Wide receivers are a valuable commodity in fantasy football leagues – especially in PPR leagues, like Apex. In the past I have taken in-depth looks 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.

Growing Value of Wide Receivers

Below are the average age, number of receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns for WR1s or the top 12 PPR receivers from this past season. Let’s begin by comparing the production from the top 12 receivers over the past two seasons:

YearAgeRecRec YardsTDsTargetsY/TRec FPs
201326.2595.31400.99.67158.28.95293.4
201425.5897140610.25147.99.54299.1
201526.58103.71402.810.17161.88.74305.0

While the efficiency reduced in this past season, targets and receptions are rising. As a whole, the league’s passing statistics continue to rise:

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 10.02.37 AM

Defining A Peak Season

In past years we set the peak numbers at 80 receptions, 1,400 receiving yards, and 8 touchdowns. This year, we are aiming to increase the sample size. To do this, we are lowering the peak numbers to 80 receptions, 1,300 receiving yards, and 8 touchdowns. This threshold gives us a sample size of 91. The list includes all wide receivers to meet the requirements since 1990 and was generated by Pro-Football-Reference.com:

RkPlayerYearAgeGRecYdsY/RTDY/G
1Julio Jones20152616136187113.768116.9
2Jerry Rice19953316122184815.1515115.5
3Antonio Brown20152716136183413.4910114.6
4Isaac Bruce19952316119178114.9713111.3
5Marvin Harrison20023016143172212.0411107.6
6Antonio Brown20142616129169813.1613106.1
7Torry Holt20032716117169614.512106
8Herman Moore19952616123168613.7114105.4
9Calvin Johnson2011261696168117.5116105.1
10Marvin Harrison19992716115166314.4612103.9
11Josh Gordon2013221487164618.929117.6
12Randy Moss20032616111163214.717102
13Demaryius Thomas20142716111161914.5911101.2
14Michael Irvin19952916111160314.4410100.2
15Rod Smith20003016100160216.028100.1
16David Boston2001231698159816.31899.9
17Rob Moore1997291697158416.33899
18Andre Johnson20082716115157513.7898.4
19Andre Johnson20092816101156915.53998.1
20Wes Welker20113016122156912.86998.1
21Steve Smith20052616103156315.171297.7
22Victor Cruz2011251682153618.73996
23Marvin Harrison20012916109152413.981595.3
24Michael Irvin1991251693152316.38895.2
25DeAndre Hopkins20152316111152113.71195.1
26Jordy Nelson2014291698151915.51394.9
27Reggie Wayne20072916104151014.521094.4
28Brandon Marshall20122816118150812.781194.3
29Jerry Rice1993311698150315.341593.9
30Brandon Marshall20153116109150213.781493.9
31Jerry Rice19902816100150215.021393.9
32Antonio Brown20132516110149913.63893.7
33Jerry Rice19943216112149913.381393.7
34Robert Brooks19952516102149714.681393.6
35Randy Moss2007301698149315.232393.3
36Calvin Johnson2013281484149217.7612106.6
37Brett Perriman19953016108148813.78993
38Santana Moss2005261684148317.65992.7
39Isaac Bruce2000281687147116.91991.9
40Sterling Sharpe19922716108146113.531391.3
41Terrell Owens2000271497145114.9613103.6
42Odell Beckham2015231596145015.11396.7
43Chad Johnson2007291693144015.48890
44Demaryius Thomas2012251694143415.261089.6
45Chad Johnson2005271697143214.76989.5
46Larry Fitzgerald2008251696143114.911289.4
47Demaryius Thomas2013261692143015.541489.4
48A.J. Green2013251698142614.551189.1
49Antonio Freeman1998261584142416.951494.9
50Marvin Harrison20002816102141313.851488.3
51Randy Moss1999221680141317.661188.3
52Terrell Owens2001281693141215.181688.3
53Larry Fitzgerald2011281680141117.64888.2
54Larry Fitzgerald20052216103140913.681088.1
55Larry Fitzgerald20072415100140914.091093.9
56Muhsin Muhammad2004311693140515.111687.8
57Emmanuel Sanders20142716101140413.9987.8
58Allen Robinson2015221680140017.51487.5
59Marcus Robinson1999241684140016.67987.5
60Joe Horn2004321694139914.881187.4
61Roddy White20102916115138912.081086.8
62Dez Bryant2012241692138215.021286.4
63Javon Walker2004261689138215.531286.4
64Anquan Boldin20032316101137713.63886.1
65Jimmy Smith20013216112137312.26885.8
66Torry Holt2004281694137214.61085.8
67Cris Carter19953016122137111.241785.7
68Marvin Harrison2006341695136614.381285.4
69Chad Johnson2003251690135515.061084.7
70Terrell Owens2007341581135516.731590.3
71A.J. Green2012241697135013.921184.4
72Rod Smith20013115113134311.881189.5
73Amani Toomer2002281682134316.38883.9
74Tim Brown1995291689134215.081083.9
75Terance Mathis19942716111134212.091183.9
76Joe Horn2000281694134014.26883.8
77DeSean Jackson2013271682133216.24983.3
78Torry Holt20052914102133113.05995.1
79Hines Ward20022616112132911.871283.1
80Miles Austin2009251681132016.31182.5
81Dez Bryant20142616881320151682.5
82Jeremy Maclin2014261685131815.511082.4
83Ed McCaffrey20003216101131713.04982.3
84Jordy Nelson2013281685131415.46882.1
85Sidney Rice2009231683131215.81882
86Reggie Wayne2006281686131015.23981.9
87Tim Brown1994281689130914.71981.8
88Odell Beckham2014221291130514.3412108.8
89Derrick Mason2003291695130313.72881.4
90Andre Reed1994301690130314.48881.4
91Terrell Owens200229141001300131392.9

The average age of this group is 27.23. Here’s a distribution graph of their ages:

5ppdev.com/web/apex/public


The obvious peak is from age 25 to 29 – 63.7% of the players fall within this margin. This is evidence that decline starts for most receivers after their age 30 season.

Re-Defining A Peak Season

To improve our sample size again, we’ll drop receiving yards to 1,200 and touchdowns to seven. By lowering the yardage and touchdown thresholds, we broadened our sample size to 150. The players are listed in the table below. This list was generated by Pro-Football-Reference.com:

RkPlayerYearAgeGRecYdsY/RTDY/G
1Julio Jones20152616136187113.768116.9
2Jerry Rice19953316122184815.1515115.5
3Antonio Brown20152716136183413.4910114.6
4Isaac Bruce19952316119178114.9713111.3
5Marvin Harrison20023016143172212.0411107.6
6Antonio Brown20142616129169813.1613106.1
7Torry Holt20032716117169614.512106
8Herman Moore19952616123168613.7114105.4
9Calvin Johnson2011261696168117.5116105.1
10Marvin Harrison19992716115166314.4612103.9
11Josh Gordon2013221487164618.929117.6
12Randy Moss20032616111163214.717102
13Demaryius Thomas20142716111161914.5911101.2
14Michael Irvin19952916111160314.4410100.2
15Rod Smith20003016100160216.028100.1
16David Boston2001231698159816.31899.9
17Rob Moore1997291697158416.33899
18Andre Johnson20082716115157513.7898.4
19Andre Johnson20092816101156915.53998.1
20Wes Welker20113016122156912.86998.1
21Steve Smith20052616103156315.171297.7
22Victor Cruz2011251682153618.73996
23Marvin Harrison20012916109152413.981595.3
24Michael Irvin1991251693152316.38895.2
25DeAndre Hopkins20152316111152113.71195.1
26Jordy Nelson2014291698151915.51394.9
27Reggie Wayne20072916104151014.521094.4
28Brandon Marshall20122816118150812.781194.3
29Jerry Rice1993311698150315.341593.9
30Brandon Marshall20153116109150213.781493.9
31Jerry Rice19902816100150215.021393.9
32Antonio Brown20132516110149913.63893.7
33Jerry Rice19943216112149913.381393.7
34Robert Brooks19952516102149714.681393.6
35Randy Moss2007301698149315.232393.3
36Calvin Johnson2013281484149217.7612106.6
37Brett Perriman19953016108148813.78993
38Santana Moss2005261684148317.65992.7
39Isaac Bruce2000281687147116.91991.9
40Sterling Sharpe19922716108146113.531391.3
41Terrell Owens2000271497145114.9613103.6
42Odell Beckham2015231596145015.11396.7
43Chad Johnson2007291693144015.48890
44Demaryius Thomas2012251694143415.261089.6
45Chad Johnson2005271697143214.76989.5
46Larry Fitzgerald2008251696143114.911289.4
47Demaryius Thomas2013261692143015.541489.4
48A.J. Green2013251698142614.551189.1
49Antonio Freeman1998261584142416.951494.9
50Alshon Jeffery2013231689142115.97788.8
51Marvin Harrison20002816102141313.851488.3
52Randy Moss1999221680141317.661188.3
53Terrell Owens2001281693141215.181688.3
54Larry Fitzgerald2011281680141117.64888.2
55Larry Fitzgerald20052216103140913.681088.1
56Larry Fitzgerald20072415100140914.091093.9
57Muhsin Muhammad2004311693140515.111687.8
58Emmanuel Sanders20142716101140413.9987.8
59Anquan Boldin20052514102140213.757100.1
60Allen Robinson2015221680140017.51487.5
61Marcus Robinson1999241684140016.67987.5
62Joe Horn2004321694139914.881187.4
63Roddy White20102916115138912.081086.8
64Dez Bryant2012241692138215.021286.4
65Javon Walker2004261689138215.531286.4
66Roddy White2008271688138215.7786.4
67Anquan Boldin20032316101137713.63886.1
68Jimmy Smith20013216112137312.26885.8
69Torry Holt2004281694137214.61085.8
70Cris Carter19953016122137111.241785.7
71Chad Johnson2006281687136915.74785.6
72Marvin Harrison2006341695136614.381285.4
73Torry Holt2001251681136316.83785.2
74Chad Johnson2003251690135515.061084.7
75Terrell Owens2007341581135516.731590.3
76Roddy White2012311692135114.68784.4
77A.J. Green2012241697135013.921184.4
78Randy Moss20022516106134712.71784.2
79T.Y. Hilton2014251582134516.4789.7
80Rod Smith20013115113134311.881189.5
81Amani Toomer2002281682134316.38883.9
82Tim Brown1995291689134215.081083.9
83Terance Mathis19942716111134212.091183.9
84Joe Horn2000281694134014.26883.8
85Isaac Bruce1996241684133815.93783.6
86Germane Crowell1999231681133816.52783.6
87DeSean Jackson2013271682133216.24983.3
88Torry Holt20052914102133113.05995.1
89Michael Irvin1993271688133015.11783.1
90Hines Ward20022616112132911.871283.1
91Brandon Marshall20072316102132512.99782.8
92Miles Austin2009251681132016.31182.5
93Dez Bryant20142616881320151682.5
94Jeremy Maclin2014261685131815.511082.4
95Ed McCaffrey20003216101131713.04982.3
96Jordy Nelson2013281685131415.46882.1
97Joe Horn2002301688131214.91782
98Sidney Rice2009231683131215.81882
99Reggie Wayne2006281686131015.23981.9
100Roy Williams2006251682131015.98781.9
101Tim Brown1994281689130914.71981.8
102Odell Beckham2014221291130514.3412108.8
103Derrick Mason2003291695130313.72881.4
104Andre Reed1994301690130314.48881.4
105Terrell Owens200229141001300131392.9
106A.J. Green2015271686129715.081081.1
107Herman Moore19962716106129612.23981
108Roddy White20113016100129612.96881
109Donald Driver2006311692129514.08880.9
110Brandon Marshall20132916100129512.951280.9
111Herman Moore19972816104129312.43880.8
112Lee Evans2006251682129215.76880.8
113Greg Jennings2008251680129216.15980.8
114Eric Moulds20022916100129212.921080.8
115Braylon Edwards2007241680128916.111680.6
116Eric Decker2013261687128814.81180.5
117Randall Cobb2014241691128714.141280.4
118Joey Galloway2005341683128715.511080.4
119Cris Carter2000351696127413.27979.6
120Chad Johnson2004261695127413.41979.6
121Sterling Sharpe19932816112127411.381179.6
122Marvin Harrison2003311594127213.531084.8
123Joe Horn2001291683126515.24979.1
124Randy Moss2009321683126415.231379
125Reggie Wayne20093116100126412.641079
126Cris Carter19942916122125610.3778.5
127Jerry Rice19963416108125411.61878.4
128Muhsin Muhammad1999261596125313.05883.5
129Peerless Price2002261694125213.32978.3
130Antonio Bryant2008271683124815.04778
131Drew Bennett2004261680124715.591177.9
132Jimmy Smith1996271683124414.99777.8
133Antonio Freeman1997251681124315.351277.7
134Andre Rison1993261686124214.441577.6
135Cris Carter1999341690124113.791377.6
136Carl Pickens1995251699123412.461777.1
137Dez Bryant2013251693123313.261377.1
138Randy Moss2001241682123315.041077.1
139Steve Smith20092416107122011.4776.3
140Andre Johnson2010291386121614.14893.5
141Larry Fitzgerald20153216109121511.15975.9
142Jimmy Graham2013271686121514.131675.9
143Calvin Johnson2015301688121413.8975.9
144Jimmy Smith2000311591121313.33880.9
145Jerry Rice2002401692121113.16775.7
146Donald Driver2004291684120814.38975.5
147Andre Rison1990231682120814.731075.5
148Jerry Rice1991291680120615.081475.4
149Marques Colston2007241698120212.271175.1
150Jerry Rice1992301684120114.31075.1

The average age inched up to 27.41 years old. Here is the distribution graph:

5ppdev.com/web/apex/public


At this threshold, the peak remains the same – from age 25 to 29 – 60.7% of the players fall within this margin.

While the after age 30 seasons aren’t frequent, they are diluted by the ageless Jerry Rice. Rice reached our threshold ten times in his historic career – including his age 30-34 and age 40 seasons. Amazingly, Rice accounts for 21.7% of the peak seasons occurring after age 30. While Larry Fitzgerald added his name to this list at 32 years old last season, I’d continue to bet against wide receivers over the age of 30.

What Does This Mean For 2016?

When selecting early round wide receivers, who are expected to carry your fantasy team, I’d aim to draft wide receivers who are 29 or younger.

This study is not favorable for many aging veterans. Their ages next season are in parenthesis: Steve Smith (37), Anquan Boldin (36), Larry Fitzgerald (33), Vincent Jackson (33), Brandon Marshall (32), Jordy Nelson (31), and Ted Ginn (31).

League winners Antonio Brown (28) and Julio Jones (27) are still squarely in their prime.

I would not be afraid of drafting young studs: Keenan Allen (24), DeAndre Hopkins (24), Odell Beckham (24), Jarvis Landry (24), Sammy Watkins (23), Mike Evans (23), Allen Robinson (23), Brandin Cooks (23), and Amari Cooper (22). The fact they accomplished impressive production at such a young age is a good indicator for their futures. Despite not being in their primes according to this study, they can still be building blocks for your fantasy team.