With the rising popularity of dynasty fantasy football leagues, player age has become an increasingly important variable. While some players can fend off father time for an impressive amount of time (for instance, Jerry Rice), most players at the same position tend to have similar timelines. The player’s age can help us make knowledgeable predictions as to whether a player will improve or regress in the following season.

Defining A Peak Season

To start this study, we must define a peak season for an NFL wide receiver. In 2017, Marvin Jones finished as the 11th wide receiver, scoring 225.1 PPR fantasy points. For the purpose of the study, we will include all wide receivers who finished with at least 225 PPR fantasy points since 2000, which gives us a sample size of 291 players. The list below includes all individual wide receiver seasons to meet the criteria since 2000 and was generated by Pro-Football-Reference.com:

PlayerYearAgeTmGPPRRecYdsTD
Randy Moss*200730NWE16385.398149323
Marvin Harrison*200230IND16384.2143172211
Antonio Brown201527PIT16382.2136183410
Antonio Brown201426PIT16380.9129169813
Randy Moss*200326MIN16377111163217
Julio Jones201526ATL16369.113618718
Calvin Johnson201126DET16360.296168116
Torry Holt200327STL16358.1117169612
Marvin Harrison*200129IND16351.7109152415
Calvin Johnson201227DET16342.412219645
Demaryius Thomas201427DEN16340.9111161911
Brandon Marshall201531NYJ16339.2109150214
Hines Ward200226PIT16338.1112132912
Steve Smith200526CAR16337.8103156312
Wes Welker201130NWE16334.912215699
Brandon Marshall201228CHI16334.6118150811
Terrell Owens*200128SFO16332.393141216
DeAndre Hopkins201523HOU16331.1111152111
Muhsin Muhammad200431CAR1632893140516
Jordy Nelson201429GNB16327.998151913
Marvin Harrison*200028IND16325.3102141314
Rod Smith200030DEN16323.110016028
Terrell Owens*200229SFO14321.9100130013
Andre Johnson200827HOU16321.511515758
Terrell Owens*200027SFO14320.297145113
Odell Beckham201523NYG15319.396145013
Demaryius Thomas201326DEN1631992143014
Roddy White201029ATL16317.2115138910
Rod Smith200131DEN15317113134311
Dez Bryant201426DAL1631688132016
Josh Gordon201322CLE14314.48716469
Andre Johnson200928HOU16313.910115699
Reggie Wayne200729IND16312.4104151010
Randy Moss*200023MIN16311.277143715
Antonio Brown201729PIT14310.310115339
Larry Fitzgerald200825ARI16310.196143112
DeAndre Hopkins201725HOU15309.896137813
Antonio Brown201325PIT16308.911014998
David Boston200123ARI16308.39815988
Larry Fitzgerald200522ARI16308103140910
Antonio Brown201628PIT15307.3106128412
Terrell Owens*200734DAL1530781135515
A.J. Green201325CIN16306.698142611
Brandon Marshall201329CHI16305.5100129512
Jordy Nelson201631GNB16304.797125714
Mike Evans201623TAM16304.196132112
Allen Robinson201522JAX1630480140014
Jimmy Graham201327NOR16303.586121516
Calvin Johnson201328DET14303.284149212
Marvin Harrison*200634IND16302.695136612
Braylon Edwards200724CLE16301.980128916
Joe Horn200432NOR16301.994139911
Emmanuel Sanders201427DEN16301.810114049
A.J. Green201224CIN16299.897135011
Dez Bryant201224DAL16299.792138212
Larry Fitzgerald200724ARI15297.9100140910
T.J. Houshmandzadeh200730CIN16297.7112114312
Julio Jones201425ATL15297.410415936
Javon Walker200426GNB16297.289138212
Odell Beckham201624NYG16296.6101136710
Chad Johnson200527CIN16296.59714329
Jimmy Smith200132JAX1629611213738
Andre Johnson201231HOU16295.811215984
Odell Beckham201422NYG1229591130512
Randall Cobb201424GNB16293.491128712
Dez Bryant201325DAL16292.493123313
Demaryius Thomas201225DEN16291.494143410
Randy Moss*200225MIN16291.310613477
Wes Welker201231NWE16289.411813546
Victor Cruz201125NYG16288.98215369
Eric Moulds200229BUF16288.9100129210
Anquan Boldin200525ARI14288.710214027
Ed McCaffrey200032DEN16288.710113179
Isaac Bruce200028STL16288.28714719
Torry Holt200428STL16288.294137210
Chad Johnson200729CIN16287.79314408
Randy Moss*200932NWE16287.483126413
Torry Holt200529STL14287.310213319
Marvin Harrison*200432IND16286.386111315
Brandon Lloyd201029DEN1628677144811
Anquan Boldin200323ARI16285.710113778
Chad Johnson200325CIN16285.590135510
Reggie Wayne200931IND16284.4100126410
Jordy Nelson201126GNB16284.368126315
Larry Fitzgerald200926ARI16284.297109213
Alshon Jeffery201323CHI16283.68914217
Wes Welker200928NWE14283.412313484
Marques Colston200724NOR16283.298120211
Santana Moss200526WAS162838414839
Terrell Owens*200633DAL1628385118013
Calvin Johnson200823DET1628278133112
Derrick Alexander200029KAN16281.678139110
Reggie Wayne201032IND16281.511113556
Larry Fitzgerald201532ARI16280.510912159
Torry Holt200024STL16280.28216356
Eric Decker201326DEN16279.887128811
Andre Johnson201332HOU16279.710914075
Marvin Harrison*200331IND15279.594127210
Chad Johnson200426CIN16279.39512749
Brandon Marshall200723DEN16279.210213257
Terrell Owens*200431PHI14278.577120014
Keenan Allen201725LAC16278.210213936
Wes Welker200726NWE16277.911211758
Miles Austin200925DAL16277.881132011
Dwayne Bowe201026KAN16277.672116215
Roddy White201130ATL16277.610012968
Pierre Garcon201327WAS16277.511313465
Hines Ward200327PIT16277.495116310
Brandon Marshall200925DEN15276.9101112010
Jeremy Maclin201426PHI16276.885131810
Joe Horn200028NOR162769413408
Cris Carter*200035MIN16274.49612749
Derrick Mason200329TEN16274.49513038
Drew Bennett200426TEN16273.980124711
T.Y. Hilton201627IND16273.89114486
A.J. Green201527CIN16273.786129710
Greg Jennings201027GNB16272.476126512
Joey Galloway200534TAM16272.183128710
Reggie Wayne200628IND162728613109
Steve Smith200924NYG1627110712207
Randy Moss*200124MIN16270.382123310
Donald Driver200631GNB16270.19212958
Peerless Price200226BUF16269.99412529
Torry Holt200630STL16269.893118810
Reggie Wayne200426IND16269.677121012
Eric Decker201225DEN16269.485106413
DeSean Jackson201327PHI16269.48213329
Jarvis Landry201523MIA16269.411011574
Larry Fitzgerald201128ARI16269.18014118
Roddy White201231ATL16269.19213517
Reggie Wayne201234IND1626910613555
Doug Baldwin201527SEA16268.978106914
Marvin Harrison*200533IND15268.682114612
Roddy White200827ATL16267.68813827
Demaryius Thomas201528DEN16267.410513046
Chad Johnson200628CIN16267.38713697
Roddy White200928ATL16265.585115311
Calvin Johnson201025DET15265.277112012
Steve Smith201132CAR162657913947
Amani Toomer200228NYG16264.58213438
Tim Brown*200135OAK16264.49111659
Jordy Nelson201328GNB16264.48513148
Percy Harvin201123MIN16264.2879676
Greg Jennings200825GNB16264.28012929
Chris Chambers200527MIA1626482111811
Joe Horn200129NOR16262.98312659
Joe Horn200230NOR16262.48813127
Brandon Marshall200824DEN15262.110412656
Julio Jones201223ATL16261.879119810
Alshon Jeffery201424CHI16261.685113310
Anquan Boldin200828ARI12261.589103811
Larry Fitzgerald201734ARI16261.410911566
Calvin Johnson201530DET16261.48812149
Sidney Rice200923MIN16261.28313128
Vincent Jackson201229TAM16260.47213848
Jarvis Landry201725MIA162601129879
Julio Jones201627ATL14259.98314096
Marty Booker200125CHI16259.310010718
Jimmy Smith200031JAX15259.39112138
Donald Driver200429GNB16259.28412089
Steve Smith200829CAR14259.17814216
Golden Tate201426DET16259.19913314
T.Y. Hilton201425IND15258.58213457
Michael Thomas201724NOR16258.510412455
Lee Evans200625BUF16258.28212928
Troy Brown200130NWE1625810111995
Eric Moulds200027BUF162589413265
Marty Booker200226CHI16257.79711896
Steve Smith200627CAR14257.78311668
Torry Holt200125STL16257.38113637
Muhsin Muhammad200027CAR16256.510211836
Jerry Rice*200240OAK16256.19212117
Tim Brown*200034OAK1625676112811
Michael Thomas201623NOR15255.79211379
Andre Johnson201029HOU13255.68612168
Victor Cruz201226NYG16255.286109210
Marques Colston201229NOR16254.483115410
Torry Holt200731STL16253.99311897
Doug Baldwin201628SEA16253.69411287
Brandin Cooks201522NOR16253.68411389
Roy Williams200625DET16253.28213107
Eric Decker201528NYJ15252.780102712
T.J. Houshmandzadeh200629CIN14252.79010819
Plaxico Burress200225PIT16252.57813257
Derrick Mason200430TEN16252.59611687
Julio Jones201728ATL16251.98814443
Julian Edelman201327NWE16251.710510566
Antonio Bryant200827TAM162518312487
Laveranues Coles200225NYJ16250.38912645
Michael Crabtree201225SFO16250.38511059
Jerry Rice*200139OAK16249.98311399
Isaac Bruce200432STL16249.28912926
Hakeem Nicks201022NYG13249.279105211
Wes Welker200827NWE16249.111111653
Darrell Jackson200426SEA16248.98711997
Mike Wallace201024PIT16248.660125710
Keenan McCardell200333TAM16248.48411748
DeSean Jackson200923PHI15248.36211569
Steve Johnson201024BUF16248.382107310
Andre Johnson200625HOU16248.110311475
Santana Moss200324NYJ16247.274110510
Davante Adams201624GNB16246.77599712
Brandin Cooks201623NOR16246.37811738
Anquan Boldin201333SFO162468511797
Torry Holt200226STL162469113024
Kevin Johnson200125CLE16245.78410979
Hines Ward200933PIT16245.79511676
Mike Evans201421TAM15245.168105112
Plaxico Burress200730NYG16244.570102512
Jordan Reed201525WAS14244.28795211
Terrell Owens*200330SFO152448011029
Mike Wallace201125PIT162447211938
Larry Fitzgerald201633ARI16243.810710236
Bobby Engram200734SEA16243.79411476
Javon Walker200628DEN16243.76910848
Amani Toomer200026NYG16243.57810947
Michael Clayton200422TAM16243.38011937
Jeremy Maclin201527KAN15243.28710888
Vincent Jackson201330TAM16242.47812247
Laveranues Coles200326WAS16242.38212046
Larry Fitzgerald201027ARI16241.79011376
Keenan McCardell200030JAX16241.79412075
Mike Furrey200629DET16241.69810866
Marques Colston201128NOR14241.38011438
Keenan McCardell200131JAX162419311106
Derrick Mason200733BAL16240.710310875
Steve Smith200324CAR16240.28811107
Vincent Jackson200926SDG15239.86811679
Derrick Mason200127TEN15239.87311289
Adam Thielen201727MIN16239.79112764
Donald Driver200530GNB16239.48612215
Michael Crabtree201629OAK16239.38910038
Tyreek Hill201723KAN15239.27511837
Brandon Marshall201127MIA16238.78112146
Plaxico Burress200528NYG16238.47612147
Laveranues Coles200629NYJ16237.29110986
Hakeem Nicks201123NYG15237.27611927
Santana Moss201031WAS16236.99311156
Keyshawn Johnson200129TAM15236.610612661
Terrell Owens*200835DAL16236.569105210
Donald Driver200227GNB16236.47010649
Larry Fitzgerald201330ARI16236.28295410
Curtis Conway200130SDG16236.17111256
Roddy White200726ATL162368312026
Koren Robinson200222SEA16235.67812405
Joe Horn200331NOR15235.47897310
Steve Smith200728CAR15234.88710027
Darrell Jackson200325SEA16234.76811379
Rod Smith200434DEN16234.77911447
Brandon Stokley200428IND16234.768107710
Randall Cobb201222GNB15234.6809548
Reggie Wayne200830IND16234.58211456
Santonio Holmes200925PIT16234.47912485
Randy Moss*200831NWE16232.869100811
Hines Ward200529PIT15232.56997511
Amari Cooper201622OAK16232.38311535
Chad Johnson200931CIN16231.97210479
Jarvis Landry201624MIA16231.39411364
Michael Crabtree201528OAK16231.2859229
DeAndre Hopkins201422HOU162317612106
Jordan Matthews201523PHI16230.7859978
Julian Edelman201630NWE16230.39811063
Dwayne Bowe200824KAN16230.28610227
Rod Smith200535DEN16230.28511056
Marques Colston200926NOR162307010749
Eddie Royal200822DEN15229.9919805
Vincent Jackson201128SDG16229.76011069
Miles Austin201026DAL16229.46910417
Andre Johnson200423HOU16229.47911426
Anquan Boldin200626ARI16229.18312034
Jeremy Maclin201022PHI162297096410
Lance Moore200825NOR16228.87992810
Nate Burleson200423MIN16228.56810069
Marques Colston201027NOR15228.48410237
Isaac Bruce200230STL16228.37910757
Chris Chambers200325MIA16228.36496311
David Boston200022ARI16227.57111567
Dwayne Bowe201127KAN16227.18111595
Darrell Jackson200123SEA162277010818
Jimmy Smith200233JAX16226.98010277
A.J. Green201729CIN16226.87510788
T.J. Houshmandzadeh200528CIN14226.8789567
Calvin Johnson201429DET13226.77110778
Hines Ward200832PIT16226.78110437
James Jones201228GNB16226.46478414
Demaryius Thomas201629DEN16226.39010835
Kelvin Benjamin201423CAR16225.87310089
Hines Ward200125PIT16225.69410034
Jimmy Smith200435JAX16225.27411726
Allen Hurns201524JAX15225.164103110
Marvin Jones201727DET16225.16111019

The average age of this cohort is 27.38 years old. Below is a distribution graph of the ages of the peak seasons.

5ppdev.com/web/apex/public


The youngest player to accomplish a peak season was 21 – Mike Evans in 2014. The amazing Jerry Rice is the only player to meet the criteria over the age of 35. Rice incredibly accomplished the feat at 39 and 40 but would have also met the criteria in many other seasons (32, 33, 34, and 36 years old) had we included seasons prior to 2000. Rice falls directly into the anomaly category.

The peak appears to land from age 23 to 30, as 77 percent of the individual seasons fall within this range. A more magnified peak is in the 25 to 29 range, where 54.6 percent of the seasons reside.

There is a steady decline that takes place after the age 29 season. Special talents like Rice, Larry Fitzgerald, Terrell Owens, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Tim Brown and Cris Carter have been able to produce at the age of 34 or older. While special players have shown the ability to be productive on the back end of their careers, it’s uncommon and the decline has proven sharp for many.

Wide receivers, on average, have longer careers than running backs. You can read about the Peak Age for Running Backs here.

What Does This Mean for the 2018 Season?

Larry Fitzgerald will be 35 years old this season – he’s proven that he prepares his body to produce in spite of his age, as the Cardinals continue to funnel him targets. Regardless, at 35, his ability will likely continue to diminish.

Jordy Nelson could have a bounce-back year with the Raiders but there is a significant risk with 33-year-old receivers – especially those who didn’t top 500 receiving yards in the previous season.

Speedsters Mike Wallace and DeSean Jackson are heading into their age 32 seasons. Both underwhelmed last season and shouldn’t be relied on heavily in fantasy.

Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, and Michael Crabtree will be 31 years old this season. Although they are each in the midst of a decline, 31-year-olds have historically shown the ability to produce at just a slightly lower rate than 30-year-olds. Thomas, Sanders, and Crabtree are risky investments but if they are guaranteed a healthy share of targets, they’ll have a higher floor and a decent opportunity to outperform their draft position.

I’m not worried about Antonio Brown heading into his age 30 season as he’s shown no signs of slowing down. Dez Bryant, on the other hand, is a bit more concerning. We’ve seen Dez’s yards per target dip to a pathetic 6.35 and he hasn’t topped 840 receiving yards in three seasons. If Dez can be acquired for cheap, he may be worth the risk but the days of paying a hefty price for him are gone.

After accomplishing peak seasons last year, both A.J. Green (30) and Julio Jones (29) should continue to be reliable assets in the short term.

Playmakers DeAndre Hopkins (26), Keenan Allen (26), Odell Beckham Jr. (26), and Michael Thomas (25) are squarely in their prime. I would not be concerned about their production from an age-related standpoint.