Zach Crutcher (@ZackyNFL) The Lateral Contributor
Previously we examined Market Share and discussed where it can take us, what it can teach us, and how we can use it to help solidify our position at the top of the table in our fantasy leagues. To briefly recap, market share was the method of leveling the playing field between teams at the collegiate and NFL levels, by dividing a players total stat by their team’s total stat, such as calculating a player’s individual receiving yards as a percentage of their team’s receiving yards. The benefit of doing this is that market share contextualizes stats and makes it easier to identify players who are talented and efficient, not necessarily on high volume offenses. Once we have leveled the playing field, it is time to start looking for which player’s can be responsible for significant workloads in a team’s offense. Of special interest are the players who can carry a large burden from a young age, these players are the ones most likely to succeed at the NFL level.
First on the list in this 2021 draft class is the potential WR1, Ja’Marr Chase of LSU. Unfortunately Chase opted out of the 2020 college football season, so 2019 statistics will be used instead. In 2019, LSU had a total of 6,024 receiving yards and scored 61 receiving touchdowns. Chase was responsible for 1780 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns for the national champions.
For comparison there is Elijah Moore, the 20 year-old analytics darling from Ole Miss. In the 2020 season, Ole Miss had 3,449 receiving yards and 30 receiving touchdowns. Elijah Moore scored 8 touchdowns and had 1,193 receiving yards for the Rebels.
Initially Chase and Moore seem close enough despite the lofty differences between their respective team’s offensive output. However, if we look at Elijah Moore’s 2019 season, we will see the greatest benefit to using dominator rating and breakout age. The disparity in offensive potency between LSU and Ole Miss was even more significant in 2019. In the 2019 season, Moore tallied a respectable but not eye-popping 850 yards and 6 touchdowns. However Ole Miss threw for only 2328 yards and 11 touchdowns that year, and Moore’s share of that production was subtly absurd.
Dominator rating in and of itself is a useful and informative statistic, but it would be egregious to claim that any single statistic can paint a whole picture, just like no single color can fill a palette. In order to make dominator rating more predictive and less descriptive, we can take it a step further. We can look at the age a player first breaks out in college. Breakout age is the defined as the first age where a player surpasses a specific threshold for dominator rating. The % of market share varies by position, typically 15% for tight ends and 20% or 30% for wide receivers. Many individuals will look at when (or if!) receivers reach both of the 20% and 30% dominator marks in their college career. This is an excellent lens to look at potential prospect’s chances in the NFL, because quite simply, the best players tend to dominate their competition at a younger age. When someone can step into college football and be responsible for 30% of their team’s offense as a 19 year old, the chances are that they’re special. It is less impressive when it takes until a players’ age 22 season to start dominating the competition. It likely means they were held back for multiple years by other more talented players or did not demonstrate the skill or talent required to be a focal point of their team’s offense.
There are some flaws with dominator rating and breakout age that should be addressed, particularly in light of the upcoming draft class. Dominator rating is calculated on a season total basis and not a per-game basis, so it does not account for injuries and naturally there are elite producers in the NFL who may slip through the cracks because they did not “break out” despite being very talented in college. DK Metcalf is a prime example of this, with his best dominator rating being 20.7% and never reaching the 30% mark for him to have a breakout age. Terry McLaurin is another outlier as well (though he is an outlier in just about every way imaginable). Breakout age is biased against players that enter college at an older age through no fault of their own, a prime example of this would be Calvin Ridley who has a Breakout age of 20, but he dominated from the moment he stepped onto the field for University of Alabama in 2015. In his first season for the Crimson Tide, Ridley led the team in receiving yards and touchdowns with 1,045 and 7 respectively. One way to counteract this flaw would be to use “years to breakout” rather than strict breakout age. A third criticism for both dominator rating and breakout age would be that it does not factor in the quality of a player’s teammates. Alabama is the prime example of this, where you can make an argument that each player in the wide receiver room of Jaylen Waddle, Devonta Smith, Henry Ruggs III, and Jerry Jeudy was negatively impacted by the quality of their teammates. It is significantly harder to breakout or stand out when you’re surrounded by other NFL caliber (and first round caliber!) selections at that.
Jaylen Waddle in particular can be controversial, perhaps due to the relative lack of success that fellow Alabama wide receiver Henry Ruggs III experienced during his rookie season in 2020. Ruggs III was the first receiver taken in the stacked 2020 class, ahead of names like Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy, and many others. In college, Ruggs III’s best dominator rating was 18.2%, and his average dominator rating was 16.2%. He never actually broke out while playing for the Crimson Tide, and some may claim it was partially due to the loaded receiver room there. Jaylen Waddle has gamebreaking speed and is electric with the ball in his hands, but Waddle’s best dominator rating was 15.5% and his career average was only 11.1%. This is (hopefully) where the value of watching and understanding film becomes a difference maker , because Waddle and Ruggs III are wildly different players despite sharing incredible speed, and Waddle should hopefully be more successful than Henry Ruggs III has been so far in the NFL.
So far in this article we’ve discussed Ja’Marr Chase, Elijah Moore, and Jaylen Waddle. To conclude we will take a look at the dominator ratings and breakout ages of fifteen wide receiver prospects from this year’s draft class. DeVonta Smith immediately stands out with his 47.3% dominator rating in the 2020 season which earned him the honors of the Heisman Trophy. Rashod Bateman’s average dominator rating in his three seasons at University of Minnesota was 31.8%, coupled with his 6’2” 210-pound frame, he projects as someone who can carry the load in an NFL offense. A third standout would be Tylan Wallace from Oklahoma State with his peak 36.7% dominator rating and an average rating of 26.2%. What is most admirable about Wallace is his consistency despite a gruesome ACL injury in 2019. In his final 3 seasons at OSU, Wallace averaged 114.7 receiving yards per game in 2018, 100.3 yards per game in 2019 before his injury, and he returned in 2020 to the tune of 92.2 receiving yards per game. Tylan also averaged 8.7 touchdowns per season in those years. If any of these players get paired with an elite quarterback they could be in line for very solid production in their rookie season and beyond.
Below are the dominator ratings and breakout ages of players from the 2018-2021 rookie wide receiver classes. In them you will find players who would have been great values, the ones that still may have potential to break out, and the players that serve as cautionary tales about relying on just a few statistics. Special shoutout goes to Peter Howard’s incredible database for making so much important information readily available and easily accessible. You can find him writing articles for DynastyLeagueFootball or on Twitter at @pahowdy.