In 2019, we saw unprecedented production from the rookie wide receiver class. Four receivers finished in the top-36 in fantasy production among their position, the most since six did so in 2014. Does rookie success typically result in a sophomore slump, or does it all but guarantee continued growth in their second season?
Since 2014, there have been 13 rookie wide receivers who finished within the top-36. After the historic 2014 class, there was one in 2015, two in 2016, two in 2017, and two in 2018. Their average rookie season statistics:
15 games played, 109 targets, 70 receptions, 936 yards, 14.1 PPR points per game, and a WR21 finish.
Of those 13 players, 11 went on to play at least 13 games in year two (Kelvin Benjamin missed his entire second season, and Cooper Kupp only played eight games in 2018). Of those 11, all but one (Sammy Watkins) increased the number of targets garnered. 9 of 11 increased their number of receptions, total PPR points, and fantasy finish in year two. A caveat to this is Calvin Ridley’s 2019 sophomore campaign, where he played in 13 games and fell just short of his total receptions and PPR points from his rookie season where he played a full 16. Assuming Ridley played at a similar pace for the remaining games of 2019, he would have easily surpassed his rookie totals. The other receiver that saw a dip in points from year one to year two was Mike Evans. While he had more targets, receptions, and yards in year two, the dip in Evans’ touchdowns from 12 as a rookie to three as a sophomore caused his overall points to decrease. However, Evans still saw improvements in most statistics in his second season. The average second-year statistics for the 11 in this sample:
15 games played, 134 targets, 86 receptions, 1173 yards, 16.4 PPR points per game, and a WR14 finish.
You can see overall strong rookie seasons led into even stronger second seasons. However, if you drill down to a per player basis, you still see meaningful progress in each area. Using the 11 players and looking at their difference in statistics from year one to year two, the per player increase was as follows:
Total PPR Points: +23.1
PPR Finish: +5 spots
The evidence shows that for rookie wide receivers who finish as fantasy WR3s or better, it is extremely unlikely they reach their peak in year one. For those doubting the ability of Deebo Samuel, Terry McLaurin, D.K. Metcalf, or A.J. Brown to repeat as a top-36 wide receiver, it’s time to start believing. Three of those players, if not all four, are most likely going to improve upon their rookie season campaigns, and very well may remain top-producing wide receivers for the foreseeable future. With sky-high values already, these receivers may be prime examples of ‘buying high,’ but you can rest assured that more likely than not their value will not be crashing anytime soon.
Are you buying high on any of these receivers, or trying to sell for a major profit?
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