At What Age Do Wide Receivers Peak in Fantasy Value?

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(Marvin Harrison pictured because the Fantasy Douche once stayed on the Marvin Harrison bus a little too long)

In the past I’ve written on the effect that age has on coaches and running backs.  Because I’ve sort of railed against a team giving up a first round pick for Mike Wallace and then giving him a big contract, I thought I would look at the effect that age has on wide receivers.

One of my key arguments against paying Mike Wallace has been that he will be 26 next year, which will make him 28 in the third year of his deal.  I’ve also made the argument that a small receiver like Wallace requires 4.3 speed to get open/produce and that might leave him by the time he’s 28 (although I will get to that part of the argument tomorrow and the graph below isn’t enough to establish whether that point is true or not).

The following graph shows receiver (all non-RB ball catchers) production (fantasy points per game) as a percent of peak season production.  Basically a WR will peak between the time that they are between 24 and 26.  The important thing to remember is that this is comparing each receiver against themselves.  This is not comparing each receiver with every other receiver.

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Because people always respond to examples better than statistics, I figured I would offer a few.

  • Andre Johnson had his best per game fantasy numbers in 2007 when he caught 8 touchdowns in just 9 games.  He was 26 that year.
  • Larry Fitzgerald was 25 during his 2008 season when he caught 12 touchdowns.
  • Dwayne Bowe was 26 during the 2010 season when he set a personal best for touchdowns.
  • Brandon Marshall was 25 during the 2009 season when he caught 1100 yards and 10 touchdowns.

 

Obviously there are going to be exceptions, and the graph above is only based on averages.  Randy Moss was obviously ridiculous in 2007.  He was 30 that year.  Steve Smith had a very good season last year.  Marvin Harrison obviously had his better years in his late 20s and early 30s.

But on average, receivers have their best season in their mid-20s.

For fantasy purposes I’ll be using the graph above to make sure that I am targeting guys who are entering, or still in their prime.  To me it’s a simple value thing.  If you can still get a guy who is on his way up, you’re not paying for production that is more likely to increase vs. decrease.  It’s also important to note that this is a probability thing, not a certainty thing.  When you double down in blackjack, the dealer is going to throw some 4′s out there.

What does this mean for my point about Mike Wallace and whether age should be a consideration for a team that might sign him?

  1. Receivers do tend to decline in production after 26.  Whether or not it’s dramatic enough to price in to free agent contracts is difficult to say I guess.  I actually think this really comes down to a judgment call.
  2. Maybe receivers have four career phases:
    1. 21-22 – Getting Good
    2. 23-27 – Being Good
    3. 28-30 – Trying to stay good
    4. 30+ – The Steady Decline
  3. To me the value tradeoff for free agents basically comes down to this:  You’re paying for peak production and you’re probably going to get 90-95% of that peak production.  So to me it mostly comes down to salary, not really declining production.  Although teams should keep age in mind when doing free agent deals.
  • TD
  • evansj

    Follow this up with a list of fantasy draftable wide-receivers and their ages. Who benefits most if this statistic is considered? Jeremy Maclin, Dez Bryant, Antonio Brown come to mind as players who could be drafted higher by those weighing your analysis heavily (obviously guys like Calvin Johnson in Rob Gronkowski can’t really be positively affected by any analysis). Guys who fall – Roddy White, M. Colston perhaps? I’d love to see an application of this premise to this summer’s fantasy outlook.