The year was 2013 and I stumbled across an article called Alshon Jeffery, DeAndre Hopkins, and Rookie Derangement Syndrome. The article argued that owners frequently ignore valuable second-year breakout candidates, instead choosing to draft overvalued rookies fresh off of NFL draft hype.

I was convinced by the article to draft Jeffery, who finished his second season with 89 receptions for 1,421 receiving yards, and seven touchdowns. Jeffery averaged 9.9 more fantasy points per game than in his rookie season.

Perhaps fantasy owners just watched the rookie dominate in college, while the second-year player struggled in his first season as a professional. Many have penned articles about why rookie receivers are overvalued – while receivers most frequently break out in Year 2.

Whatever the cause, the phenomenon happens too frequently – and remains arguably the best edge in fantasy football.

A Tale As Old As Time

I didn’t want to dig back too far – so I settled on researching second-year breakouts back to 2013 (when I frequently drafted Jeffery and fellow second-year wideout Josh Gordon). If we include this year’s receivers, there have been 31 instances of second-year breakouts since 2013. The table below includes each player.

Note that players like Michael Thomas and Odell Beckham Jr. are not mentioned because they broke out as rookies. For 2018 rookies, their ‘N+1’ points per game totals include their scoring up to Week 14 of the 2019 season.

PlayerAge (N)1st YrNN+1Change
DJ Moore21201810.115.45.3
JuJu Smith-Schuster21201714.118.64.5
Amari Cooper21201513.414.51.1
Allen Robinson21201411.719.07.3
Sammy Watkins21201412.416.84.4
Brandin Cooks21201413.915.92.0
DeAndre Hopkins2120139.014.55.5
Kenny Stills2120137.911.63.7
Josh Gordon21201210.022.512.5
Chris Godwin2120175.811.65.8
Michael Gallup2220186.115.29.1
DJ Chark2220182.815.112.3
Christian Kirk22201810.312.92.6
Tyreek Hill22201613.716.42.7
Stefon Diggs22201511.514.93.4
Jarvis Landry22201411.817.35.5
Alshon Jeffery2220127.917.89.9
Courtland Sutton2320188.513.95.4
Sterling Shepard23201611.513.11.6
Robby Anderson2320168.312.54.2
Cameron Meredith2320152.113.010.9
Tyrell Williams2320152.413.611.2
Martavis Bryant23201413.015.62.6
Allen Hurns2320149.715.15.4
TY Hilton23201212.113.81.7
Kendall Wright23201210.113.43.3
Michael Floyd2320127.512.65.1
Calvin Ridley24201813.015.22.2
Kenny Golladay2420178.613.85.2
John Brown2420149.213.94.7
Cooper Kupp24201711.916.95.0

In this group of breakouts, the average increase from their rookie year to the sophomore campaign is 5.4 fantasy points per game.

The 2018 draft class saw big sophomore jumps as DJ Moore, Michael Gallup, DJ Chark, and Courtland Sutton provided drafters with excellent value picks relative to where they were being selected.

Age Breakdown

The following table includes the rookie season age of each breakout player.

Ages#Avg 1st YrAvg 2nd YrChange

While 22-year-old rookies have experienced the biggest increase in scoring, 21 and 23-year-old rookies account for 20 of the 31 breakouts. Although it’s not a direct correlation, it generally looks like the younger players have a higher ceiling for their second-year scoring.

24-year-old rookies appear to be more NFL ready from the outset but don’t see as significant of increase in scoring as their younger counterparts. In fact, 24-year-old rookies account for just four of the 31 players included here.

Outlook for 2020

In the 2019 rookie receiver class, the following players topped 400 receiving yards.

Terry McLaurin2314935891979.9191.913.7
AJ Brown221684521051812.5217.113.6
Deebo Samuel2315815780239.9190.112.7
Darius Slayton2214844874088.817012.1
DK Metcalf22161005890079.0190.111.9
Preston Williams228603242837.191.811.5
Marquise Brown2214714658478.2146.410.5
Diontae Johnson2316925968057.4165.110.3
Hunter Renfrow2413714960548.513410.3
Mecole Hardman21164126538613.1123.57.7

Despite having few playmakers around him, Terry McLaurin impressed as a rookie.

Averaging 9.49 adjusted yards per attempt from Dwayne Haskins, McLaurin is an athletic freak who showed he can consistently win against NFL corners. It would be more favorable if he was younger, but McLaurin should see an improvement in Year 2 as Haskins becomes more comfortable as an NFL quarterback.

The hype for AJ Brown in the fantasy community is sky-high. Not only did he lead all rookie in fantasy points, but Brown became the first player in NFL history to top 1,000 receiving yards on fewer than 90 targets. The sky is the limit for a player who torched the league as a 22-year-old rookie.

As a 23-year-old rookie, Deebo Samuel was extremely impressive. It’s clear that Kyle Shanahan likes getting the ball in his hands. Unfortunately, as a run-heavy team with George Kittle dominating targets, the question is whether there’s enough volume for Deebo. This season he averaged just 5.4 targets per game. That number will need to go in order to expect a significant leap in production in Year 2.

DK Metcalf was also excellent as a rookie, averaging 10.51 adjusted yards per attempt. Metcalf should improve as a 23-year-old sophomore, which will hopefully generate more volume. His efficiency was fantastic so Metcalf truthers should be hoping the Seahawks’ coaching staff allows Russell Wilson to pass the ball more frequently in 2020.

For an undrafted rookie, Preston Williams was incredible. Never short on talent, Williams fell in the draft due to character concerns. While his efficiency was subpar, Williams’ 7.5 targets per game paced all rookies. Essentially being used as 1A and 1B with DeVante Parker prior to his season-ending injury, Williams could be a sneaky cheap breakout candidate for 2020.

Marquise Brown started the season with a bang but largely struggled outside of a few splash games. Brown will struggle for large volume on an offense that was last in the NFL in pass attempts. Despite the lack of volume, the Ravens led the league in passing touchdowns. Brown will remain the best deep threat on arguably the league’s best offense.

Diontae Johnson crushed expectations on a passing offense that struggled for the entire season. The return of Big Ben could help Johnson see a jump in efficiency and volume. He’ll need to secure the No. 2 receiver job over James Washington to be a bankable breakout candidate.

Finishing third in receiving on the Raiders behind Darren Waller and Tyrell Williams, Hunter Renfrow had a productive rookie season. As a 24-year-old rookie, Renfrow shouldn’t be expected to make as a big of a leap in Year 2. He’ll need to receive a lot of targets to be a reliable starter.

Big play machine Mecole Hardman was electric as a rookie – leading all wide receivers with 13.1 yards per target. There’s a lot to be excited about but he’ll need a lot more volume to break out – unfortunately, he’s currently stuck behind Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and Sammy Watkins. Perhaps something changes this offseason as the Chiefs should be finding ways to manufacture touches for the young speedster.