Utilizing Advanced Stats to Identify 16 Breakout Receivers

Utilizing Advanced Stats to Identify 16 Breakout Receivers

By John Paulsen (Senior Editor), on Jun 3, 2014

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John was named the Most Accurate Fantasy Football Expert by FantasyPros for the 2010 and 2014 seasons, finished as runner-up in 2011 and 4th in both 2012 and 2015 for a total of five Top 5 seasons in the last six years. Cumulatively, John was the most accurate expert from 2010-15 while also winning the 2011 Fantasy Sports Trade Association award for the most accurate draft rankings. 

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One measure I like to use to project a receiver's upside is Fantasy Points / Target (FP/T). If an efficient player produces with limited targets, he is primed for a breakout if his role expands and his targets increase, provided he maintains a healthy FP/T. Dez Bryant is a great example. In 2011, he was #17 in FP/T (1.41) on 104 targets, finishing as the #16 WR in standard formats. Last year, his targets increased to 138, and he posted an even better FP/T (1.52). As a result, he finished #3 among all receivers. In this case, Bryant had already had his breakout year, but then he broke out again.

Another example is James Jones. In 2011, on just 54 targets he posted a FP/T of 1.95, which was #2 among WRs with at least 30 targets. He finished as the #38 WR in standard formats that year. In 2012, his targets increased significantly to 98, and while his FP/T (1.66) regressed a bit, he still finished #3 in that category and finished #16 overall among WRs.

The Denver duo of Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker were able to post above average FP/T with Tim Tebow at QB in 2011, so it was no surprise that they were able to improve in that measure with Peyton Manning under center. Throw in an increase in targets for both players and you have the perfect recipe for a pair of breakout seasons, and that's exactly what happened in 2012.

Also in 2012, the perennially underappreciated Lance Moore, who was #18 and #8 in FP/T in 2010 and 2011, saw an increase in snaps played (from 41% to 59%) once Robert Meachem left for San Diego. His targets subsequently jumped from 5.1 per game to 6.9 per game, and he finished as the #21 WR in 2012.

One of the breakout candidates I identified in the 2013 edition of this article was Alshon Jeffery. He posted a solid 1.14 FP/T (#37 in the league) on 48 targets during his injury-plagued rookie season. Last year, he posted 1.24 FP/T on 149 targets, resulting in a #9 finish at his position.

So if we can identify a productive player who is going to see an increase in targets, then there's a good chance that a breakout season will follow. There will be situations where a player's FP/T regresses towards the mean (which was 1.05 FP/T in 2013) but the increase in targets oftentimes offsets that drop in efficiency.

Note: For those wondering if there is a correlation between FP/T year over year the answer is yes, there is a positive correlation. It’s not strong, but very little in fantasy football is.


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