Fantasy: Possession Receiver Breakouts

| 6 years ago

Fantasy: Possession Receiver Breakouts

Ever since Wes Welker moved to the Patriots in 2007 and exploded for 112 receptions, 1175 yards, and 8 TDs, fantasy players have been looking for the next possession receiver to blow up as a fantasy force. 
The obvious question is whether or not you can spot the next Welker by culling through the snap data. Is the Welker breakout a singular event, or can we expect other possession receivers to deliver significant value as draft sleepers?


To answer this question, I used the PFF Premium stats to develop the profile of a possession receiver for the 2008 and 2009 seasons.

  • At least 70% catch rate
  • At least 60% of pass patterns run within 9 yards of the line of scrimmage
  • Targeted on at least 10% of total snaps
  • Minimum 25 targets

Since we’re looking for breakout players, the sample is limited to players who are in their first five seasons in the league and haven’t put up a 1000 yard season or 200 point fantasy campaign.

2008 Season

Snaps PR < 10 yards TA TA/Snap Rec. % Ct Yds
Davone Bess 402 68% 75 0.187 54 72% 554
Steve Smith 532 73% 80 0.150 57 71% 574
Chansi Stuckey 416 70% 43 0.103 32 74% 359
Jason Hill 313 71% 42 0.134 30 71% 317
Jerheme Urban 463 68% 48 0.104 34 71% 448

2009 Season

Snaps PR < 10 yards TA TA/Snap Rec. % Ct Yds
Davone Bess 581 63% 106 0.182 76 72% 760
Mike Thomas 416 73% 59 0.142 48 81% 453
David Anderson 396 85% 52 0.131 38 73% 370
Julian Edelman 326 85% 50 0.153 37 74% 359
Danny Amendola 456 89% 61 0.134 43 70% 326


In both 2008 and 2009, five players met the criteria and played the following season. (Anthony Gonzalez met the criteria in 2008 but was injured before receiving a target in 2009.) So how did they do the following season in fantasy?
A breakout fantasy season can be measured in a variety of different ways. We’ll use two criteria: 1) The player must score at least 150 fantasy points, 2) The player must increase his points over the previous season by at least 35%.

2009 Season

WR ADP PFF Pass ‘08 Snaps ‘09 Snaps ‘08 FP ‘09 FP % Change
Davone Bess 60 5.3 402 581 116.7 164.9 41%
Steve Smith 43 0.5 532 908 120.4 271 125%
Chansi Stuckey 83 -0.2 416 304 86 74.4 -13%
Jason Hill UD -0.6 313 175 75.4 30 -60%
Jerheme Urban UD -4 463 252 102.8 36.6 -64%

2010 Season

WR ADP PFF Pass ’09 Snaps ’10 Snaps ’09 FP ’10 FP % Change
Davone Bess 75 14.6 581 679 164.9 190.7 16%
Mike Thomas 73 3 416 794 107.9 183.4 70%
David Anderson UD 1.2 396 213 75 22.7 -70%
Julian Edelman 51 -0.1 326 179 79.4 17 -79%
Danny Amendola 81 -3.6 456 677 81.4 180 121%

Davone Bess and Steve Smith had breakout seasons in 2009, while Mike Thomas and Danny Amendola enjoyed similar campaigns this past season. Five of the other six players saw an actual decrease in scoring.
Two possibilities for improving our odds are obvious when looking at the charts above. Three of the five players who saw decreases were not being drafted in the Top 100 receivers according to If we ignore those players, we’re left with a 57% breakout rate. Moreover, although Davone Bess did not technically have a second breakout in 2010, his 190 fantasy points came at a sharp discount to his WR75 ADP.
Even more impressively, if we then eliminate players who had negative PFF pass ratings, we are left with Bess (’08 and ’09), Smith, and Thomas. The only breakout player we lose with this filter is Danny Amendola.
Out of the ten players, only Steve Smith was a revelation in the Welker mode. After catching 71% of his targets on 503 snaps in 2008, he exploded for 271 fantasy points in 2009. The sample is still too small to know if this type of result is normal, but, if you could catch lightning in a bottle once every two years by drafting receivers who fit this profile, it would pay off handsomely.

Who looks good for 2011?

Four receivers fit our definition of a possession receiver. (Austin Collie technically meets the criteria but only because injury derailed what would have been a Top 10 fantasy season. He has already ascended to star status.) Of those four, three are being drafted in fantasy and possess a positive PFF pass rating.

2010 Season

WR ADP Pass Snaps PR < 10 yards TA TA/Snap % Ct FP
Danny Amendola 40 1.8 677 83% 114 0.168 74.6 180
Jordan Shipley 60 1.4 611 72% 72 0.118 72.2 130
Earl Bennett 61 4.2 502 68% 66 0.131 69.7 121
Chansi Stuckey UD -2.8 396 79% 57 0.144 70.2 81.5


Danny Amendola, who improved his pass rating into the positive in 2010, has the highest visibility of the group. Amendola just barely falls under the admittedly high 200 point ceiling. He finished as WR30 a year ago, which means he was a definite starter in PPR leagues that employ a three receiver format. Still, Amendola has a ton of work to do to reach the tier of receivers that includes Welker and a healthy Steve Smith.
In addition, skepticism remains high that Amendola will even maintain his current level. He’s in a similar situation to that of Bess a year ago. The Dolphins signed an elite possession receiver in Brandon Marshall who was supposed to block Bess’s route to a starting job and eat into his targets in the short passing game. Instead, Bess managed to increase his production slightly.
The Rams drafted two possession receivers in the draft and have Clayton and Avery returning from injury. Danario Alexander remains on the radar as a potential No. 1 receiver. The St. Louis receiving picture is overcrowded at best. As a result, drafters are taking a wait-and-see approach to the possibility of Amendola building on his 2010 campaign.
The other two players are being drafted as deep bench receivers in Draftmaster leagues, which means a breakout season from either of them would deliver significant value. Jordan Shipley and Earl Bennett finished as WR52 and WR57 a year ago. Shipley projects as the third receiver in a run-based offense but could end up with far more targets than either A.J. Green or Jerome Simpson even if he plays fewer snaps. Bennett fans will be sweating out the free agent signings. If the Bears add a starter to play opposite Johnny Knox, his value will take a hit.
On the other hand, heading into 2007 training camps it was Donte Stallworth, not Wes Welker, who was expected to play second fiddle to Randy Moss. A player who can consistently get open in the 0-9 yard area and catch 70% of the passes thrown to him will usually find a way to fantasy relevance. Amendola, Bennett, and Shipley should all be targeted in fantasy drafts at their current ADPs.

  • Bryan Fontaine

    Nice job with this article. I’ve been targeting Bennett and Shipley late in deeper leagues, so I like that you highlighted some interesting stats here.

  • rberger909

    Same here Bryan, kind of backs up my research so I’m feeling better about the picks!

  • Steve Wyremski

    Bennett is definitely a target of mine especially with the rapport with Cutler going back and the fact that Hester just doesn’t seem like he’s going to succeed. What concerns me about Amendola is the % of his snaps he sees in the slot. It’s ridiculously high and similar to what Brandon Stokley normally sees. As we know, Stokley isn’t exactly the model receiver for consistent top fantasy production.

    I WANT to like Amendola with the relationship with Bradford that developed last year, but I’m skeptical.

    Quite an interesting article.

  • Shawn Siegele

    Thanks, I think the ADP of Amendola may continue to drop as training camp opens and fans see him competing with Alexander, Clayton, Avery, Salas, and Pettis. Fantasy leaguers have completely discounted Pettis, which is odd since the Rams obviously had a higher grade on him than Salas.

    I hope that provides an even better buying opportunity for Amendola. While WR40 represents a discount to his 2010 production, he could be a real steal a couple of rounds later.

    I’m not sure what to make of Amendola’s extremely high % of targets inside the 9 yard range. It would certainly seem to limit his upside. There is a lot of talk about Amendola filling the Welker role in the McDaniels offense, but that role didn’t actually exist while McDaniels was in Denver. If we compare Amendola in 2010 to the way Welker was used under McDaniels in 2008, they do seem to be eerily similar. Welker ran 84% of his routes within 9 yards of the line of scrimmage (Amendola 83%). 66% of Welker’s targets were labeled ‘middle,’ while 55% of Amendola’s were.

    I’ve been skeptical about Amendola because I was high on Royal heading into 2009, and that obviously didn’t work out. Maybe it’s apples and oranges though. Royal only ran 64% of his routes within 9 yards of the line of scrimmage the year before McDaniels, and only 43% of his routes were labeled ‘middle.’ He may just be a different type of WR and one that didn’t fit what McDaniels was trying to do.

    There’s also been a lot of talk that McDaniels plans to emulate what the Patriots did last year in terms of a TE-heavy offense. I doubt that pans out, but such an offense still leaves room for a player like Amendola. Welker ran 81% of his routes within 9 yards of the line of scrimmage last year.

  • Bryan Fontaine

    Agree with Steve, good stuff here Shawn – welcome to the PFF Fantasy team!

  • rilla

    I know Roscoe Parrish didn’t make this list because he’s been in the league for some time now but last year before he got hurt he had 3 straight games averaging over 6 catches a game. If you included him in this analysis would you classify him as a breakout possession receiver candidate for 2011? I think he its currently going undrafted.

  • Shawn Siegele

    Parrish is an interesting case. He caught 66% of his passes, despite running only 52% of his routes within the 9 yard range. He also had a (barely) negative PFF pass rating, so he misses the criteria in a number of of ways, but he’s certainly a player to track since right now you could get him with your last round pick.

    Even more intriguing might be David Nelson who caught 66% of his passes, ran 62% of his routes within the 9 yard area, and finished with a fairly strong 2.1 pass rating for only 356 snaps. Of course, they could cancel each other out if both stay healthy.