Last summer I took a look at the 2017 crop of incoming college receivers and attempted to project which of them had the best opportunities to “breakout” as true freshmen. I based my projections primarily on vacated production, offensive situation, and talent. You can view last year’s article here.
Of the five freshman breakouts I chose (Donovan Peoples-Jones, Jerry Jeudy, Jhamon Ausbon, Tyjon Lindsey and Tarik Black for those of you too lazy to hit that link), I failed to hit on a single breakout receiver. Don’t write me off just yet though, as Tarik Black was on pace to smash the 20% Dominator Rating WR breakout threshold, with the 38.31% DR he posted through 3 games before going down with a season-ending injury. Furthermore, only a single FBS receiver broke out as a true freshman in 2017, in the form of TCU’s Jalen Reagor. Speaking of that dominator rating and breakout age, below is a short synopsis of what exactly breakout age is and how it’s determined if you’re in need of a refresher.
The prospect outlook of a true freshman wide receiver who qualifies for breakout age boosts his draft stock and name recognition exponentially throughout the Devy community. And justifiably so, as the work that Shawn Siegele, Frank DuPont, and John Moore have done on breakout age and dominator rating has shown to have some of the most predictive powers of any known metric for future NFL success at the position. A wide receiver qualifies for breakout age in the first season that he posts a Dominator Rating of 20% or higher. The exact breakout age is determined by the wide receiver’s age at the midpoint of that season. Dominator Rating refers to the average of the receiver’s percentage of his team’s receiving yards and receiving TDs for that season. Instant collegiate production with upper percentile breakout age scores are a big reason why N’Keal Harry and Bryan Edwards flew up Devy draft boards following their freshman seasons. Here’s a look at who could join their ranks in 2018.
Justin Shorter, WR, Penn State
The numbers 62 and 72 are the points of focus with this passing game. Those are the percentages of receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, respectively, that are vacated from the 2017 Penn State offense. That is an absolutely massive chunk of production that Saquon Barkley, DaeSean Hamilton, Mike Gesicki, and the boys left behind. No biggie, enter arguably the top wide receiver recruit in the country.
Standing at 6’4” 215 lbs. as a true freshman, Justin Shorter already possesses the size and athleticism of an Alpha receiver at the college level. His athletic testing numbers from high school suggest a player who will be able to out-athlete college corners at the least, while he continues to refine his route running skills. Juwan Johnson returns with the most production at the position on his resume, and the Nittany Lions have plenty of other talent on the roster, but his dynamic playmaking ability in the air and after the catch should afford him early playing time. A confident Trace McSorley should be looking to air it out more in the post-Saquon era, giving the Justin Shorter breakout a palatable sense.
— Luke Stampini (@LukeStampini) January 2, 2018
Jordyn Adams, WR, UNC
The departures of UNC’s second and third leading WRs, Austin Proehl and Jordan Cunningham, don’t free up as much of the production (24% Yds, 10% TDs) as they do playing time. Anthony Ratliff-Williams returns as the most productive receiver by a wide margin. However, outside of ARW, the passing game in 2017 was widely dispersed, as none of the younger receivers on the roster stepped up to make a significant impact.
North Carolina native Jordyn Adams had offers from essentially every power program in the country but chose to stick with the Tar Heels, and early playing time was assuredly a selling point. Adams converted from QB to WR late in his high school career, making a seamless transition, as he skyrocketed up recruiting boards. One of the smoothest, most natural looking athletes in the class, Adams possesses incredible hands, high football IQ, and playmaking ability both after the catch and down the field. His highly regarded stature as a baseball prospect speaks to his natural athleticism, but it creates a wildcard here if he chooses to play on the diamond instead. If Adams sticks to the gridiron, there’s no reason he can’t break out as a top two option in what should be an improving passing game.
— Carolina Football (@TarHeelFootball) December 20, 2017
Devonta Jason, WR, Mississippi State
The Mississippi State passing attack has been far from what you’d consider an air-raid approach in recent years. QB Nick Fitzgerald returns for his senior season and will need to prove to scouts that he can be a threat with his arm as well as his legs if he has any smidgen of hope to play at the next level. New Head Coach Joe Moorehead will undoubtedly add some new wrinkles to a previously less than thrilling passing game and, with an unproven depth chart at wide receiver, opportunity awaits.
Highly regarded early enrollee Devonta Jason has already arrived in Starkville as one of the highest pedigree skill position players on the roster. Jason is a contested catch specialist, who possesses a tenacious my-ball mentality with strong hands at the catch point. While his game may be a bit raw, Jason is already physically built to compete from day one. JUCO transfer Stephen Guidry might not join the team after all and fellow would-be incomer Malik Heath currently has eligibility issues. Austin Williams has generated a ton of spring buzz, but with 26% of the receiving yards and 47% of the receiving TDs vacated from 2017, it may only take a handful of end zone jump balls for Jason to hit the 20% mark as a true freshman.
— 4th Quarter Mentality (@TheTeamFuseCamp) May 19, 2018
Marquis Spiker OR Austin Osborne, WR, Washington
Alright alright, you caught me, there’s not actually five receivers like the title suggests, but as the author of this article, I can pretty much write whatever I want. The Huskies lost their top (and frankly only) productive wide receiver from 2017, as Dante Pettis scoots a couple of states down the west coast to San Francisco. Pettis accounted for about 36% of the TDs through the air and over one-quarter of the Washington passing yards last season. Ty Jones is expected to take over the lead receiver role on the outside, but he’s far from a proven commodity after posting a mere 71 receiving yards as a freshman. Hunter Bryant could also become a focal point as a move tight end, but the fact remains that the returning production at WR is minimal.
Enter Osborne and Spiker. Osborne may have the edge here as an early enrollee with more meat on his bones. Both Osborne and Spiker are much more advanced than your typical freshmen when it comes to the nuances and subtleties of route running, which should help their cases to earn immediate playing time. In an Alex Smith – Pat Mahomes type of scenario, expect senior QB Jake Browning to up his game with the pressure of a couple talented freshmen nipping at his heels. If either Osborne or Spiker can land a starting job at flanker or slot, a breakout could be on the horizon in the Pacific Northwest.
2018 #Washington WR commit Marquis Spiker (6'3" 188) shows natural, strong hands, catches outside his frame and displays very good use of physicality & leverage on this route with the awareness & quick adjustment to come back to the ball #devy @DFF_Devy pic.twitter.com/5N0gt8Zvkk
— Jason DiRienzo (@allpurposeyrd8g) December 7, 2017
Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
Admittedly, this take is stolen directly from DLF’s best Devy mind @RobWillette24, after his recent appearance on the DFF @DevyWatch Podcast. Speaking of the pod, go to iTunes and check out the “Replacing Production” series that our Devy Team has been running, as it ties into this article and takes a deeper look into vacated production both on the ground and through the air for college programs around the country. Back to Bateman, the 4-star recruit out of Georgia was a late riser in the recruiting process, likely due to the stacked nature of the talent in that state. Bateman is a rangy, long-armed receiver who stands at 6’3” tall. The former high school basketball player, with hoops offers from Va. Tech and Penn State, is excellent at playing above the rim but is still slippery and athletic enough in the open field to pick up YAC.
While only 18% of the receiving yardage and 22% of the TDs are vacated from last year, these numbers are slightly skewed due to how utterly reliant the Golden Gophers’ were on rising junior WR Tyler Johnson (70% DR) within their absolutely anemic passing attack. Opposing defenses will most definitely be keying on Johnson in 2018, double teaming him on every play in all likelihood. This should theoretically open up ample opportunity for the talented Rashod Bateman in an otherwise talent-deficient receiving corps. Former NFL WR Coach and current Head Coach P.J. Fleck has hand-picked Bateman and should be looking to deploy his new toy early and often. This could be one of the sneakiest breakout candidates in the country.
Won the Slam Dunk Contest pic.twitter.com/epbqPLYCaT
— Donte Medlock (@locksWAY_OTR) March 18, 2017
Breakout Age is, of course, just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to a college receiver’s prospect profile. But now is the time to add a couple of these guys to your Devy squad, because if any of them hit, their stock will be propelling north this time next year.