These 3 deep truther wide receivers are finally ready to break out

by Marc Mathyk ·

It’s time to stop thinking about the poor 2018 rookie wide receiver class for a moment. Take a deep breath. Relax.  It’s time to look back at last year’s wide receiver class through the prism of advanced stats, metrics, and analytics profiles.  It was a much better class in 2017, don’t you think? So how did they do in their first season in the NFL? Corey Davis showed signs of life at the end of the season but was ultimately disappointing. And then there was the so fast you just didn’t see him on the field John Ross. On the other hand, there was Mike Williams. He was pretty good, right? No, that was Tyrell Williams.

So 2017 wasn’t a great year for the first year wide receiver.  There weren’t many Odell Beckhams, or Amari Coopers. Sure, JuJu Smith-Schuster ascended and Cooper Kupp was productive. Some good moments of Chris Godwin, Kenny Golladay and Dede Westbrook. But that’s really about it.  And none of those guys were first round picks in 2017. Call it the freshman jinx.  But now it is time to move ahead to 2018. It’s time to get serious, and see which sophomore will jump out, or at the very least jump up and catch a few more balls this year.

And while all eyes will be on Corey Davis, Mike Williams and John Ross as bounce back candidates, there is going to be someone seemingly out of nowhere that rises to the top and breaks out. This player yet to be determined wasn’t drafted in the second round like Juju Smith-Schuster, or in the third round like Cooper Kupp, or even in the fourth round like Dede Westbrook. No, this future breakout will come out of the fifth round or later. Maybe he was drafted in 2013 or 2014, or maybe even last year. But history has shown in the last 10 years that there is a 90-percent chance this will happen with a 10-percent chance of two players emerging within the same year.

Late Round Receiver Break Outs

Although there haven’t been many later round receivers that have emerged in the past decade, there have indeed been some.  In fact, it seems that every year someone from rounds five to seven comes out of nowhere. Since 2008, there has been one every year except in 2011 but there were two in 2012, evening out the tally to one per year.

The table shows that since 2008 there has been on average one receiver who is drafted in the latter stages who breaks out.  Some broke out in their rookie years like Tyreek Hill, whereas others, like Rishard Matthews and Julian Edelman, took more time to find their game. For the most part, receivers who do break out, usually break out by their second year, but if they don’t then they still have a few years to get the opportunity. Most of the receivers above had above average College Breakout percentiles which coincides with them breaking out in the NFL in their first or second year. Oddly enough, there wasn’t a receiver drafted in the final three rounds who broke out last year. There were a few undrafted breakouts in 2017, like Robby Anderson and Keelen Cole. However, since there are so many undrafted players that make rosters, it is more difficult to predict the next Adam Thielen. Since 2011 did not yield any late round breakout followed by 2012 yielding two, this year could be exciting. And although it has not been done in the past 10 years, could 2018 be the year that three unknown or forgotten players emerge?

There are three potential wide receivers who might discover that 2018 is indeed their time to shine. All of them were drafted in either the sixth or seventh round and all of them are extremely athletic. One is NFL sophomore Robert Davis, who plays for the Washington Redskins. Another is fifth-year wideout Jeff Janis, who recently signed with the Cleveland Browns. And the final one is Brice Butler, who is entering his sixth season after signing with the Arizona Cardinals.  Compared to last year, all of them find themselves in an improved situation that might allow them to get the opportunity, and that is all they want. If they get the opportunity they deserve, there is a good chance they will run with it.

Robert Davis, Washington Redskins

There is a great chance that nobody outside the state of Georgia has even heard of Robert Davis. The 23-year-old Davis was born in Warner Robins, Georgia, grew up in Georgia, and attended Georgia State University. He is Georgia State’s career leader in receptions (222) and receiving yards (3,391) breaking the records previously held by new Miami Dolphin, Albert Wilson. He is second in the Sun Belt Conference in career receiving yards, trailing only T.Y. Hilton.

Robert Davis Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

Davis was a beast at the 2017 combine. On Player Profiler, he personifies athleticism through and through. He ran a 4.44 40-Yard Dash at 6-3 and 219 pounds.  His 115.8 Speed Score puts him in the 96th-percentile.  His 137.7 Burst Score (99th-percentile) and 10.39 Catch Radius (98th-percentile) is even better. His weakest metric is his 11.10 Agility Score, which is still in the 63rd-percentile.  He also has a Breakout Age of 18.4, which places him in the 97th-percentile.  Davis’ College Dominator isn’t impressive but is still in the top half of all wide receivers. Davis’ best comparable player is Donte Moncrief. Moncrief’s best comparable player is Andre Johnson. Johnson’s best comparable player is Julio Jones. Jones’ best comparable player is Demaryius Thomas. One thing is very clear – Davis’ athletic profile puts him in elite company.

Somehow, Davis was the only player drafted by Washington last year not to make the 53-man roster.  He spent 14 games on the practice squad before finally getting the chance to prove himself for the final three games of the season. He only played three snaps of one game and that was on special teams. On the third play he suffered a concussion that ended his disappointing blip of a rookie campaign. Despite a forgettable rookie campaign, he enters 2018 with a clean slate and as fresh as he was a year before.  As illustrated in the previous table, it is in Davis’ best interest to break out within his first two years.

During the offseason, the Redskins let Terelle PryorRyan Grant and journeyman Brian Quick walk.  Therefore, Davis seemingly has found a place on the team. For some reason, he still finds himself as number five. Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson are the top two returning receivers on the roster.  This off-season, Paul Richardson also joined the crew. It also seems that Washington is still favoring Maurice Harris, who is the antithesis of athletic and wasn’t even drafted. Davis shouldn’t have a tough time leapfrogging Harris, and there’s also a possibility he will be able to prove himself as the third starter. Crowder plays best as a slot receiver. Doctson is not nearly as fast as Davis,as evidenced by his 99.9 Speed Score (68th-percentile). Doctson has been disappointing in his first few seasons in the NFL, not living up to his first round draft stock. Richardson, who finally broke out in 2017, still has many critics wondering if he is in fact all that good. It isn’t an ideal situation for Davis, but the top three do have injury concerns, and one or more could have a Terrelle Pryor year. Sure, a lot has to happen for Davis to take off. However, if he does get the chance and can find early chemistry with newly acquired Alex Smith, he could find himself having a breakout season and putting his name on the map.

Jeff Janis, Cleveland Browns

Unlike Davis, Jeff Janis is a household name in the fantasy community. He’s quite polarizing. Some believe in him while others, including the Green Bay Packers, have never given him much of a chance.  However, this off-season, Janis finally broke the shackles that held him back, signing with the Cleveland Browns. As a free man, he now has a better opportunity to showcase his talent and athleticism.

Janis is even more athletic than Davis.  His 117.9 Speed Score, 10.62 Agility Score and 10.42 Catch Radius are all in the 97th-percentile and above. While Davis was less agile, Janis’ weakest area is his 125.3 Burst Score, which pales in comparison to his other metrics but is still in the 73rd-percentile. He has a 134.1 SPARQ-x Score (98th-percentile) and both his College Dominator and College YPR are in the 90th-percentile.  His 20.2 Breakout Age was only in the 55th-percentile but as he enters his fifth season without much NFL experience, that metric is not that relevant anymore. What has incensed many Janis supporters is the fact that Green Bay not only disregarded him during his four-year tenure there, but they stunted his growth by holding him back.

In four years as a Packer, Janis played 51 regular season games, only getting 17 receptions for 200 yards and a single touchdown. This contrasts with his exceptional college resume. At Saginaw Valley State University, Janis had 4,305 receiving yards. Janis has been a victim of college elitism, having attended a Division II school. He never really got a chance in Green Bay due to the small school stigma, and was always passed over for other less capable receivers like Jared Abbrederis (University of Wisconsin) and Geronimo Allison (University of Illinois). Even when Janis was on the big playoff stage in 2016, catching seven passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns including a game-tying touchdown in flamboyant fashion against the Arizona Cardinals, he was never rewarded.

Jeff Janis Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

The 2018 off-season activity for the Cleveland Browns hasn’t been anything less than exciting.  Although it is too early to tell whether or not the Browns are going to turn it around, they have certainly made major changes that show the desire to improve. They now have their first experienced competent quarterback in many years, signing Tyrod Taylor. They have signed some formidable free agents and they still have tons of draft equity in 2018. Along with the new changes, there seems to be an air of confidence. Janis’ patience finally seems to be paying off as he isn’t joining the worst team in the NFL, but he’s joining a team that clearly is on the rise.

Check out Jeff Janis on PlayerProfiler’s Updated Dynasty Rankings:

Like Davis, Janis is not walking on the field as a starter. Cleveland has potentially one of the best wide receiver corps in the league now. Josh Gordon, Corey Coleman and newly signed Jarvis Landry seem to be the established starters. That would make Janis number four on the depth chart. Not to worry.  Coleman has never put together a complete season due to injury. Gordon is and will always be one misstep from league expulsion. And it seems no matter how Landry tries, he will never get the respect he thinks he deserves. Therefore, the starting wide receivers for Cleveland are potentially dangerous but are also volatile. One thing is certain, time is running out for Janis. He needs to plead his case sooner rather than later if he wants to break out. At least in Cleveland, he has an opportunity to do that.

Brice Butler, Arizona Cardinals

The final player that could indeed break out this year is Brice Butler. At almost 29 years of age, his window is perhaps the smallest. There’s a ray of hope, however. Unlike a running back whose age apex tends to be around 26 years of age, many wide receivers tend to maintain relevance into their mid-30s before tailing off. Another thing Butler has going for him is, unlike Davis and Janis, he has had some kind of opportunity since being in the league, no matter how small. That being said, nothing is a given and Butler will still have to win over the coaches in Arizona.

Brice Butler Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

Butler’s athleticism is not as widely known, but he is surprisingly athletic. In fact, his athleticism is so similar to Robert Davis’ that it would be easy to think they were the same person. Both have comparable Workout Metrics. All of their scores are within the 90th-percentile with both having an identical 11.10 Agility Score (63rd-percentile) which happens to be their weakest measurable.

Although Davis was more productive in college, Butler has made up for his 17.1-percent College Dominator (17th-percentile) through his production in the NFL. It isn’t very flattering but he has at least been somewhat productive.  He needs to thank the Oakland Raiders for taking a chance on his athleticism during the 2013 NFL draft. He then needs to thank the Dallas Cowboys for giving him enough opportunity to at least be a name most people know. In his three seasons in Dallas, Butler played 36 games, had 43 receptions for 794 yards and six touchdowns. He wasn’t used too much but when he was active, he had an impressive 18.5 yards per reception. In 2017, his best year, in only 13 games, Butler averaged 21.1 yards per game, scoring three touchdowns.

Butler, like Janis and Davis, is 6-3 and weighs more than 210 pounds. All three are tall and big but still really fast. Now that Butler is moving to a depleted Arizona wide receiver corps with John Brown going to Baltimore and Jaron Brown leaving for Seattle, many have him already slated in as the third wide receiver behind the perennial Larry Fitzgerald and small flyer J.J. Nelson. It seems that Butler’s chance to break out might be the best given his circumstances. He still has an uphill battle since he has never had more than 24 receptions in one season, whether it be in college or the pros.


The 2018 off-season has been one of the busiest ones for quite some time. There have been many changes, and with changes comes new opportunities. Although Robert Davis has the slimmest chance out of the three, he has a better shot than he did last year. His competition isn’t as strong as Jeff Janis’, but he is also entering his second year in the league, so time is still on his side. Janis has a better chance, not because his competition is weak but because his competition has some fragile and tragic flaws. And as for Brice Butler, it seems that he has the best chance out of the three, considering he is going to a team who really only has one great receiver in Larry Fitzgerald. He really couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity. Although he is entering his sixth year and feels the pressure to break out now, remember Julian Edelman didn’t break out until his fifth year, and when he did, he never looked back.

Let’s just hope it is athleticism that rises to the top and catapults all three of these individuals towards the spotlight so they can make a name for themselves. Now is the time for Robert Davis, Jeff Janis and Brice Butler to show their respective teams how badly they want to be every day football players with the potential to be Cinderella superstars.