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Wide Receiver Breakout Seasons
David M. Dorey
1998

Running Backs have proven to breakout almost always very early in their career but Receivers are far less consistent. The prevailing thought in fantasy drafts is to wait to get your WR's because you pretty much just need to get lucky with one. With the consistent production of RB's, the catching class usually takes a back burner until the Stud RB sale concludes. What if you could find some keys to help you get those rising WR stars? Wouldn't that be downright nifty?

The tables below shows the best 48 WR's from 1997 in order of their fantasy points. At first glance, it is evident that top scorers break out in wildly varying years, and the age of the top scorers was fairly high, with an average of almost seven years of experience for them. The inconsistency of the position and the variation of performance hides trends but let’s move on and just look at only the guys who have already hit the 8 TD mark to see what patterns emerge.

NFL Player Round Drafted Years Played Breakout Year FF Pts   NFL Player Round Drafted Years Played Breakout Year FF Pts
GB Freeman, A. 3 3 2 135  

DEN

McCaffrey, Ed

3

7

7

78

DEN Smith, Rod 2 6 6 132  

ATL

Mathis, Terance

6

8

5

78

MIN Carter, Cris 4 11 3 131  

NYJ

Johnson, K.

1

2

1

78

SEA Galloway, Joey 1 3 1 128  

ARI

Sanders, Frank

2

3

X

76

ARI Moore, Rob 1 8 8 127  

BUF

Reed, Andre

4

13

5

75

DAL Irvin, Michael 1 10 4 113  

BUF

Early, Quinn

3

10

8

73

DET Moore, Herman 1 7 4 113  

STL

Bruce, Isaac

2

4

2

71

PIT Thigpen, Y. 4 7 X 112  

CIN

Scott, Darnay

2

4

X

70

OAK Jett, James fa 5 5 112  

BAL

Jackson, M.

6

7

3

70

ATL Emanuel, Bert 2 4 4 104  

CIN

Pickens, Carl

2

6

3

64

BAL Alexander, D. 1 4 3 104  

SF

Stokes, J.J.

1

3

X

61

PHI Fryar, Irving 1 14 2 102  

MIA

Mcduffie, O.J.

1

5

3

59

OAK Brown, Tim 1 10 6 101  

NYJ

Chrebet, Wayne

16

3

X

58

KC Rison, Andre 1 9 2 97  

DAL

Miller, Anthony

1

10

2

57

SF Owens, T. 3 2 2 95  

CAR

Carruth, Rae

1

1

X

52

MIN Reed, Jake 3 7 5 93  

IND

Dawkins, Sean

1

5

X

52

GB Brooks, Robert 3 6 4 93  

TB

Anthony, Reidel

1

1

X

51

DET Morton, Johnnie 1 4 2 91  

SF

Rice, Jerry

1

13

2

48

JAC Smith, Jimmy 2 6 X 90  

WAS

Westbrook, M.

1

3

X

45

NYG Calloway, Chris 4 8 8 90  

TEN

Sanders, Chris

3

3

1

43

JAC Mccardell, K. 12 6 X 88  

PIT

Johnson, C.

1

4

X

40

SD Martin, Tony 5 8 7 81  

NE

Glenn, Terry

1

2

X

34

CHI Proehl, Ricky 3 8 X 80  

CHI

Engram, B.

2

2

X

32

IND Harrison, M. 1 2 1 79  

CHI

Conway, Curtis

1

5

3

31

Round Drafted
Galloway, Joey 1
Moore, Rob 1
Irvin, Michael 1
Moore, Herman 1
Alexander, D. 1
Fryar, Irving 1
Brown, Tim 1
Rison, Andre 1
Morton, Johnnie 1
Harrison, M. 1
Johnson, K. 1
Mcduffie, O.J. 1
Miller, Anthony 1
Rice, Jerry 1
Conway, Curtis 1
Smith, Rod 2
Emanuel, Bert 2
Bruce, Isaac 2
Pickens, Carl 2
Freeman, Antonio 3
Owens, Terrell 3
Reed, Jake 3
Brooks, Robert 3
Mccaffrey, Ed 3
Early, Quinn 3
Sanders, Chris 3
Carter, Cris 4
Calloway, Chris 4
Reed, Andre 4
Martin, Tony 5
Mathis, Terance 6
Jackson, M. 6

Jett, James

fa

 
Years Played
Owens, Terrell 2
Harrison, M. 2
Johnson, K. 2
Freeman, A. 3
Galloway, Joey 3
Sanders, Chris 3
Alexander, D. 4
Emanuel, Bert 4
Morton, Johnnie 4
Bruce, Isaac 4
Jett, James 5
Mcduffie, O.J. 5
Conway, Curtis 5
Smith, Rod 6
Brooks, Robert 6
Pickens, Carl 6
Moore, Herman 7
Reed, Jake 7
Mccaffrey, Ed 7
Jackson, M. 7
Moore, Rob 8
Calloway, Chris 8
Martin, Tony 8
Mathis, Terance 8
Rison, Andre 9
Irvin, Michael 10
Brown, Tim 10
Early, Quinn 10
Miller, Anthony 10
Carter, Cris 11
Reed, Andre 13
Rice, Jerry 13
Fryar, Irving 14

Round Drafted

When you look at the rounds in which top receivers were drafted, another trend develops. Of the 1997 Receivers who had ever caught at least 8 touchdowns, easily the most common characteristic was that they were drafted in the first round (15 of 33). The second rounders had four and the third round provided seven, but after that only seven fourth round plus guys had ever had even one 8 TD year.

Other than Freeman (Favre), Owens (Young-no Rice) and Chris Sanders (go figure), there have not been any "break out" receivers in the past four years who have been anything BUT a first round pick. You think the salary cap has affected the Wide Receiver position? Think those late round guys have any real chance?

With the introduction of the salary cap (in place since 1993), teams no longer are willing to take the time to develop WR’s. They must either produce quickly or it’s back to the first round of the draft ( rookie WR’s are fairly cheap in the draft, all things considered). There is a beginning trend toward having either the old proven WR’s who break out at varying times but have experience to contribute until then OR you get lucky and grab a rookie or second year guy who turns it on and helps hold his roster spot. Makes Carruth, Glenn, Frank Sanders and possibly Anthony more interesting.

Years Played

You want consistency? Of those with at least one year of 8+ TD's, consider the distribution of the number of players from 1997 who have ever had a breakout season and the number of years that they played.

Years Played # Years Played #
2 3 8 4
3 3 9 1
4 4 10 4
5 3 11 1
6 3 13 2
7 4 14 1

What we see, similar to RB's but longer in duration, is that there is a conveyor belt for each rookie class. About 3 or 4 will hop on and have breakout seasons and after 8 years only the studs linger.

The trend is for the class of 1997 to step it up and get 3 guys in for this year. First rounders from 1997? Yatil green, Reidel Anthony, Rae Carruth. Kevin Lockett and Blackwell could also surprise from just below the first round. Seems unlikely that the class of 1997 will just not respond.

On the flip side, sadly, can the class of ’88 (Irvin, Brown, Miller and Early) continue to move it’s little block? The cutoff for most receivers is obviously their 8th year. Only Brown, Irvin, Rice and Carter have performed in excess of it. If you were MIN, would you sign the 4th oldest WR in the NFL to an extended contract? Considering the record number of catches Rice has had, doesn't a slow down that already has started seemed in order?

Time for the class of 1997 to hop on the breakout train!