This post has been updated to include Robby Anderson of the Jets with news of Quincy Enunwa’s injury.
Six years ago, I wrote about busting the third-year wide receiver myth. There is no magic number for breakouts, but the evidence showed that it wasn’t even the leading year for a breakout. That was actually the second year (followed by both rookie season and third year).
Since I wrote that piece, there have been 12 players who could qualify as a second-year breakout: Dez Bryant, Victor Cruz, Randall Cobb, Josh Gordon, Alshon Jeffery, DeAndre Hopkins, Brandin Cooks, Allen Robinson, Jarvis Landry, John Brown, Allen Hurns, and Tyrell Williams.
So today, I’m going to do a review of what second-year breakouts have tended to look like, and assess the current candidates. For purposes of this post, I am going to assume that Michael Thomas and Tyreek Hill have already “broken out.” Both posted Top 20 finishes last year.
Before we get to the names, here is a breakdown of past second year players. Going back to 1990, I found all seasons where a second-year player had 140+ fantasy points (non-PPR) and had (a) fewer than 120 as a rookie, and (b) improved by at least 40 fantasy points. Thirty-two receivers qualified, including those 12 above in the last 6 years.
DRAFT POSITION: It matters. Almost all of the second-year breakouts were selected in the first three rounds of the draft.
FIRST ROUND: 12
SECOND ROUND: 10
THIRD ROUND: 6
FOURTH ROUND: 1
It may be sexy to try to find the guy that no one has heard of, but usually the breakout comes from a guy who put up okay but not eye-popping numbers as a rookie, and was highly drafted.
The average production as a rookie for our breakouts was 78 fantasy points, which equates to something along the lines of 600 yards and three touchdowns scored.
Only three of the breakouts had fewer than 39 fantasy points as a rookie: Antonio Freeman, Victor Cruz, and Tyrell Williams. Two of those three were the undrafted guys that boomed in year two.
In other words, not many breakouts looked like Laquon Treadwell (a first-round rookie who was healthy but did not play) after one season.
QUALITY OF OFFENSE
This one might surprise you. The breakouts did not tend to come from elite or high quality passing offense at a high rate. In fact, the average team Net Yards per Attempt ranking the previous year before their breakout was 15.8, pretty much exactly league average.
Here’s where the team rankings were in passing the year before breakout:
Top 8: 10
9 to 16: 6
17 to 24: 9
25 to 32: 7
So with all of those factors in mind, and looking at the realities of depth charts, injuries and team situations entering this year, here is my ranking of the second-year possibilities to target late in your draft.
All average draft position info from fantasy pros
#1 Corey Coleman, CLEVELAND (ADP: WR43, Overall 109)
With the caveat that Tyreek Hill broke out as receiver and isn’t on this list, Coleman is #1 with a bullet. Sure, there are reasons for concern–like his poor catch rate a year ago–but all the other factors point toward him being a good investment at his current cost. He could catch lightning in a bottle in year two.
Draft position? He was the first WR taken a year ago, at 15th overall. Opportunity? Terrelle Pryor is gone to Washington, and Coleman has a clear path to the top position–the Browns did acquire Kenny Britt to offset the loss of Pryor. Outside of Britt and running back Duke Johnson, there is a dearth of any kind of proven talent to challenge Coleman for touches.
The cost is low because it’s the Browns, and not much is expected. But Coleman’s path to a breakout year is clear, and his cost is such that he’s worth a lottery ticket purchase, outside the top 8 rounds.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
#2 Josh Doctson, WASHINGTON (ADP: WR58, Overall 159)
Doctson did not play last year, so he doesn’t fit the typical mold of a second-year breakout, but that’s because he was hurt. This is basically his rookie year. His price is depressed a little because other weapons like Pryor and Jordan Reed and Jamison Crowder are in Washington, but one injury to one of those top three and he’ll have a larger role in a decent passing offense.
#3 STERLING SHEPARD, NY GIANTS (ADP: 52, Overall 147)
Shepard was in the best situation a year ago, starting opposite Beckham, Jr. He posted eight touchdowns (he technically still qualifies for this list because he scored 119 fantasy points). With the addition of Brandon Marshall, he has been bumped down a notch behind the Beckham/Marshall duo. But this is a team with no tight end to draw huge numbers, he should still see plenty of snaps, and is an injury to one of the starters, or the decline of Marshall, from being a value.
#4 Will Fuller, HOUSTON (ADP: WR67, Overall 193)
Fuller would have been a clear 2nd, and right in line with Coleman, if he were healthy. But he now is going to miss two to three months with a broken collarbone. So bump him down but don’t forget about him for the stretch run if he can come back healthy mid-season. He could still put up bigger numbers with a more stable quarterback situation than the Brock Osweiler experience from a year ago.
#5 ROBBY ANDERSON, NY JETS (ADP: WR64, Overall 190)
With the Quincy Enunwa news, Anderson becomes the most established veteran option, as a second-year undrafted free agent. Anderson was 3rd on the team in 2016 in receiving yards behind Marshall (now with the Giants) and Enunwa. It will likely be some combination of Anderson, rookie ArDarius Stewart, and tight end Austin Sefarian-Jenkins that lead the team. It is the Jets and the quarterback position looks dreadful, so the ceiling is limited. But he should get opportunities.
#6 Tyler Boyd, CINCINNATI, (ADP: WR86, Overall 255)
I’m kind of stunned by how low Boyd is, basically in undraftable range. I know the team drafted John Ross, but Boyd should still have the slot receiver role. I would think veteran Brandon LaFell’s role is in more danger, but his ADP is currently above Boyd’s, behind both A.J. Green and Ross.
Without the additions, I would have projected Boyd as the exact kind of breakout candidate you would target late in a draft. I still think he’s someone to monitor early in the year to see how he is used. If Tyler Eifert or any of the receivers are out, I think Boyd is a flex start option.
#7 MALCOM MITCHELL, NEW ENGLAND (ADP: WR68, Overall 207)
The issue in New England with Mitchell is simply getting enough touches. He’s clearly behind Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, and Rob Gronkowski and in competition with the running backs, Dwayne Allen, and Chris Hogan for work in the passing offense.
#8 LAQUON TREADWELL, MINNESOTA (ADP: WR65, Overall 197)
It’s hard to get excited about Treadwell given Minnesota’s offense and how he was unable to get much work a year ago. Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs are the top options in an offense that is not going to be big on passing volume. Kyle Rudolph is the team’s clear red zone threat. Monitor for better news on Treadwell but right now he’s not worth rostering.
#9 BRAXTON MILLER, HOUSTON (ADP: WR90, Overall 266)
Miller is someone to monitor in the preseason. He showed flashes a year ago, and with Fuller’s injury, if he is becoming a bigger part of the offense and can shoot past Jaelen Strong, then he becomes draftable.
#10 TAJAE SHARPE, TITANS (ADP: WR88, Overall 260)
Sharpe was basically replaced this offseason with the additions of Corey Davis and Eric Decker. He made noise last preseason and started the regular season as the team’s top receiver but finished with only 522 yards. I don’t expect that to improve now.