Fantasy News & Analysis

Predicting top 2021 rookie wide receivers using dominator rating and breakout age

Oct 24, 2020; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers wide receiver Rashod Bateman (0) catches a pass in the first half against the Michigan Wolverines at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Unfortunately, there is no end-all, be-all statistic, grade or metric that can pinpoint the NFL's next great rookie wide receiver. Every college star doesn't make the jump to the next level, and a player's landing spot plays a huge part of how a player develops in the NFL.

Yet still we must try to predict which rookies will be of benefit in 2021 fantasy football leagues. And when it does come to finding the next Justin Jefferson of the 2021 NFL Draft class, fantasy football managers can lean on two specific metrics when considering which rookie wide receivers to target in drafts: dominator rating and breakout age

Dominator rating considers the number of touchdowns and receiving yards a particular player commands within their own offense. Breakout age is the age in which a receiver reaches a 20% dominator rating for the first time. When a receiver produces at a young age, it’s a solid indicator that he will continue his stretch of production into the pros. After all, when a kid balls out at 19 years old against a bunch of 21- and 22-year-old defensive backs, how can you not be entertained? 

I’ve collected the dominator ratings and breakout ages of 17 rookie wide receivers in the 2021 NFL Draft class hoping to identify some lesser-known WRs to target and others fade in upcoming rookie drafts. 

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COLLEGE-CAREER DOMINATOR RATING

Player Class School Career Dominator Rating PFF Grade
Rashod Bateman Junior  Minnesota 35% 87.1
Cade Johnson RS Senior South Dakota State 34% 91.0
Tylan Wallace Senior OSU 32% 91.6
Tutu Atwell Junior Louisville 32% 87.4
Rondale Moore Junior Purdue 30% 91.0
Elijah Moore Junior Ole Miss 29% 90.8
Jaelon Darden Senior North Texas 29% 89.9
DeVonta Smith  Senior Alabama 28% 93.7
Sage Surratt RS Junior Wake Forest 28% 83.8
Ja'Marr Chase Junior  LSU 28% 90.3
Dyami Brown Junior North Carolina 25% 76.7
Amon-Ra St. Brown Junior USC 24% 79.4
D'Wayne Eskridge RS Senior Western Michigan 24% 91.0
Terrace Marshall Jr. Junior LSU 22% 77.6
Jaylen Waddle Junior  Alabama 16% 89.7
Kadarius Toney Senior Florida 14% 86.8
Amari Rodgers Senior Clemson 14% 80.0

To get a better idea of which college receivers sustained the most production, I analyzed their full college career dominator ratings. The leader of the group was Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman, who came in at No. 4 in my initial rookie wide dynasty rankings

Bateman broke out in his first season for the Golden Gophers at just 19 years old with 51 receptions for 704 receiving yards and six touchdowns. That earned him a 28% dominator rating — a figure that would be the lowest he put up in a single college season.

Despite playing alongside future Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ wide receiver Tyler Johnson, Bateman’s success continued into his sophomore year (2019) when he earned yet another exceptional 38% dominator rating. He and Johnson were neck and neck in terms of production (39%).

After Johnson left for the NFL, Bateman unleashed his will on the offense, earning a 48% dominator rating. That mark is the second-highest among the receivers listed above. 

Bateman is an auto-draft at the back-end of first-round rookie drafts.

Cade Johnson is an under-the-radar prospect for the sole fact that he did not get the chance to play in 2020. The South Dakota State football season was canceled, which meant that Johnson's only chance to increase his draft stock was ball out at the Senior Bowl. And that’s exactly what he did.

Johnson showed everybody at Mobile how he earned a 34% dominator rating in college by grading out as one of the best receivers on the one-on-one drills. The guy wins with speed and has been doing it ever since his redshirt sophomore season, when at 20 years old he caught 67 balls for 1,332 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns. That earned him a 45% dominator rating — the second-highest among players listed here. 

SINGLE-SEASON DOMINATOR RATING

Player Best Season Dominator Rating PFF Grade Best Season Final Season Dominator Rating
Jaelon Darden 61% 89.9 2020 61%
Tylan Wallace 50% 82.6 2019 41%
Rashod Bateman 48% 81.9 2020 48%
DeVonta Smith  47% 95.6 2020 47%
Elijah Moore 46% 79.5 2019 37%
Terrace Marshall Jr. 46% 81.1 2020 46%
Cade Johnson 45% 89.1 2018 43%
D'Wayne Eskridge 45% 85.9 2020 45%
Sage Surratt 40% 83.9 2019 40%
Tutu Atwell 40% 91.7 2019 34%
Rondale Moore 37% 89.7 2018 14%
Jaylen Waddle 34% 85.3 2020 34%
Ja'Marr Chase 33% 91.3 2019 33%
Amon-Ra St. Brown 33% 73.0 2020 33%
Dyami Brown 31% 82.9 2020 31%
Kadarius Toney 23% 84.8 2020 23%
Amari Rodgers 23% 80.0 2020 23%

Most college players produce the best numbers in their final seasons, but that's not always the case.

North Texas’ Jaelon Darden was coined by PFF’s draft expert Mike Renner as a sleeper in this 2021 Draft Class. Darden posted gaudy numbers for Mean Green as a senior — 19 touchdowns and 1,190 receiving yards in just nine games. That earned him a dominator rating of 61%, which the type of dominance small-school players have to demonstrate. 

The other player that has stood out is Oklahoma State’s Tylan Wallace. He posted an insane 50% dominator rating his junior season in the games he played before missing the rest of the season with an injury. 

His special junior season was a follow-up to his uber-productive sophomore campaign when he posted a 37% dominator rating at just 19 years old. Outside of Bateman, there’s an argument to be made that Wallace has the best age-adjusted profile in the draft class. 

Elijah Moore posted a massive dominator rating (46%) as a sophomore at Ole Miss after D.K. Metcalf and A.J. Brown took their talents to the NFL. And although his dominator rating “fell” to a more-than-acceptable level (37%) his junior season, his efficiency across the board increased. 

His PFF grade (92.4 versus 79.5) and yards per route run (3.65 versus 2.34) increased substantially. Moore is another name to keep in mind in the second rounds of rookie drafts. 

Ja'Marr Chase’s best dominator rating (33%) doesn’t look all that impressive when compared to the other players, but we can’t forget that he was sharing an offense with Justin Jefferson, who had arguably the greatest rookie season at the wide receiver position.

When they played together in 2018, Jefferson was the lead dog (29% dominator rating), but Chase took back the crown in 2019. Don’t overthink Chase as the No. 1 wide receiver in this class. 

The recent Alabama wide receivers have dealt with similar problems in terms of low dominator ratings because of the sheer talent that has gone through that program over the past several seasons.

Jaylen Waddle has the lowest breakout age of any player listed in this piece (22) because he simply couldn’t get on the field enough behind the likes of Henry Ruggs III, Jerry Jeudy and DeVonta Smith.

Waddle would have broken out during his freshman season (16% dominator rating), but he fell victim to his aforementioned teammates Ruggs (18%) and Jeudy (27%) outproducing him. He was actually more productive than sophomore Smith (13%), but there’s one game that can explain the discrepancy.

Smith missed a game during the 2018 season — their dominator ratings are identical (14%) with that game removed.

The narrative changed in 2019 when Smith reigned supreme with a 27% dominator rating during the final season for Ruggs (17%) and Jeudy’s (24%). Waddle’s dominator rating fell to 11% that year. But, again, even those numbers are slightly inflated because both Smith (4-94-2) and Waddle (3-101-1) had massive stat lines the one time Ruggs didn't play. 

Needless to say, whenever Smith or Ruggs has been at the forefront or even the No. 2 pass-catching option in the Alabama offense, they have thrived. During Weeks 4-7 of the 2020 season, Waddle (34% dominator rating) narrowly edged Smith (32% dominator rating) before he ultimately missed the remainder of the season with an injury. 

It’s not hard to imagine Waddle continuing to outpace Smith if he hadn't been hurt, which is why he remains my No. 2-ranked receiver in this class

BREAKOUT AGE (Ages provided by PlayerProfiler.com)

Player Breakout Age Dominator Rating During Breakout Season
Rashod Bateman 19 28%
Rondale Moore 19 37%
Terrace Marshall Jr. 19 20%
Tylan Wallace 19 37%
Amon-Ra St. Brown 19 21%
Tutu Atwell 19 40%
Ja'Marr Chase 19.5 33%
Elijah Moore 19.5 46%
Dyami Brown 20 29%
Cade Johnson 20 45%
DeVonta Smith  21 28%
Jaelon Darden 21 30%
Amari Rodgers 21 23%
D'Wayne Eskridge 21 21%
Kadarius Toney 21.5 23%
Sage Surratt 21.5 40%
Jaylen Waddle 22 34%

Louisville’s Tutu Atwell was decent as a freshman, catching 24 passes for 406 yards and two touchdowns. But he turned heads during a breakout sophomore campaign, compiling over 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns with a 40% dominator rating. That's not an easy task for someone at just 19 years of age. 

Amon St. Brown was another player who enjoyed an early breakout (21%) at age 19, and his is particularly notable because he was playing alongside stiff competition. Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Michael Pittman played two years with St. Brown, but Brown earned a 21% dominator rating in his freshman and sophomore seasons. 

Once Pittman left and St. Brown became the guy, his dominator rating jumped to 33%. 

Wake Forest’s Sage Surratt didn’t break out until his third season at age 21.5 in 2019. In 2018, he posted a 16% dominator rating that placed him below the 20% breakout threshold. His back-loaded college production profile definitely raises red flags.

The same can be said for another older-breakout candidate in Kadarius Toney. He didn’t achieve a dominator rating over 20% until his senior season (23%), and even then he barely got there. 

Toney also posted a worse dominator rating (8%) than running back Lamical Perine (18%) and Van Jefferson (20%) in 2019. And that’s just factoring in Perine’s role as a receiver. Those players haven’t been world-beaters at the NFL level, which begs the question as to why Toney never produced in the offense with those guys when healthy. 

The Florida wide receiver has been mocked as a first-round pick due to his dynamic skill set, but I’m much less bullish on him. If his price skyrockets with Round 1 cache attached to his name, consider me out. 

I also feel similarly about Amari Rodgers, who like Toney did nothing for Clemson when playing alongside studs like Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross. When Rodgers finally had his shot to be the guy this season, he only earned a 23% dominator rating, which was almost equal to that of fifth-year super senior Cornell Powell (22%). 

That doesn't suggest that Rodgers is ready to take the NFL by storm anytime soon. 

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