Everyone who plays fantasy football loves to predict who will be the next breakout player. But how does one go about predicting whether a player will be successful in elevating to the next level? How does one evaluate a fantasy football player? That’s what I plan on explaining in this article.

Prior To The NFL

This evaluation can begin before a player even enters the NFL. What does a good college prospect look like?

College Production

A future star generally enters the NFL with impressive college production. But how do you compare the production and use it to evaluate fantasy football players?

Since all schools run different offensive schemes, they become difficult to compare. How do you compare two receivers when one is on a team that is passing 12 times per game, while the other is on a team that passes 35 times per game?

That’s where the college market share comes in. The market share explains what percentage of a team’s receiving yards or touchdowns a player produced. Even better, the college dominator rating combines both receiving yards and touchdowns into one useful metric. Career dominator rating has shown a stronger correlation with NFL production than just using a player’s final college season.

Another vitally important piece of the college puzzle is breakout age. When did a player first achieve a 20 percent dominator rating? If an 18-year-old is performing highly against 21-year-olds, it’s an excellent sign. The younger a player achieves a breakout, the more likely he is to be successful in the NFL.

RotoViz’s Blair Andrews has done some excellent work on what variables correlate with success. Career dominator rating and breakout age both correlate with NFL production, but breakout age has a higher correlation, at 0.43.

There is also evidence to show that non-early declare wide receivers are less productive in the NFL. Non-early declare players are those who do not leave college early to enter the NFL draft and only declare after their senior (or even graduate) year. We want to target players who are early declares.

These on-field metrics are excellent indicators of future success, but an NFL prospect can also improve their odds of being a productive NFL player by having a strong athletic profile.

Athletic Profile

In terms of an athletic profile, a player’s weight has proven to be a much more important variable than height. We like players who are heavy.

Speed is important but 40-yard dash times appear to be overvalued. What matters more is the context of the speed: how heavy is the player running the 40? The speed score metric was created to combine the two variables. For instance, it’s more impressive for a 230 lb player to run a 4.4 40 than it is for a 195 lb player to run a similar time. We want fast and heavy players.

Burst score is another important variable. Burst score equally weighs a player’s vertical jump and broad jump distances to measure zero-inertia explosiveness.

The agility score is the sum of a player’s 20-yard short shuttle time and 3-cone drill times. This number measures a player’s short-area quickness and balance and correlates with an ability to avoid tackles and compile yards before contact.

In recent years, there have been articles that show the importance of hand size. There are reasons to believe it may be the single most important athletic variable for wide receivers.

All of these metrics can be found for free from our friends at Player Profiler. They even include the percentiles, so you know how each player compares with others at their position.

Production In The NFL

Once a player enters the NFL, there are more variables that we have to measure them.

The highest correlation with NFL production remains a player’s draft position. We want to select players with high draft capital. Being selected in the top three rounds and having impressive college production can increase a player’s odds of becoming an RB1.

Using Efficiency To Evaluate A Player

Once a player enters the NFL, his rookie season production is very important. Rookie wide receivers with eight or more yards per target increase their odds of becoming superstars. If you add weight to the equation, their odds increase once again. The same efficiency measure can help you identify future elite tight ends.

When do efficient rookies (defined by eight or more yards per target) become WR1s? Most frequently in Years 2 and 3.

Can inefficient rookie wide receivers (under eight yards per target) become stars? Yes, but their odds increase with promising volume, draft capital, and weight.

When do inefficient rookie wide receivers become WR1s? The majority of players who end up becoming WR1s after an inefficient rookie season have an efficient season prior to breaking out.

Weight is generally a difficult variable to overcome. But if you’re examining an underweight receiver, here’s how he can increase his odds of being successful.

Using Age As A Variable

Age is another very important variable to use to evaluate fantasy football players. While not all players are the same, the vast majority of players at a specific position follow similar career timelines.

We’ve written about the peak age for an NFL running back. Running backs have a short shelf life, so we’ve created a running back age model to predict busts. Studying age is also useful for wide receivers and tight ends.

Continue to follow the Apex Insider blog as we study trends to help you find the actionable advice to help you win your fantasy league.