This past fantasy football season was nuts. Smart players saw their carefully-laid plans go down in flames, victims to the fickle nature of the fantasy gods. Locked-in studs busted and a host of seeming duds- names like Ryan Tannehill, DJ Chark, and Kenyan Drake- suddenly rose to the top of leaderboards.
Amongst these players were WRs DeVante Parker and Breshad Perriman. Both were once-hyped prospects, long since relegated to bust status, and 2019 saw both players phoenix themselves up off the scrap heap and into fantasy stardom.
Are these former-first-rounders just a flash in the pan, or will they sustain success? Are we buying low, or selling for whatever we can get? Should we have hope for other talented underachievers to have late breakouts of their own?
Let’s find out!
Here’s links to the PlayerProfiler pages for each:
As prospects, Perriman and Parker were eerily similar.
Parker is big, strong, and fast; at 6’3”, 209 pounds he’s the prototype of an X receiver, and his 86th % wingspan and 90th % speed score (4.45 40) are salivation-worthy.
Perriman, on the other hand, posted an unearthly 4.30 at 6’2”, 212lbs. That’s a 99th % mark. It’s ridiculous number.
Parker’s production profile was elite. He accumulated a dominator rating of 46.3% (92nd%), YPR of 19.9 (93rd%) and an early breakout age of 19.6 (75th%). In Parker’s senior year he only made it to 6 games but he racked up 855 yards, a blistering 142.5 per-game average on a team that ran more than it passed. It’s no wonder he was taken in the first round of the 2015 draft, the 3rd WR off the board at 1.14.
Perriman’s production was also great, with a 36.6% dominator, 20.9 YPR (95th%) and a decent 20.0 breakout age. He was drafted just 12 spots after Parker at 1.26.
Two high-end prospects with high-end draft capital… two high-dives into bustville, until this season.
Parker in the NFL: Early Promise, Hobbled
Parker’s rookie season started off slow, his snap share largely below 50% even before complications from his college foot injury sidelined him for two games. His end-of-year stats on the weren’t crazy- 26/494/3- but he got hot towards the end of the season, topping 80 yards in four of the last six games and validating his high draft stock. On the whole, OC Bill Lazor’s spread offense wasn’t good, ranking 27th in points and 26 in yards, and it largely moved through Jarvis Landry. Tannehill threw for over 4200 yards with an 88.7 QBR.
2016 began the Adam Gase era in Miami. 2019’s breakouts by multiple former ‘Fins showed just how strongly he might have hindered the growth of his skill-position players. During his sophomore year Parker progressed, but couldn’t pass Landry on the depth chart, playing a 2a/2b role with Kenny Stills that was good for just 56/744/0. Miami went 10-6 and seemed to have taken a step forward, although injuries began to hit the team; Parker had a hamstring strain and a back injury, while Tannehill missed two games with a partial ACL tear.
Parker's Stats, '15 through '18
In the 2017 preseason, Tannehill re-tore that knee and needed surgery. Parker missed three more games with an ankle injury and, when active, he caught passes from Jay Cutler and Matt Moore. Moore’s budding bromance with Kenny Still relegated Parker to the #3 in an ineffective, bottom-3 offensive unit.
2018 was supposed to be Parker’s time to shine. Landry was gone, signed by the Browns, and only Stills and Danny Ammendola shared the depth chart. Yet it was more of the same: Parker missed 2 games with a broken finger and two more with a quad injury; Tannehill injured his shoulder, missing five games, with Brock Osweiler filling in. The offense ranked 31st in yardage, and Parker posted a 51% catch rate on 47 targets across seven games, ending with only 309 yards. The bust label had sunk in.
The short version: Parker’s first years were derailed by injury, injured QBs, and Adam Gase.
Perriman: Plane Not Cleared for Takeoff
If Parker’s first four years were rough, Perriman’s were downright depressing. They certainly gave Ozzie Newsome cause for regret.
His rookie year ended before it began with a PCL tear and setbacks. He never saw game action.
Perriman’s second year line was a not-terrible 43-499-3; he appeared in 16 games, though he only started one. But the most memorable numbers are 50 and 7.6; a 50% catch rate, and 7.6 YPT (the 96th-best amongst WRs). Ouch.
2017 saw things decline still more. A hamstring held him out of the preseason, and an October concussion saw him miss another game. He appeared in 11 games and caught ten balls, finishing with an abysmal 28.6% catch rate and a pink slip from the Ravens.
Perriman Stats '15 - '18
Perriman got a chance to turn a new leaf in ‘18 with the Browns. Once Baker took the reins midseason the speedster was given opportunities to stretch the field, and he made several nice plays, but it wasn’t enough for Cleveland to keep him around.
Always a raw prospect, Perriman’s injuries cost him valuable reps, and it seems like bad hands and weak routes cost him the trust of his coaches.
Were There Red Flags?
For Perriman there were flags aplenty. Many scouts were skeptical of his skills, though it’s not uncommon for talented WRs to need refinement coming out of college.
Read 2015 scouting reports, and here are some things you’ll find:
- Can’t get off press, relies on speed too much (this is very much so evident in his college film)
- Rounds routes
- Drops, drops, drops. Perriman dropped a lot of passes in college
Parker, on the other hand, was beloved by scouts. He was considered a nearly bulletproof prospect (ranked right behind Kevin White!)
Here are the complaints in his draft profiles:
- Durability. Parker’s college foot injury bore a risk of being reinjured (it was)
- Issues with focus and consistent technique
Parker’s 5th Year: Better Late Than Never!
Parker finished 2019 as the PPR WR11 with a 72/1202/9 line. He was top-4 in air yards and top-3 in contested catches.
Parker 2019 Stats
For the last eight games of the season, he was the overall WR2.
What changed? How did he get there?
Well, quite a few things fell his way.
A healthy Parker
Parker played all 16 games for the first time in his career.
QB: Ryan Fitzmagic
Fitz loves to throw downfield. Here’s a chart of AIY (Average Intended Air Yards) for all QBs, a good measure of how deep a QB is throwing:
Fitzmagic isn’t scared of tight-window throws or 50-50s. Here’s a link the NextGen Table , but I’ve visualized their AGG (Aggressiveness Rating) below. It’s a rating of how willing a QB was to throw into tight windows:
No real competition for targets
- Kenny stills, MIA’s top WR from 2018, was traded
- Landry, MIA WR1 for Parker’s first 3 years, was gone in FA in ’18
- Ammendola, the WR3 from ‘18 left in FA after the season
- Albert Wilson, Ammendola / Landry’s replacement in the slot, was injured in preseason & only started four games
- Talented rookie Preston Williams was injured mid-season and hit IR
Miami threw the ball a ton
- MIA finished Top 2 in passing %
- They had a terrible defense, a faster pace of play, and couldn’t run the ball
- MIA was worst in the league in terms of points allowed.
- This was largely result of trading away most of the marquee players on that side of the ball.
Coaching / play-calling changes
- No more Adam Gase (Gase ran the 2nd slowest offense in NFL in 2018)
- Top 7 in pace of play (time per play)
- Finished top 10 in total offensive plays
No run game
- Fitzgerald was MIA’s leading rusher.
- They were the worst rushing team in football by nearly any metric.
- Terrible run-blocking
- Best o-line player traded (Laramy Tunsil)
- MIA had the worst line in the league in terms of line-yards
- No RBs
- Kenyan Drake traded
- Kallen Ballage bad at football
- Mark Walton suspended
- Ended with 4th string RB Patrick Laird
So what changed? Everything. Parker had the “perfect storm” of opportunity with the 2019 Dolphins.
Was It Just the Circumstances? Or Did Parker Improve As Well?
I watched a couple games from Parker’s rookie season and then a couple from 2019. The improvement is there.
The 2015 tapes are from a game against NE late in the season.
His 2015 tape isn’t bad. There are examples of some unrefined route running- rounding into his breaks on an out route- that I couldn’t get to upload. But he wins at the catch point with size and strength and tracks the ball well. He shows great burst out of his break on the double-move.
The 2019 game clips are from the game where he roasted Stephon Gilmore for 8/137
This play is just ridiculous. He gains outside leverage, then releases for a slant, then breaks back to the outside as soon as Gilmore bites on the slant. It’s savvy, veteran route-running and suddenness on display.
The OC builds off of that play, following it with a route where Parker again feints to the outside, but this time it’s actually a slant, and he sits down perfectly in the zone even with four defenders near
What should you do with Parker?
I’m likely holding unless I can buy/sell for a great value. I think he’s going to be a good piece to own for 2020, but this was likely to have been his absolute ceiling. Remember Preston Williams? Williams was winning the battle for MS when healthy last year. Parker’s certainly earned a role, and maybe a leg up, but his younger teammate is certain to come out swinging in 2020. Of course, it’s also likely MIA drafts someone, making a true ascension still more difficult for either player. I’m valuing him as a WR2 for 2020.
Perriman’s 5th-Year Surge
Perriman had hit the radar a bit in ’18 with the Browns- catching a few nice 9’s- and he continued that trend in ’19. Despite many projecting Justin Watson or Scott Miller as the #3 behind Evans and Godwin, Perriman held off the competition to earn the third starting spot. He finished as the WR51 with a 36/645/6 line. Not spectacular, I know.
As the TB receiver corps became depleted at the end of the year, he came alive, catching 25 balls for 506 yards and 5 TDs, in the final five weeks, the WR3 over that span.
Perriman 2019 Stats
Averaging 5/101/1 is, ah, pretty good. On pace stats are ridiculous… but, also- that’s a ridiculous pace.
Let’s look at how this came together for Perriman.
Healthy Breshad Perriman
Perriman stayed healthy for the entire season, developing chemistry with his new QB.
QB upgrade: Jameis Winston
- Perriman’s early years were spent catching passes from Joe Flacco.
- Flacco ranks bottom-2 in AGG (Aggressiveness Rating),
- Flacco- ranks bottom-5 in IAY
- Flacco averaged -2AYTS (Air Yards To Sticks), meaning he on average threw the ball short of the first down marker by 2 yards
- His 2019 QB, Jameis Winston:
- Ranked #2 in IAY
- had a +1.4 AYTS- meaning his average throw was 1.4 yards past the first down marker.
TB threw the ball
- The had the 7th highest pass %, for many of the same reasons we saw with MIA
- TB was the 4th worst defense in PPGA
- TB’s run game was slightly better than MIA, the 9th-worst in the league.
- TB had 4th highest plays run
- Rate of play was top-8
No competition for targets for his end-of season breakout stretch
- Mike Evans goes down in week 14 with a hamstring
- Chris Godwin, hamstring in week 15
- Scotty Miller, hamstring, in week 16
Clearly, we’re seeing a lot of parallels between these two situations.
Healthy seasons for often-injured players, Gunslingers at the helm, extremely favorable opportunities, and an injury-free season set both of these young men up for success.
Has Perriman Improved? Or Was He Just a Beneficiary of a Team In Need?
He still had the 7th worst catch rate of qualified WRs at 52.2%. His average TAY is extremely high at 16.1- signifying that those are more deeper, lower-% targets- but that’s still not great.
When we dig a little deeper in, however we find that playerprofiler is giving him a true catch rate of 83.7%, which is actually quite good. There’s a lot of noise to that specific stat, but it’s still encouraging.
Let’s take a look at some of his film.
Perriman’s 2016 tape shows a huge disconnect between him and Joe Flacco. Several times it looked like he made his break too early or late. There’s other play where Perriman roasted his guy on a 9 and Flacco underthrew him by five yards.
There’s also some bad drops, and he struggled to win on contested catch points.
Perriman’s tape from the end of ’19 definitely shows improvement; he catches anything in his area, he’s obviously communicating well with Winston, and he goes up and wins at the catch point. His routes still aren’t crisp- nor are his releases- but he wins with his size and speed.
I’m hesitant to get too gaga over this tape, though; a lot of the coverage just looks awful, and he was playing against DET & ATL in these games, both terrible secondaries.
What to do with Perriman?
His December outburst isn’t likely to recur, but, if he lands in the right spot, he could see some production in 2020. There’s certainly teams that will want a huge, blazing fast WR, if nothing else than to run 9s and slants- though he has shown he’s capable of more.
I do think he’s taken a step forward from his failed years in BAL. His 2019 tape showed an ability to run a variety of routes and to perform as the main guy; by the last couple games there, the opposing defenses had to know he was getting the ball- there was no one else on the field for TB- and they still couldn’t stop him.
There’s very little chance he sees this much volume or consistency again. But a few blow-up games? Sure, and maybe a bit more than that with the perfect landing spot.
Are These Guys the Extension of a Trend, or Isolated Incidence?
Should we be looking to other busts with draft capital to have late breakouts? Corey Davis has often been mentioned in this context. Does he still have a chance?
Let’s look at some other players who have broken out in their 5th years to see if there’s a pattern to cull.
I ran some queries (using Rotoviz’s screening tool) to identify players that had a 5th-year breakout- set arbitrarily at 180 PPR points in the 5th season (good for a WR20 finish in 2019) with having never hit that threshold previously- and here’s what I found.
Here’s the table of all players who qualified, and their subsequent year production:
Most of these guys fit a certain mold: late round or UDFA players who took time to break into the lineups, who spent the early years of their careers refining their skills on the practice squad or on special teams. That well enough describes Edelman (converted QB), Theilen (UDFA), and Baldwin (UDFA), who all had sustained success after their breakouts.
Rishard Matthews is generally in that mold as a late-round guy, but he only had that one year as a top performer, and then one more year as a WR4, rather than the sustained success of Baldwin that cohort.
The last few names have a bit more draft capital behind them, Sanders and Laurent as 3rd-rounders and Tate as a second. I’m not familiar with Laurent’s career, but that year was an extreme outlier for him; he caught 11 TDs from Tony Romo playing across from Dez Bryant.
Sanders had decent seasons in PIT, but he was playing behind Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace, an embarrassment of riches for Big Ben to throw to. His breakout season was when he moved to DEN in free agency; he excelled in a less-crowded WR room. Again, it’s all about the opportunity; that’s a theme of the day here.
Tate would likely have made the cut in his 3rd season if I had used full PPR. He played on an extremely run-heavy team and shared the receiving work with Doug Baldwin.
None of these guys has much in common with Parker or has that 1st-round pedigree. Laurent might have the most similarity- he was a fairly big, fast receiver whose career was marred with injury- but if anything he’s a closer players to Perriman, and even that’s not a rock-solid comparison.
If I walk it back to players that broke out in their fourth years we get a few more interesting cases:
|Antonio Brown||2013||248.45||320.6||late round|
|Stefon Diggs||2018||215.3||186.1||late round|
Several of these fall in line with what we described with the 5th-year guys, the pattern of late round / UDFA players earning their way onto the field and performing (AB and Diggs). A couple players here have at least some similarities to Parker: Jordy Nelson and Michael Crabtree.
Nelson is similar in that he’s a big, fairly fast dude with high draft capital (2.01) who was buried on the depth chart behind Greg Jennings for the beginning of his career. He was healthy and had good QB play, he just couldn’t win the target share until Jennings moved on- so he had some of the complications Parker did, but not the injuries or the backups throwing to him.
Crabtree (1.10) is a similar body type to Parker but without the MIA WR’s rocket boosters; he’s more of a possession-style receiver. He had good seasons prior to his breakout, but just hadn’t broken over 150 points in hPPR; like Tate, he wouldn’t have qualified in this group if I used PPR.
What’s the lesson? Parker’s a fairly unique case. There’s not been a player quite like him in the past ten years; it’s rare to see a prospect with high draft capital become fantasy-relevant late in their career. The more repeatable scenario seems to be that of the late breakout for the player without draft stock.
Is there hope for the 2016 class?
Corey Davis, Treadwell, Fuller, Coleman- this class was riddled with busts.
Is there hope? Do any of these guys match the patterns of the players we’ve talked about?
Davis has a few similarities to Parker’s situation.
- He was an elite prospect with high draft capital.
- He was on a bad offense with poor QB play and a run-heavy approach.
- He had some injury issues, missing a large part of 2017 (his sophomore season).
What Davis had- that Parker did not before this season- was all the opportunity. There was no Landry or Antonio Brown in his way; the only player he had to outperform was Rishard Matthews. He was given the opportunity to earn target volume from day one and failed to produce.
Now his team has brought in another “alpha” receiver in A. J. Brown- who immediately began to outproduce Davis- so that opportunity is likely gone. Film studies on Davis (@jetpackGalileo had a good one last year) will show inconsistency in technique and effort, which makes sense with his failure to develop.
So, can he break out? It’s still possible, but unlikely. He’d need a change in offense to something more pass-happy, a scenario where Derrick Henry is gone and the defense falls apart, and he’d need AJB to go down.
It’s more likely he’ll linger in that WR4 – WR5 range, though his good games may come more frequently with AJB drawing top coverage in 2020.
What about Corey Coleman, another elite prospect who has failed to make an impact? Coleman fits much of the profile of Davis. He saw bad offenses and bad QB play in his early years, but this year, even amidst a crisis which saw the Giants starting 5th-string players, he failed to seize a relevant snap or market share. The Giants lost all their top pass-catchers, were without their RB1 for several weeks, and had a terrible defense that forced them to throw, and Coleman still failed to make an impact.
Amongst all the seemingly lost causes of the ‘16 class, the only player that seems to have a realistic chance at a mid-career breakout is Will Fuller. In some ways, calling for a potential Fuller breakout is cheating, as we’ve seen him absolutely dominate games- when he can get on the field- in a way in which we’d never seen from Parker or Perriman.
Fuller doesn’t have the best hands, and that hasn’t helped him, but his primary struggle has always staying healthy. This year he appeared in 12 games, the most since his rookie season, though his snaps were limited in two of those.
Fuller showed us what he’s capable of in weeks 5 and 12 this year, hitting for 21/257/3 over those two games. We have to assume that if Hopkins goes down and Fuller becomes the focal point of the passing attack we’d see plenty of those outburst games; a 16-game-Fuller as the primary target on his team would certainly be capable of a WR1 seasonal finish.
But I’m not especially looking to acquire him; the odds are much more in favor of Fuller continuing with flashes of brilliance followed by weeks of nothing, and his acquisition cost has generally been richer than his production, though this could be the year that his value he dips to an appropriate mark.
And that seems to be the take-away here; don’t chase this. Parker- and his 2019 season- has been a unicorn that’s not likely to be repeated.
If you’re looking to acquire a potential breakout player that’s still cheap, you’re better off trying to identify the next Julian Edelman, Adam Theilen, or Antonio Brown type, the late-round guy who’s had to fight for opportunity, but has performed well and earned himself more snaps.
This could be a Greg Ward, a Russell Gage, or a Steven Sims Jr; all great guys to stash at the bottom of your roster. Identify the guys that force their way onto the field with quality play, or who seize the opportunity presented by vacancies on the depth chart and excel. While some of them will likely fade away as more talented players get healthy or are drafted, a few of them will stick, and this type of player can often be plucked from the wire for free.
Thanks for the read- happy hunting!