In the past, rookie wide receiver breakouts 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, like freshmen in college basketball, rookie breakouts have become much more common. Excellent rookies like Odell Beckham Jr., A.J. Brown, Justin Jefferson, and Puka Nacua 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 for good rookies who missed playing time and help us include players that we’re hoping to find.

This group will include all rookies since 2011.

PlayerSeasonAgeTeamGPPRPPR/G
Ja'Marr Chase202121CIN17304.617.92
Puka Nacua202322LAR17298.517.56
Odell Beckham Jr.201422NYG1229524.58
Justin Jefferson202021MIN16274.217.14
Michael Thomas201623NOR15255.717.05
Jaylen Waddle202123MIA16245.815.36
Mike Evans201421TAM15245.116.34
Amon-Ra St. Brown202122DET17227.313.37
Kelvin Benjamin201423CAR16225.814.11
Jordan Addison202321MIN17221.313.02
Keenan Allen201321SDG15219.614.64
A.J. Green201123CIN1521814.53
CeeDee Lamb202021DAL16217.713.61
Jayden Reed202323GNB16217.213.58
A.J. Brown201922TEN16217.113.57
Tyreek Hill201622KAN1621713.56
Garrett Wilson202222NYJ17215.712.69
Chase Claypool202022PIT16214.913.43
Amari Cooper201521OAK16212.713.29
Rashee Rice202323KAN16212.513.28
Calvin Ridley201824ATL16206.812.93
Zay Flowers202323BAL16206.412.9
Jordan Matthews201422PHI16202.212.64
Julio Jones201122ATL13201.515.5
Chris Olave202222NOR15198.213.21
JuJu Smith-Schuster201721PIT14197.714.12
Terry McLaurin201924WAS14191.913.71
Brandon Aiyuk202022SFO12184.515.38

Over the last 12 years, only 28 rookie wide receivers qualify. Five rookie wide receivers made the list last year: Puka Nacua, Jordan Addison, Jayden Reed, Rashee Rice, and Zay Flowers.

Let’s examine their attributes to see if there are any commonalities between the receivers.

PlayerAgePickWTpDOMBOApYPTAED?
Amari Cooper2142100.47218.23.84Y
A.J. Green2342100.42220.13.41Y
Ja'Marr Chase2152000.33419.53.33Y
Jaylen Waddle2361820.2621.83.5Y
Julio Jones2262200.34419.63.13Y
Mike Evans2172310.302192.85Y
Garrett Wilson22101930.3120.13.21Y
Chris Olave22111880.31819.23.68N
Odell Beckham Jr.22121980.34519.83.53Y
CeeDee Lamb21171980.38119.43.93Y
Justin Jefferson21222020.319.62.72Y
Zay Flowers23221820.467202.47N
Jordan Addison21231750.29918.62.92Y
Brandon Aiyuk22252000.40621.53.36N
Calvin Ridley24261900.30120.72.9Y
Kelvin Benjamin23282450.29322.62.29Y
Jordan Matthews22422150.48318.13.93N
Michael Thomas23472120.39621.52.4Y
Chase Claypool22492380.33421.22.49N
Jayden Reed23501870.35718.42.56N
A.J. Brown22512260.32620.23.21Y
Rashee Rice23552030.32920.42.85N
JuJu Smith-Schuster21622150.31918.83.15Y
Keenan Allen21762110.49518.43.05Y
Terry McLaurin24762100.177-1.42N
Amon Ra St. Brown221121970.33118.92.03Y
Tyreek Hill221651850.194-0.75Y
Puka Nacua221772050.27418.32.31N

Below is a table of the averages of the 28 players.

AgePickWTpDOMBOApYPTAED
22.1142.5204.60.34219.772.968%

Rookie wide receiver breakouts were 22.11 years old on average. They were selected 42.5 overall and weighed 204.6 lbs. In college, on average, they produced a peak dominator rating of 34.2% and broke out at 19.77 years old.

I’ve added a peak yards per team attempt and whether each player was an early declare (ED on the charts). The rookie breakouts averaged 2.9 yards per team attempt and 68% chose to forego their senior season to enter the NFL. 4 of the 5 players to make the list from 2023 were not early declares. The COVID saga had a significant impact on decreasing the number of early declares, which helps explain the higher number of quality seniors entering the draft. The weight of the players also keeps dropping, Asher has written about adjusting WR weight thresholds accordingly.

RoundTotalPercent
11657.1%
2725%
327.1%
413.6%
527.1%
600.0%
700.0%

Of the 28 players, the majority were selected in Round 1, while 82.1% 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, the player is likely selected in the first two rounds. It’s very unlikely that a player selected after Round 2 breaks out as a rookie. No player in the last 12 years has broken out as a rookie when being selected after Round 5. Puka Nacua became the second 5th-round draft pick to break out last year. While he was incredibly impressive, profiles like his breaking out to such a degree are the exception – not the rule.

AgeTotalPercent
21828.6%
221139.3%
23725%
2427.1%

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. 92.9% of breakouts are 23 or younger.

Breakout AgeTotalPercent
Under 20.52071.4%
Over 20.5828.6%

In terms of breakout age, the majority (71.4%) have broken out before 20.5 years old. 53.6% broke out before turning 20.

Dominator RatingTotalPercent
.40+621.4%
.30-.39.91657.1%
.25-.29.9414.3%
Under .2527.1%

78.6% of the breakout rookies had a top dominator rating of 30% or more. When targeting a rookie wide receiver, we clearly want one with an excellent peak dominator rating.

YPTATotalPercent
3.5+621.4%
3-3.49828.6%
2.5-2.99621.4%
2-2.49621.4%
Under 227.1%

71.4% of breakouts averaged 2.5 or more yards per team pass attempt at their college peak. Only two players, Terry McLaurin, and Tyreek Hill, finished below two yards.

2024 Rookie Wide Receiver Breakout Candidates

Clearly, we like players who are 22 or younger, selected in the top two rounds, with a peak dominator rating of over 30%, a breakout age of under 20.5, who declared for the draft early and produced a peak yards per team attempt above 2.5.

PlayerAgePickWTpDOMBOApYPTAED
Marvin Harrison Jr.21.842050.47920.13.22Y
Malik Nabers20.962000.33719.13.82Y
Rome Odunze2292120.26419.32.85N
Brian Thomas Jr.21.7232090.32720.92.86Y
Xavier Worthy21.1281650.30718.42.88Y
Ricky Pearsall23.7311890.268212.49N
Xavier Legette23.4322210.35522.63.05N
Keon Coleman21.1332130.39619.31.94Y
Ladd McConkey22.6341860.178-1.85Y
Ja'Lynn Polk22.2372030.24621.42.25N
Adonai Mitchell21.7522050.32420.91.78Y
Malachi Corley22.2652150.31920.52.08N
Jermaine Burton22.9801960.35422.22.78N
Roman Wilson23841850.422.22.24N
Jalen McMillan22.5921970.22719.71.96N
Luke McCaffrey23.21001980.39521.42.33N

Marvin Harrison Jr. and Malik Nabers check every box. Both should be expected to make this list next season and are being drafted in both rookie drafts and one-year leagues accordingly.

Rome Odunze comes in just below them. He’s not an early declare nor did his dominator rating pop (this can be at least partially explained by competing for targets with Ja’Lynn Polk and Jalen McMillan at Washington, who both were drafted in the top three rounds), but he should be a very good NFL player. He’ll be competing with D.J. Moore and Keenan Allen for targets as a rookie.

Although he’s 165 lbs., Xavier Worthy is a fun prospect. He has the earliest breakout age on this list and is paired with the world’s best quarterback.

Despite being a first-round pick, Ricky Pearsall is older, lighter, and doesn’t come with the production thresholds that we like to see. Plus, he likely won’t see a big workload with Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle demanding targets.

Ladd McConkey is expected to be heavily involved with the Chargers, but he never broke out in college. He wouldn’t be the first player to break the mold and there are plenty of available targets to go around in Los Angeles, but the odds are stacked against him.

For more in-depth profiles on the rookie wide receivers, check out my previous article summarizing each player’s profile.

2023 Rookie Wide Receiver Breakout Candidates

PlayerAgePickWTpDOMBOApYPTAED
Jaxon Smith-Njigba21.4201960.2619.63.25Y
Quentin Johnston21.8212080.39192.94Y
Zay Flowers22.8221820.47202.47N
Jordan Addison21.4231730.3618.62.92Y
Jonathan Mingo22.2392260.2820.42.35N
Jayden Reed23.2501910.3418.42.56N
Rashee Rice23.2552000.3220.42.85N
Marvin Mims21.3631830.2718.52.66Y
Nathaniel Dell23.7691650.3820.92.79Y
Jalin Hyatt21.8731760.3720.93.22Y
Cedric Tillman23.2742130.3721.43.18N
Josh Downs21.9791710.3419.13.51Y
Michael Wilson23.4942160.319.52.07N

Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s yards per team attempt is excellent and when you consider he did it with Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave on his team, he looks even better. The context of JSN’s production makes him look like he’ll be on this list next year.

Quentin Johnston also looks excellent in terms of his breakout age, peak dominator rating, yards per team attempt, and more. We’ve spilled a lot of ink about why we think he’s destined for a big year.

Zay Flowers is a fun player with some huge dominator ratings. His lack of an early declaration when combined with his slight frame and low yards per team attempt is concerning. If he were to break out, Flowers would slide into 19th place among hits in terms of YPTA.

Jordan Addison hits many of the thresholds but his weight is a bit concerning. If he were to break out as a rookie, he would be the lightest player ever to do so. However, wide receivers continue to trend lighter.

Jonathan Mingo is the freakiest receiver in the class but remains a bit of a project. The fact that he only topped 1.66 YPTA as a senior is alarming for his odds of being NFL-ready. While I wouldn’t bet on it, Chase Claypool did hit in a very similar scenario.

Jayden Reed has some interesting production but will enter the NFL as a 23-year-old rookie, who did not declare early for the NFL.

Like Mingo, Rashee Rice took time to develop at the collegiate level, finally topping 1.83 YPTA as a senior. He’ll enter the NFL as a 23-year-old rookie.

A lighter receiver, Marvin Mims checks a lot of the boxes we look for. He broke out early and while he didn’t have any dominant college seasons, looks like a solid player.

Nathaniel Dell, Cedric Tillman, and Michael Wilson will all enter the league at 23 years old. The lack of consistent production as younger collegiate players is concerning for their odds of NFL success.

Jalin Hyatt and Josh Downs are intriguing players. Both are lighter than any previous breakout but had solid peak dominator rating seasons and YPTA.

2022 Rookie Wide Receiver Breakout Candidates

Last year when I wrote this article, it was clear that Ja’Marr Chase was the type of player capable of a massive rookie wide receiver breakout. Scoring the most points of the rookie wide receivers included in this study, he certainly did not disappoint. Here are the 2022 wide receivers capable of making a big impact:

PlayerAgePickWTDOMBOA
Drake London20.9821034.9%18.1
Garrett Wilson21.91019331%20.1
Chris Olave21.91118831.8%19.2
Jameson Williams21.21218931.1%20.4
Jahan Dotson22.21618344.3%20.5
Treylon Burks22.21823245.9%20.5
Christian Watson23.13421144%20.3
Wan'Dale Robinson21.44318537.3%18.7
John Metchie III21.94419522.6%21.1
Tyquan Thornton22.85018337.5%20.1
George Pickens21.35220030%18.5
Alec Pierce22.15321325.2%19.3
Skyy Moore21.75419544.8%20
David Bell21.59920535.1%18.7

Drake London looks like an excellent bet. He didn’t dominate in college quite like Chase – but his weight, age, draft position, dominator rating, and breakout age look fantastic when compared to the past rookie wide receiver breakouts.

Garrett Wilson is a potentially special player who played with excellent players on his team, leading to a lower target share. He’s lighter than 85.2% of the hits – however, Waddle who is lighter than Wilson was a hit last season at just 182 lbs. As Asher Molk has noted, wide receivers are getting lighter.

Olave is very similar to Wilson but, even lighter still. He’ll compete with Jarvis Landry and Michael Thomas (if Thomas can get healthy). At 188 lbs., weight concerns won’t go away – but he’s a high pick that checks many boxes necessary to break out as a rookie.

Jameson Williams snuck his breakout age in at 20.5 years old and checked all the other boxes. Being such a high selection gives him a chance to make an immediate impact – however, recovery from an ACL tear makes Williams unlikely to score 200+ PPR points as a rookie.

Jahan Dotson broke out at 20.5 years old – right on the breakout age cusp. In addition, he’s only 183 lbs. With Carson Wentz at the helm, it’ll be tough for Dotson to make an immediate splash.

Labeled as the A.J. Brown replacement, Treylon Burks should make an immediate impact. He’ll need to be on the field, which hasn’t been the case early in training camp with Burks dealing with breathing issues. From a skeleton key standpoint, Burks barely notches the breakout age and checks all the other boxes with flying colors.

Christian Watson and Tyquan Thornton will play their rookie years at 23 years old, which isn’t ideal but older rookies have had some success in the past. For them, the bigger concerns are being non-early declares and a lack of dominance in college.

Wan’Dale Robinson checks a lot of boxes despite being only 185 lbs. He’s an intriguing player that will deal with a crowded receiver room that struggled to stay healthy last season.

Skyy Moore is also a player that checks nearly every box. He’s a little light at 195 lbs. but excelled in terms of production. He’ll enter a wide-open wide receiver room with arguably the league’s best quarterback.

While his final year was a disappointment, George Pickens fits every threshold of the hits. Playing with a rookie quarterback is far from ideal, but Pickens may be underrated in fantasy football circles.

Another underrated name is David Bell. A poor combine led to Bell being selected outside of the top two rounds, but that’s the only box Bell didn’t check. A college producer who isn’t the most athletic, leading to a draft-day slide, Bell looks like Keenan Allen and Jarvis Landry. Both Allen and Landry were heavily involved as rookies.

John Metchie and Alec Pierce lack the 30% dominator rating in their top collegiate season that we’d like to see.

2021 Rookie Wide Receiver Breakout Candidates

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?

PlayerTmAgePickWTDOMBOA
Ja'Marr ChaseCIN21.452010.33419.5
Rashod BatemanBAL21.6271900.418.8
Elijah MooreNYJ21.2341780.36719.4
DeVonta SmithPHI22.6101700.51320.8
Terrace Marshall Jr.CAR21.1592050.33419.2
Jaylen WaddleMIA22.661800.19721.8
Rondale MooreAZ21.1491810.25618.2
Kadarius ToneyNYG22.4201930.23721.6
D'Wayne EskridgeSEA24.3561900.44620.5
Tutu AtwellLAR21.8571550.36718.9

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.