers have respected these criteria and 37 of them had breakout seasons for a very impressive 42.5%.
If you look at receivers who had a higher TD per reception, they only broke out 26.1% of the time.
In 2009 there are 10 receivers that respect these criteria, nine of which were mentioned earlier in the article: Braylon Edwards, Davone Bess, DeSean Jackson, Devin Hester, Domenik Hixon, Donnie Avery, Greg Camarillo, Steve Smith, Ted Ginn, Jr. and Steve Breaston (the only new name on the list).
Unfortunately it is not enough to know which players might break out and it is also important to consider where the average manager will draft those players as well as the current situation for all of these players with their respective teams. Those are all things to look at but for now you should keep in mind the names I mentioned and maybe bump them up a few spots in your rankings.