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Identifying Breakout WRs Using Yards/Route Run (2020 Fantasy Football)

Feb 21, 2020

As dynasty fantasy football players, we are constantly trying to stay ahead of the competition by identifying potential breakout players prior to any drastic changes in values. One example from recent memory that comes to mind is Chris Godwin. If you are simply a “box score watcher,” nothing about Chris Godwin’s rookie season would have gotten you excited. He got 34 receptions, 525 yards, and only one touchdown. Those numbers are pretty underwhelming, to say the least. Were there any indicators that could have pointed to such a breakout? That’s what we are doing here.

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As technology and the growth of the fantasy football community both continue to boom, so too do the metrics and measurables that present themselves for analysis. We can break down statistics as simple as receiving yards all the way to air yards and even more in-depth measurables such as BMI, which seems to be a hot topic this offseason. Which statistics and measurables are the most “sticky”? When talking about “sticky” statistics, we are talking about numbers that we can point to with a level of certainty of carrying over year to year. One number that does not carry that weight for wide receivers is yards after the catch. We also hear about touchdowns being random from year to year. So again, what numbers can we look at and believe we have a strong indicator of future success for wide receivers? That’s where yards per route run comes into play.

Yards per route run simply takes the total receiving yards a player accumulated in a given year and divides that by how many routes on passing plays he actually ran. Looking at raw statistics can be somewhat misleading, but looking at yards per route run for a wide receiver actually shows what a player is doing with the opportunity presented to him.

So how much insight can we gather from a wide receiver’s yards per route in his rookie year? I came into this article with the belief that the rate of yards per route run during a wide receiver’s rookie season was a fairly strong indicator for future success, but I wanted to take a deep dive to really be sure.

With my hypothesis lined up, it was time to dig into the data. From 2010 to 2018, there have been 165 rookie wide receivers in the NFL who saw at least 20 targets in their rookie year. I wanted to then break this down not only by the total number of wide receivers that fell into this bucket, but also by the wide receivers who ran at least 250 routes during their rookie campaign.

In an attempt to not inundate you, the reader, with number after number, I will try to make this concise and to the point. There is a clear correlation between yards per route run in a wide receiver’s rookie season and future success as a fantasy WR1 or WR2. Below are a few tables showing the breakdown and thresholds used during this process.

Number of WRs w/ at least one WR1 Season + > 250 routes run during rookie year w/ at least 20 targets

Rookie Season Y/RR Had at least one WR1 Season Total Players Hit Rate
2.00+ 11 12 91.67%
1.50-1.99 10 33 30.30%
1.00-1.49 4 39 10.26%
Under 1.00 1 12 8.33%

 
Number of WRs w/ at least one WR1 season w/ at least 20 targets during rookie year (no minimum route run threshold)

Rookie Season Y/RR Had at least one WR1 Season Total Players Hit Rate
2.00+ 13 20 65.00%
1.50-1.99 11 50 22.00%
1.00-1.49 4 58 6.90%
Under 1.00 2 37 5.41%

 
In the tables above, I am referring to “hit rate” as any wide receiver that achieved WR1 (top-12 in PPR formats) status in a given season in his career. Not only is there a significant advantage to hitting the 2.00 yards per route run threshold in one’s rookie year, but there is also a clear difference when that wide receiver ran at least 250 routes his rookie year. On average, wide receivers that hit 2.00 yards per route run and run at least 250 routes in their rookie campaign are 41% more likely to be a WR1 at any time during their career than a wide receiver that hit the 2.00 yards per route run threshold alone.

Average number of seasons as a WR1/WR2 + >250 routes run during rookie year w/ at least 20 targets

Rookie Season Y/RR WR1 Seasons WR2 Seasons WR1+WR2 Seasons
2.00+ 2.58 .75 3.33
1.50-1.99 .50 .91 1.41
1.00-1.49 .21 .28 .49
Under 1.00 .25 .17 .42

 
Average number of seasons as a WR1/WR2 w/ at least 20 targets during their rookie year (no minimum route run threshold)

Rookie Season Y/RR WR1 Seasons WR2 Seasons WR1+WR2 Seasons
2.00+ 1.8 .70 2.50
1.50-1.99 .34 .64 .98
1.00-1.49 .14 .19 .33
Under 1.00 .11 .11 .22

 
Similar to wide receivers hitting one WR1 season during their careers, there is a significant jump when looking at the total number of WR1/WR2 seasons once you incorporate a minimum of 250 routes run during a wide receiver’s rookie season. There is a 33% increase in the number of WR1/WR2 seasons for a wide receiver that hit 2.00 yards per route run when he also ran a minimum of 250 routes in his rookie year.

So, what can we do with this information, and why should we care? Looking at the 2019 wide receiver draft class, there are several players that fall into these buckets. Terry McLaurin, Deebo Samuel, A.J. Brown, and Hunter Renfrow all ran at least 250 routes while also having at least 2.00 yards per route run. Conversely, when looking at it from this lens, it might be time to pump the breaks on N’Keal Harry, who only had .83 yards per route run his rookie season.

By no means am I suggesting that yards per route run is the only indicator of future success for a wide receiver in the NFL, but it is an integral piece of the puzzle. When looking at any metric or measurable, it is always best to marry it up with other available data points to paint a clearer picture. Looking at this historical data and also pairing it with metrics such as draft capital, breakout age, college dominator, etc. will certainly allow you to drill down and begin to cross off several variables when projecting future performance.

It is also important to keep an eye on the changing landscape that is the NFL. For example, why did only 11 of 12 wide receivers drafted since 2010 that ran 250 routes and had at least 2.00 yards per route run during their rookie years find future success? The lone outlier there is Robert Foster, and his situation clearly changed from 2018 to 2019. The Buffalo Bills added additional weapons in Cole Beasley and John Brown, while also bolstering their defense and making a greater commitment to the run.

While it is certainly vital to look at the broader picture, it is clear that yards per route run is a metric you need to incorporate into your fantasy football vernacular. There are always going to be outliers on both ends of the spectrum for every statistic and measurable. As previously discussed, Robert Foster hit those thresholds when it comes to yards per route run during his rookie year, but has yet to find fantasy relevance in the NFL. On the other hand, Davante Adams only achieved .96 yards per route run during his rookie year but has blossomed into one of the top dynasty wide receiver assets. I hope that this deep dive has put yards per route run on your radar when evaluating wide receivers and making educated decisions when identifying breakout wide receivers.

A note: all yards per route run data collected from www.pff.com. If you are looking for the raw data behind this article, do not hesitate to reach out. You can find me on Twitter @TheBauerClub, and consider subscribing to my podcast, DynastyTheory.

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John Bauer is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from John, check out his archive or follow him @TheBauerClub.

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