We know that a freshman breakout is a good harbinger of future collegiate and NFL success for wide receivers, but can we see them coming? Do stars assigned from recruiting services matter? Does incoming size matter? What about forty times or other measurements of speed? We assume a lot of things, but I wanted to dig into the reality.

What do they look like?

Since 2006, there have been 49 true freshmen to achieve at least a 25% market share (MS) of receiving yards for their college team. The table below shows how many played in a Power 5 conference, average incoming height, weight, recruiting star rating (per 247sports.com composite), and how many contributed to special teams.

NP5Ht (in)Wt (lbs)StarsPunt or Kick return
ALL Fr MS >0.254932 (65%)72.5183.53.624 (49%)

Some takeaways are that these players were not necessarily big, nor did they need a four or five-star recruiting rating to break out as a true freshman. The size was interesting to me as I would assume larger receivers over 200 pounds might have a better chance of being an alpha receiver early in their careers. However, that is not the case, and as prospectors, we should not rule out anyone in the 6 feet, 180-pound range.

Another question I had was – do receivers who break out in the Power 5 look different than Group of 5 receivers? Let’s take a look!

 NP5Ht (in)Wt (lbs)StarsPunt or Kick return
P5 Fr MS >0.253232 (100%)72.7186.34.016 (50%)
G5 Fr MS >0.25170 (0%)72.1178.32.88 (47%)

It appears that Group of 5 breakouts are lighter and have a lower recruiting ranking than their Power 5 counterparts, but otherwise, the groups were not very different. Roughly 6 feet tall and around 180 pounds stays a nice target size for early breakouts. The Power 5 players averaged four stars on the 247 composite, but eight out of the 32 still had a 3-star rating.

Where are they from?

Next, I grouped these players by home state, and a whopping 11 of the 49 breakouts hail from Florida. The next closest state of origin was California, where five of these freshman breakout receivers called home. While Florida is known for producing a lot of skill-position talent, the fact that this one state had more than twice the next closest state was surprising. The full breakdown can be seen below:

So far we can say that the typical freshman breakout stands 72” tall, weighs over 180 pounds and is more likely to be from Florida than any other state. So far all breakouts achieving over a 25% market share of receiving yards have been included which is valuable information when drafting incoming freshmen and hoping for early production on the college side. But what about projecting draft capital for the NFL side?

How productive are they?

There is controversy in the fantasy community about whether a market share bar of 20%, 25%, or 30% should be used to identify the truly elite performers. I divided the pool of breakout receivers into those that achieved >30% vs. those that fell into a 0.25-0.29% range. The results support the idea that a 30% bar projects NFL draft capital much better than a lower threshold.

N draft eligible% DraftedDrafted day 1-2% Day 1-2
ALL Fr MS >0.25380.56160.42
Fr MS >0.30200.75120.60
Fr MS 0.25-0.29180.3740.22

It also follows that hitting a 30% market share in a Power 5 conference is more valuable than doing it in a Group of 5 conference. An amazing 92% of P5 breakouts were drafted, and 75% were in the 3rd round or higher. This number drops to only 40% for players in a G5 conference.

 N draft eligible% Drafted?Drafted day 1-2% Day 1-2
P5 Fr MS >0.3120.9290.75
G5 Fr MS >0.350.4020.40

Players who breakout early but only in the 25-29% MS group have a much less sure projection to the NFL. In the Power 5, they are half as likely to be drafted than those that reach a 30% MS cutoff. In the G5, a breakout under 30% is barely worth noting as 0% were drafted in the first three rounds, and only 7% were drafted at all.

 N draft eligible% Drafted?Drafted day 1-2% Day 1-2
P5 FR MS 0.25-0.29140.5350.36
G5 FR MS 0.25-0.2960.0700.00

As the pools get smaller, the sample size also gets down to a meager number, but it follows a general pattern that makes sense. I went back as far as I had data, and so more research in this area is needed as more players come through the college ranks and more data can be collected.

Conclusions

One thing I will take away from this study is that the big, hulking receivers are not necessarily more likely to produce early. I was surprised to see that the average size was about 72″ and 180 pounds for both Power 5 and Group of 5 players. Typically when attacking a new prospect list I gravitate to the 6’3″ types, dreaming of the next Julio Jones but that is probably unnecessary and may be bad process. It is unclear whether a preference should be placed on receivers out of the state of Florida, although in this small sample it’s looking that that’s not a bad idea. At this point, weighing Floridians a little more just as a tie breaker is probably the application.

Players that achieve greater than a 30% MS as freshmen in a Power 5 conference should immediately rocket up devy and C2C rankings. Please don’t be hesitant in jumping these players up above where your peers have them, as the data shows this is almost a lock for projecting future NFL talent. This information also throws some cold water on “breakouts” under a 30% MS. Certainly, it’s better to command 25% than not, but dipping below 30% starts to be less of a signal of future success.

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