Wide receivers continue to be a polarizing topic in fantasy leagues: 2016 proved to be the height of Zero RB discussion. Regardless of whether you believe in the strategy, wide receivers are a critical ingredient to fantasy leagues. In this article, we’re going to examine the ages of wide receivers during their “peak” seasons and ultimately decide what age wide receivers are at their best.

WR1 Production

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 this season to the past three 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
201626.6792.41212.259.17143.18.56268.6

Compared to past seasons, the top 12 wide receivers’ production was down by any measure. Is this a concern for the future: will wide receivers’ value continue to decrease?

screen-shot-2017-02-01-at-10-58-50-am

While there was a bit of a dip in pass yards per game in 2016, it’s clear that the league is trending towards passing as frequently as ever. With passing on the rise, receiver production seems bound to regress to the mean.

Defining A Peak Season

We will define a peak season as a wide receiver with at least 80 receptions, 1,200 receiving yards, and six touchdowns. We will include each receiver to meet those requirements since 2000. The sample size at this threshold is 128 players. This list was generated by Pro-Football-Reference.com:

RkPlayerYearAgeGTgtRecYdsTDY/G
1Julio Jones2015261620313618718116.9
2Antonio Brown20152716193136183410114.6
3Marvin Harrison20023016205143172211107.6
4Antonio Brown20142616181129169813106.1
5Torry Holt20032716183117169612106
6Calvin Johnson2011261615896168116105.1
7Josh Gordon201322141598716469117.6
8Torry Holt200024161398216356102.2
9Randy Moss20032616172111163217102
10Demaryius Thomas20142716184111161911101.2
11Rod Smith2000301617310016028100.1
12David Boston20012316175981598899.9
13Julio Jones2014251516310415936106.2
14Andre Johnson200827161711151575898.4
15Andre Johnson200928161711011569998.1
16Wes Welker201130161731221569998.1
17Steve Smith2005261615010315631297.7
18Victor Cruz20112516131821536996
19Marvin Harrison2001291616410915241595.3
20DeAndre Hopkins2015231619211115211195.1
21Jordy Nelson201429161519815191394.9
22Reggie Wayne2007291615610415101094.4
23Brandon Marshall2012281619211815081194.3
24Brandon Marshall2015311617310915021493.9
25Antonio Brown201325161671101499893.7
26Randy Moss200730161609814932393.3
27Calvin Johnson2013281415684149212106.6
28Santana Moss20052616134841483992.7
29Isaac Bruce20002816135871471991.9
30Terrell Owens2000271414697145113103.6
31Odell Beckham201523151589614501396.7
32T.Y. Hilton20162716155911448690.5
33Chad Johnson20072916161931440890
34Demaryius Thomas201225161439414341089.6
35Chad Johnson20052716155971432989.5
36Larry Fitzgerald200825161549614311289.4
37Demaryius Thomas201326161429214301489.4
38A.J. Green201325161789814261189.1
39Alshon Jeffery20132316148891421788.8
40Marvin Harrison2000281616910214131488.3
41Terrell Owens200128161559314121688.3
42Larry Fitzgerald20112816154801411888.2
43Larry Fitzgerald2007241516710014091093.9
44Larry Fitzgerald2005221616510314091088.1
45Julio Jones201627141298314096100.6
46Muhsin Muhammad200431161609314051687.8
47Emmanuel Sanders201427161411011404987.8
48Anquan Boldin2005251417110214027100.1
49Allen Robinson201522161518014001487.5
50Joe Horn200432161539413991187.4
51Roddy White2010291617911513891086.8
52Dez Bryant201224161389213821286.4
53Javon Walker200426161448913821286.4
54Roddy White20082716148881382786.4
55Anquan Boldin200323161651011377886.1
56Jimmy Smith200132161761121373885.8
57Torry Holt200428161359413721085.8
58Chad Johnson20062816152871369785.6
59Odell Beckham2016241616910113671085.4
60Marvin Harrison200634161489513661285.4
61Torry Holt20012516133811363785.2
62Chad Johnson200325161549013551084.7
63Terrell Owens200734151418113551590.3
64Reggie Wayne201032161751111355684.7
65Wes Welker201231161741181354684.6
66Roddy White20123116142921351784.4
67A.J. Green201224161649713501184.4
68Randy Moss200225161851061347784.2
69T.Y. Hilton20142515131821345789.7
70Rod Smith2001311517211313431189.5
71Amani Toomer20022816134821343883.9
72Joe Horn20002816151941340883.8
73DeSean Jackson20132716126821332983.3
74Torry Holt200529141631021331995.1
75Hines Ward2002261616011213291283.1
76Brandon Marshall200723161701021325782.8
77Mike Evans201623161739613211282.6
78Miles Austin200925161248113201182.5
79Dez Bryant201426161368813201682.5
80Jeremy Maclin201426161438513181082.4
81Ed McCaffrey200032161491011317982.3
82Jordy Nelson20132816127851314882.1
83Joe Horn20023016149881312782
84Sidney Rice20092316121831312882
85Reggie Wayne20062816137861310981.9
86Roy Williams20062516151821310781.9
87Odell Beckham2014221213091130512108.8
88Demaryius Thomas201528161771051304681.5
89Derrick Mason20032916133951303881.4
90Terrell Owens2002291415910013001392.9
91A.J. Green201527161328612971081.1
92Roddy White201130161801001296881
93Donald Driver20063116173921295880.9
94Brandon Marshall2013291616410012951280.9
95Isaac Bruce20043216148891292680.8
96Lee Evans20062516137821292880.8
97Greg Jennings20082516140801292980.8
98Eric Moulds2002291618010012921080.8
99Braylon Edwards200724161548012891680.6
100Eric Decker201326161368712881180.5
101Randall Cobb201424161279112871280.4
102Joey Galloway200534161528312871080.4
103Antonio Brown2016281515410612841285.6
104Cris Carter20003516161961274979.6
105Chad Johnson20042616170951274979.6
106Marvin Harrison200331151429412721084.8
107Joe Horn20012916156831265979.1
108Brandon Marshall200824151811041265684.3
109Randy Moss200932161378312641379
110Reggie Wayne2009311614910012641079
111Jordy Nelson201631161529712571478.6
112Peerless Price20022616148941252978.3
113Antonio Bryant20082716138831248778
114Drew Bennett200426161448012471177.9
115Dez Bryant201325161599312331377.1
116Randy Moss200124161548212331077.1
117Steve Smith200924161571071220776.3
118Andre Johnson20102913138861216893.5
119Larry Fitzgerald201532161451091215975.9
120Jimmy Graham201327161428612151675.9
121Calvin Johnson20153016149881214975.9
122Brandon Marshall20112716141811214675.9
123Jimmy Smith20003115145911213880.9
124Jerry Rice20024016150921211775.7
125Donald Driver20042916137841208975.5
126Laveranues Coles20032616159821204675.3
127Marques Colston200724161439812021175.1
128Roddy White20072616137831202675.1

The average age of this group is 27.35. Here’s a distribution graph of their ages:

5ppdev.com/web/apex/public


It looks like the peak of a wide receiver’s career is from 25 to 29 years old – 59.4% of the peak seasons fall within this range. It looks like receivers decline at 30 years old, with the wheels falling off at 33 years old. The amazing Jerry Rice notched the only peak season at 40 years old.

What Does This Mean For 2017?

When selecting wide receivers in the early rounds, 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: Larry Fitzgerald (34), Brandon Marshall (33), Jordy Nelson (32), and Ted Ginn (32).

Julian Edelman, DeSean Jackson, and Pierre Garcon will be 31 in 2017 – heading closer to the imminent decline. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders will turn 30, although their quarterback play is likely a bigger concern.

Studs Antonio Brown (turning 29), Dez Bryant (29), TY Hilton (28), Julio Jones (28) should remain in their prime in 2017.

It’s scary to think that Odell Beckham Jr. (25) and Mike Evans (24) are just entering their primes and could still be improving.  Despite the effects of bad quarterback play, DeAndre Hopkins (25) and Allen Robinson (24) are still extremely young.

Sammy Watkins (24), Michael Thomas (24), Brandin Cooks (24), Stefon Diggs (24), and Amari Cooper (23) are still at a solid age for production and potential improvement. While they still haven’t entered their primes according to the study, the fact they accomplished impressive production at such a young age is a good indicator for their futures.