Historically, rookie wide receivers have been poor bets for fantasy production. Obviously, it’s difficult for a rookie to jump in and lead their team in receiving. However, in recent years, it has become more common. Excellent rookies like Odell Beckham Jr., A.J. Brown, and Justin Jefferson have taken the league by storm.
What commonalities do these rookie year breakouts have? Let’s investigate.
Defining a Rookie Breakout
What is a rookie breakout? Many define a rookie breakout as scoring 200 PPR points. We’ll use that threshold and add one caveat. Since some 16-game rookies scored fewer than 13 PPR fantasy points per game, we’ll include rookies who scored at least 180 PPR points while averaging over 13 PPR points per game. This will increase the sample size and include players that we’re hoping to find.
This group will include all rookies since 2000.
|1||Odell Beckham Jr.||NYG||2014||295||24.58|
Over the last 21 years, only 24 rookie wide receivers qualify. However, an incredible four wide receivers made the list last year: Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb, Chase Claypool, and Brandon Aiyuk.
Let’s examine their attributes to see if there are any commonalities between the receivers.
|Odell Beckham Jr.||22||12||198||0.345||19.8|
Below is a table of the averages of the 24 players.
Rookie wide receiver breakouts were 22.1 years old on average. They were selected 50.2 overall and weighed 210.6 lbs. In college, they produced a dominator rating of 34.8 percent and broke out at 19.82 years old.
Of the 24 players, half were selected in Round 1, while 79.2 percent were selected by the end of Round 2. Of the remaining five breakouts, two were selected in round 3. When betting on a rookie WR breakout, it’s likely that the player is selected in the first two rounds. It’s very unlikely that a player selected after Round 2 breaks out as a rookie.
The rookie ages are scattered. 22-year-olds account for the most breakouts followed by 21-year-olds. 24-year-old breakouts remain the most unlikely.
In terms of breakout age, the vast majority (70.8%) have broken out before 20.5. 58.3 percent broke out before turning 20 years old.
2021 Rookie Wide Receivers
We now know that generally breakouts are about 22, are selected in Round 1 or 2, weigh 210 lbs., dominate about 35 percent of their team’s passing production, and have a college breakout before turning 20. What does this mean for the 2021 rookie class?
|Terrace Marshall Jr.||CAR||21.1||59||205||0.334||19.2|
Let’s start at the top with Ja’Marr Chase, one of the best rookie wide receiver prospects to enter the league. He was selected fifth overall, weighing in a touch light at 201 lbs. For an uber-athletic receiver, that’s likely nothing to worry about. Despite not playing last season, Chase still had a 33.4 percent dominator rating and broke out at 19.5 years old.
There’s really nothing in Chase’s profile not to like. Seeing that he outproduced teammate Justin Jefferson while being a year younger, and Jefferson had one of the best rookie seasons ever, it really wouldn’t be surprising to see Chase play like a star as a rookie.
Selected 27th overall by the Ravens, Rashod Bateman checks nearly every box. It would’ve been nice to see him weigh in at more than 190 lbs., but we all know about how he was a little light due to recovering from COVID. Still 21 years old, Bateman topped the average dominator rating of a rookie breakout by hitting an impressive 40 percent dominator rating. He also broke out at 18.8.
The Ravens situation likely isn’t favorable for a rookie wide receiver to thrive – but Bateman may be the type of player necessary for the Ravens to shift their offense. The draft capital they used on him certainly makes that a possibility.
Elijah Moore is one of the more exciting bets for a rookie breakout. Moore produced as a true freshman alongside A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf before dominating over his final two seasons – hitting a 36.7 percent dominator rating. Moore broke out at 19.4 and his 178-lb. frame remains the only negative in his profile.
Moore’s size is balanced by stunning speed and agility – he has the athleticism to succeed in spite of his weight. The Athletic’s Connor Hughes believed that Moore was “the most impressive player at OTAs and it’s not really close.” There has been no shortage of praise for the rookie.
Selected 10th overall, many would argue that Devonta Smith is the most NFL-ready receiver in the draft. Currently 22.6 years old, Smith shares the same concern about weight as many in this class. His 51.3 percent dominator rating is mouthwatering while his breakout age of 20.8 leaves a little to be desired.
A polished route runner, Smith looks similar to Calvin Ridley, who scored 206.8 PPR points as out as a 24-year-old rookie. One could argue that Smith is the favorite to lead the Eagles in targets.
At 205 lbs., Terrace Marshall is one of the heavier receivers in this class. While his dominator rating is a touch low compared to the prior breakouts at 33.4 percent, Marshall broke out at an excellent 19.2 years old. A very talented player, Marshall is a dark horse to have an immediate impact.
Selected sixth overall, Jaylen Waddle is undoubtedly a potentially game-breaking player. Unfortunately, his dominator rating of 19.7 percent and breakout age of 21.8 leaves much to be desired. Regardless, players like Tyreek Hill and Terry McLaurin have come in with similar production and succeeded because of special athletic traits. Waddle is certainly a player that fits that mold and the Dolphins’ significant investment in him is evidence of their belief in his abilities.
After one of the best statistical freshman seasons ever, Rondale Moore struggled to stay healthy in his final two seasons of college. Therefore, his dominator rating of 25.6 percent doesn’t hit the mark we’re looking for. However, his breakout age is one of the best ever and we’ve seen that he can produce at a high level. Like Waddle, Moore has no shortage of unique athletic traits and appears to be an excellent fit for the Cardinals.
Despite being high draft capital selections, Kadarius Toney, D’Wayne Eskridge, and Tutu Atwell appear unlikely to be notable rookie contributors. Toney has special athletic attributes in his favor but only broke out at 21.6 years old with just a 23.7 percent dominator rating. If he can’t produce at a high level in college, it’s troubling to expect him to do so in the NFL.
Eskridge is already 24.3 which immediately puts him in a difficult position from an age perspective. His fifth-year dominator rating was excellent but took place when he was significantly older than the competition.
Atwell checks both production boxes for dominator rating and breakout age. The problem is he’s 55.6 lbs. lighter than the average breakout. Even the lightest player on our rookie breakout list, Eddie Royal, was 27 lbs. heavier than Atwell. If Atwell hits, he’d be the first player 175 lbs. or lighter to do so in NFL history.