Wide receivers continue to become more valuable in fantasy football circles – especially in PPR leagues, like Apex. Last year, I took an in-depth look at when wide receivers peak. It’s an important topic considering the increasing value of the position in fantasy football. In this article, we’re going to examine the ages of wide receivers during their “peak” seasons and ultimately decide when wide receivers are at their best.

Studying the Past

Last year, I began the study by setting the peak as the average number of receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns for WR1s or the top 12 receivers from this past season. Let’s begin by comparing the production from the top 12 receivers over the past two seasons:

YearRecRec YardsTDsTargetsY/TRec FPs
201395.31400.99.67158.28.95293.4
201497140610.25147.99.54299.1

Strangely WR1s improved despite a reduction in targets. The top 12 receivers were more productive in every facet of the game despite seeing fewer opportunities. This can be explained by inefficient receivers like Pierre Garcon being replaced by highly efficient receivers like Jordy Nelson and Odell Beckham Jr.

As a whole, the league’s passing numbers continue to rise:

Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 4.13.01 PM

Defining A Peak Season

Last year, we set the peak numbers at 80 receptions, 1,400 receiving yards, and 8 touchdowns. This threshold gives us a sample size of 53. The list includes all wide receivers to meet the requirements since 1990 and was generated by Pro-Football-Reference.com:

RkPlayerYearAgeGRecYdsY/RTDY/G
1Jerry Rice19953316122184815.1515115.5
2Isaac Bruce19952316119178114.9713111.3
3Marvin Harrison20023016143172212.0411107.6
4Antonio Brown20142616129169813.1613106.1
5Torry Holt20032716117169614.512106
6Herman Moore19952616123168613.7114105.4
7Calvin Johnson2011261696168117.5116105.1
8Marvin Harrison19992716115166314.4612103.9
9Josh Gordon2013221487164618.929117.6
10Randy Moss20032616111163214.717102
11Demaryius Thomas20142716111161914.5911101.2
12Michael Irvin19952916111160314.4410100.2
13Rod Smith20003016100160216.028100.1
14David Boston2001231698159816.31899.9
15Rob Moore1997291697158416.33899
16Andre Johnson20082716115157513.7898.4
17Andre Johnson20092816101156915.53998.1
18Wes Welker20113016122156912.86998.1
19Steve Smith20052616103156315.171297.7
20Victor Cruz2011251682153618.73996
21Marvin Harrison20012916109152413.981595.3
22Michael Irvin1991251693152316.38895.2
23Jordy Nelson2014291698151915.51394.9
24Reggie Wayne20072916104151014.521094.4
25Brandon Marshall20122816118150812.781194.3
26Jerry Rice1993311698150315.341593.9
27Jerry Rice19902816100150215.021393.9
28Jerry Rice19943216112149913.381393.7
29Antonio Brown20132516110149913.63893.7
30Robert Brooks19952516102149714.681393.6
31Randy Moss2007301698149315.232393.3
32Calvin Johnson2013281484149217.7612106.6
33Brett Perriman19953016108148813.78993
34Santana Moss2005261684148317.65992.7
35Isaac Bruce2000281687147116.91991.9
36Sterling Sharpe19922716108146113.531391.3
37Terrell Owens2000271497145114.9613103.6
38Chad Johnson2007291693144015.48890
39Demaryius Thomas2012251694143415.261089.6
40Chad Johnson2005271697143214.76989.5
41Larry Fitzgerald2008251696143114.911289.4
42Demaryius Thomas2013261692143015.541489.4
43A.J. Green2013251698142614.551189.1
44Antonio Freeman1998261584142416.951494.9
45Marvin Harrison20002816102141313.851488.3
46Randy Moss1999221680141317.661188.3
47Terrell Owens2001281693141215.181688.3
48Larry Fitzgerald2011281680141117.64888.2
49Larry Fitzgerald20072415100140914.091093.9
50Larry Fitzgerald20052216103140913.681088.1
51Muhsin Muhammad2004311693140515.111687.8
52Emmanuel Sanders20142716101140413.9987.8
53Marcus Robinson1999241684140016.67987.5

The average age of this group is 27.06. Here’s a distribution graph of their ages:

5ppdev.com/web/apex/public


The obvious peak is from age 25 to 30 – 79.2% of the players fall within this margin. Jerry Rice owns three of the four seasons that take place after the age of 30. Rice also didn’t rely as much on athleticism as many other wide receivers so he is somewhat of an anomaly. This is evidence that you should expect some decline from a receiver after his age 30 season.

Re-Defining a Peak Season

To improve our sample size, we’ll drop receiving yards to 1,300. By lowering the yardage threshold, we broadened our sample size to 85. The players are listed in the table below. This list was generated by Pro-Football-Reference.com:

RkPlayerYearAgeGRecYdsY/RTDY/G
1Jerry Rice19953316122184815.1515115.5
2Isaac Bruce19952316119178114.9713111.3
3Marvin Harrison20023016143172212.0411107.6
4Antonio Brown20142616129169813.1613106.1
5Torry Holt20032716117169614.512106
6Herman Moore19952616123168613.7114105.4
7Calvin Johnson2011261696168117.5116105.1
8Marvin Harrison19992716115166314.4612103.9
9Josh Gordon2013221487164618.929117.6
10Randy Moss20032616111163214.717102
11Demaryius Thomas20142716111161914.5911101.2
12Michael Irvin19952916111160314.4410100.2
13Rod Smith20003016100160216.028100.1
14David Boston2001231698159816.31899.9
15Rob Moore1997291697158416.33899
16Andre Johnson20082716115157513.7898.4
17Andre Johnson20092816101156915.53998.1
18Wes Welker20113016122156912.86998.1
19Steve Smith20052616103156315.171297.7
20Victor Cruz2011251682153618.73996
21Marvin Harrison20012916109152413.981595.3
22Michael Irvin1991251693152316.38895.2
23Jordy Nelson2014291698151915.51394.9
24Reggie Wayne20072916104151014.521094.4
25Brandon Marshall20122816118150812.781194.3
26Jerry Rice1993311698150315.341593.9
27Jerry Rice19902816100150215.021393.9
28Antonio Brown20132516110149913.63893.7
29Jerry Rice19943216112149913.381393.7
30Robert Brooks19952516102149714.681393.6
31Randy Moss2007301698149315.232393.3
32Calvin Johnson2013281484149217.7612106.6
33Brett Perriman19953016108148813.78993
34Santana Moss2005261684148317.65992.7
35Isaac Bruce2000281687147116.91991.9
36Sterling Sharpe19922716108146113.531391.3
37Terrell Owens2000271497145114.9613103.6
38Chad Johnson2007291693144015.48890
39Demaryius Thomas2012251694143415.261089.6
40Chad Johnson2005271697143214.76989.5
41Larry Fitzgerald2008251696143114.911289.4
42Demaryius Thomas2013261692143015.541489.4
43A.J. Green2013251698142614.551189.1
44Antonio Freeman1998261584142416.951494.9
45Marvin Harrison20002816102141313.851488.3
46Randy Moss1999221680141317.661188.3
47Terrell Owens2001281693141215.181688.3
48Larry Fitzgerald2011281680141117.64888.2
49Larry Fitzgerald20072415100140914.091093.9
50Larry Fitzgerald20052216103140913.681088.1
51Muhsin Muhammad2004311693140515.111687.8
52Emmanuel Sanders20142716101140413.9987.8
53Marcus Robinson1999241684140016.67987.5
54Joe Horn2004321694139914.881187.4
55Roddy White20102916115138912.081086.8
56Dez Bryant2012241692138215.021286.4
57Javon Walker2004261689138215.531286.4
58Anquan Boldin20032316101137713.63886.1
59Jimmy Smith20013216112137312.26885.8
60Torry Holt2004281694137214.61085.8
61Cris Carter19953016122137111.241785.7
62Marvin Harrison2006341695136614.381285.4
63Chad Johnson2003251690135515.061084.7
64Terrell Owens2007341581135516.731590.3
65A.J. Green2012241697135013.921184.4
66Rod Smith20013115113134311.881189.5
67Amani Toomer2002281682134316.38883.9
68Tim Brown1995291689134215.081083.9
69Terance Mathis19942716111134212.091183.9
70Joe Horn2000281694134014.26883.8
71DeSean Jackson2013271682133216.24983.3
72Torry Holt20052914102133113.05995.1
73Hines Ward20022616112132911.871283.1
74Miles Austin2009251681132016.31182.5
75Dez Bryant20142616881320151682.5
76Jeremy Maclin2014261685131815.511082.4
77Ed McCaffrey20003216101131713.04982.3
78Jordy Nelson2013281685131415.46882.1
79Sidney Rice2009231683131215.81882
80Reggie Wayne2006281686131015.23981.9
81Tim Brown1994281689130914.71981.8
82Odell Beckham2014221291130514.3412108.8
83Derrick Mason2003291695130313.72881.4
84Andre Reed1994301690130314.48881.4
85Terrell Owens200229141001300131392.9

The average age jumped up to 27.36 years old. Here is the distribution graph:

5ppdev.com/web/apex/public


The distribution spread out a little more but the clear peak of 25 to 30 remains in tact – 74.1% of the peak seasons fall within that threshold. As the “peak” statistics are reduced, older wide receivers who aren’t as explosive are able to meet the criteria. Perhaps this means that when selecting a wide receiver in the early rounds, you want someone that falls within 25 and 29 years of age.

What does this mean for 2015?

Going into his age 30 season, there are some concerns with taking Calvin Johnson as one of the top five receivers. Still, he should have at least one quality season left. Jordy Nelson also turns 30, maybe leading the Packers to take a little off his plate in favor of youngster Davante Adams.

This chart is enough to scare me away from many aging veterans. Their ages next season are in parenthesis: Steve Smith (36), Anquan Boldin (35), Andre Johnson (34), Roddy White (34), and Malcom Floyd (34). To a lesser degree I’d also like to shy away from Vincent Jackson (32), Marques Colston (32), and Larry Fitzgerald (32).

There are many great wide receivers who are currently in their prime: Alshon Jeffery (25), Julio Jones (26), T.Y. Hilton (26), Dez Bryant (27), Antonio Brown (27), A.J. Green (27), and Demaryius Thomas (28).

There are a lot of very good young wide receivers – guys like Odell Beckham Jr. (23), DeAndre Hopkins (23), and Mike Evans (22). This article may push you away from them – history would say it should. Just keep in mind that these guys could be special, meaning that no rules apply.

However, when it comes to selecting Odell Beckham (23) or Dez Bryant (27) at the end of the 1st round – this article would suggest you take the proven star who is entering his peak.