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Identifying standout sophomore wide receivers in fantasy football using yards per route run

In fantasy football, predictable player analysis is dominated by volume-based metrics. Raw statistics, such as total yards and targets, show the highest correlation to fantasy points, while efficiency metrics, such as yards per target, show little value for year-to-year predictability. That is, until the use of yards per route run (YPRR).

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Scott Barrett first highlighted the predictive value of YPRR a few years ago, thus his work should rightfully be mentioned as a driver for this article. YPRR, in its most basic form, is the total number of receiving yards divided by the number of routes run by a wide receiver in a season. Unlike yards per reception, YPRR shows a high correlation to fantasy points in the following year with an R^2 of 0.43 over the past 10 seasons. For a more in-depth review of statistical comparisons between YPRR and other efficiency metrics, check out Scott’s article on the fantasy value of yards per route run here.

While Scott’s initial work with YPRR highlighted some of the NFL’s most valuable wide receivers over the years, it sparked curiosity on a slightly more granular level: What does YPRR tell us about wide receivers heading into Year 2 and beyond? With that question in mind, I compiled a list of all rookie wide receivers (minimum 50 targets) dating back to 2009 using YPRR figures from their first and second seasons, overall fantasy finish, overall fantasy points and their fantasy points per game.

Looking to establish some thresholds, I found that the average wide receiver accumulated 1.55 YPRR in their rookie season. Great players like Julio Jones (2.10) and A.J. Green (2.13) accumulated 2.0 or more YPRR in their first year in the NFL. On the lesser end, players like Justin Blackmon (1.36), who were below-average, did not fare well in Year 2 and beyond. 

Rookie WRs in 2009 — YPRR and Fantasy Football Performance
Player Year YPRR Fantasy Finish Fantasy PPG Fantasy Total  Fantasy Finish N+1 Fantasy PPG N+1 Fantasy Total N+1
Percy Harvin 2009 2.34 24 12.6 188.5 20 14.6 204.5
Hakeem Nicks 2009 2.3 32 11.6 162.6 8 19.2 250.2
Brian Hartline 2009 2.07 66 6.8 108.5 64 9.3 111.2
Kenny Britt 2009 1.86 55 8 128.1 34 14.5 173.5
Mike Wallace 2009 1.71 36 9.6 153.4 9 15.6 249.9
Julian Edelman 2009 1.62 80 7.2 79.4 144 1.1 17
Mike Thomas 2009 1.61 70 7.6 105.9 30 11.1 177.4
Jeremy Maclin 2009 1.59 35 10.4 156.6 15 14.2 228
Mohamed Massaquoi 2009 1.58 65 7 112.1 72 6.6 99.1
Michael Crabtree 2009 1.57 60 11 120.5 36 10.3 165.1
Johnny Knox 2009 1.46 57 8.2 123.7 32 11 175.2
Austin Collie 2009 1.39 29 10.6 169.7 35 18.8 168.9
Sammie Stroughter 2009 1.29 93 5.4 70.4 111 4 48
Louis Murphy Jr. 2009 1.22 64 7.1 113.2 62 8.3 116.2
Brandon Gibson 2009 1.17 90 7.3 72.8 53 9.3 129.8

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