I’ve been doing a lot of research on the impact of an efficient rookie season. I’ve learned that rookie wide receivers who are efficient in their first year tend to have very strong careers and that a lot of the inefficient rookie WRs had efficient seasons prior to becoming a WR1. I am curious to see the timeline of efficient rookie receivers and when they break out as a WR1s.
If you haven’t read my previous articles, I use 245 PPR points as the threshold of a WR1 season.
Below is a table of rookie wide receivers since 2000 who averaged at least eight yards per target as a rookie and had at least one season with 245 PPR fantasy points. The age and year columns refer to their age and the year of their career in which they scored at least 245 PPR fantasy points.
|Odell Beckham Jr.||2014||10||22||297||1|
|Odell Beckham Jr.||2015||10||23||319.7||2|
|Odell Beckham Jr.||2016||10||24||298.6||3|
Here’s the breakdown of when they first became a WR1.
- 4 of 35 players became a WR1 in their 1st season (11%)
- 10 of 35 players became a WR1 in their 2nd season (29%)
- 10 of 35 players became a WR1 in their 3rd season (29%)
- 5 of 35 players became a WR1 in their 4th season (14%)
- 6 of 35 players became a WR1 in their 5th season (17%)
- 17 of the 35 players had multiple WR1 seasons (48%)
It should be noted that six of those players hit the threshold for the first time in either 2018 or 2019 so if we exclude those, the total would be 17 of 29 to hit multiple WR1 seasons (59%).
All four rookies to hit a WR1 season went on to have multiple WR1 seasons afterward (100% and 3.5 WR1 seasons averaged amongst them and still counting).
Excluding JuJu Smith-Schuster, 6 of the 9 second-year breakouts had multiple WR1 seasons (67% and 3.2 WR1 seasons per player).
Excluding the recent additions of Cooper Kupp, Chris Godwin, and Kenny Golladay, 3 of the 7 third-year breakouts had multiple WR1 seasons (43% and 1.7 WR1 seasons per player).
2 of the 5 fourth-year breakouts had multiple WR1 seasons (40% and 3.0 WR1 seasons per player).
Excluding DeVante Parker, 2 of the 6 fifth-year breakouts had multiple WR1 seasons (33% and 1.6 WR1 seasons per player).
Right away it becomes clear: if a player was efficient as a rookie and hasn’t progressed to become a WR1 by their 5th season, then it is very unlikely that they ever become a WR1 at any point in their career.
What if we look at their age to help us determine when these players become a WR1?
Sorting Breakouts By Age
We see that the most breakouts happened at age 25.
Mike Evans is the only player to become a WR1 in his age-21 season. He has gone on to produce two more WR1 seasons since then.
Excluding JuJu Smith-Schuster, 2 of 4 players to break out as a WR1 at 22 had at least one additional WR1 season (50% and 1.75 WR1 seasons per player).
Excluding Chris Godwin, 6 of 7 players to break out as a WR1 at 23 had at least one additional WR1 season (86% and 4.6[!!] WR1 seasons per player).
2 of the 5 players to break out as a WR1 at 24 had at least one additional WR1 season (40% and 1.6 WR1 seasons per player).
Excluding Amari Cooper and Stefon Diggs, 5 of the 7 players to break out as a WR1 at 25 had at least one additional WR1 season (71% and 3.14 WR1 seasons per player).
Excluding Kenny Golladay, Cooper Kupp, and DeVante Parker, neither of the two players to break out as a WR1 at age 26 had another WR1 season.
1 of the 2 players to break out as a WR1 at age 27 had at least one additional WR1 season. (50% and 1.5 WR1 seasons per player).
While some of this is likely due to a small sample, it is interesting that not only did the 23 and the 25-year-old age groups have the highest number of WR1 breakouts, but they also averaged the most WR1 seasons amongst any age cohort.
Sorting By Weight
It is interesting, but also not shocking that when we look at weight, the heavier players had double the amount of WR1 seasons than their lighter counterparts.
In summary, the best bets to be superstars are players who become a WR1 at or before age 23 and in their first or second year and weigh over 210 lbs. Those receivers are basically a lock to not only have at least one more WR1 season but to become a perennial WR1.
Josh Gordon is the only player to have hit these marks and not have another WR1 season but had he stayed on the field he likely would have hit it again. This screams that JuJu Smith-Schuster is somebody we should absolutely be buying coming off a down season, as he hit a WR1 season at age 22 in his second season and weighs 215 lbs.
How efficient were these WR1s the season before they broke out?
Efficiency Prior To WR1 Season
Excluding the four rookie WR1 breakouts, there were 31 players to sample from.
- 22 of 31 players were efficient in the season prior to breaking out as a WR1 (71%)
- 9 of 31 players were not efficient in the season prior to breaking out as a WR1 (29%)
Since we are studying only efficient rookie WRs here, naturally all the second year WR1 breakouts were efficient in Year 1. 10 out of 10 players hit that mark (100%).
Of all third-year breakouts, 7 out of the 10 were also efficient in their second season (70%). It should be noted that TY Hilton was at 7.8 YPT and if we use the same 7.7 YPT threshold from the inefficient rookies then he would count as an “efficient season.”
Of all fourth-year breakouts, 2 of the 5 (40%) were efficient in their season prior to breaking out as a WR1, but 4 of the 5 (80%) WR1 breakouts were efficient in both their first and second season in the league.
Of all fifth-year breakouts, 3 of the 6 (50%) were efficient in their season prior to breaking out, 5 of the 6 (83%) were efficient in at least two seasons prior to breaking out and at 4 of the 6 were efficient in at least three seasons prior to breaking out (67%).
This just confirms how important efficient seasons are for the future of a wide receiver. It’s important that we use this as part of our process to see which players are likely to become WR1s. If a player is efficient in both Years 1 and 2, then he becomes more likely to hit a WR1 season.
Be on the lookout for Part 2, where I’ll explain which current players fit the profile of a potential WR1 breakout.