With the rising popularity of dynasty fantasy football leagues, age has become a very important variable. Most players, or in this case tight ends, share similar career timelines. By studying the production of historical tight end seasons, we can gain information that will help us make knowledgeable predictions as to when current tight ends will improve or regress.

We’ve already investigated peak seasons for wide receivers and running backs.

Defining a Peak Season

To start this study, we must define a peak season for an NFL tight end. We will include all tight end seasons that finished with at least 170 PPR fantasy points since 2000, which gives us a sample size of 113 players. The list below includes all individual tight end seasons to meet the criteria since 2000 and was generated by the RotoViz Screener.

PlayerSeasonAgeRecTargetsYdsTDsPPR
Rob Gronkowski20112290124132717330.9
Jimmy Graham20132786142121516303.5
Jimmy Graham20112599149131011296
Dallas Clark200930100133110610271.7
Tony Gonzalez20042810214812587270.3
Tony Gonzalez2000249315012039267.3
Rob Gronkowski20142582131112412266.4
Tony Gonzalez20083296155105810261.8
Antonio Gates20052589140110110259.1
Rob Gronkowski20152672120117611255.6
Antonio Gates2004248111496413255.4
Jason Witten2007259614111457252.5
Vernon Davis2009257812996513252.5
Jason Witten2010289412810029248.2
Jordan Reed2015258711495211248.2
Tony Gonzalez2007319915411725246.2
Antonio Gates2009297911411578242.7
Delanie Walker2015319413310886242.4
Gary Barnidge2015307912510439237.3
Jimmy Graham201226851359829237.2
Tony Gonzalez201236931249308234
Jimmy Graham2014288512488910233.9
Travis Kelce2017288312210388233.5
Jason Witten20123011014910393231.9
Greg Olsen2015307712411047229.4
Antonio Gates200727751179849227.4
Rob Gronkowski2017286910510838225.3
Antonio Gates201434699882112223.1
Tony Gonzalez2003277110691610222.6
Kellen Winslow2007248214811065222.6
Brent Celek200924761129718221.1
Travis Kelce2016278511711254221
Jason Witten200422871229806221
Greg Olsen2014298412310096220.9
Martellus Bennett201427901289166217.6
Antonio Gates200626711209249217.4
Tony Gonzalez201337831218598216.9
Aaron Hernandez201122791139107216.5
Julius Thomas201325659078812215.8
Vernon Davis201329528485013215
Jordan Cameron201325801189177213.7
Tony Gonzalez201135801168757209.5
Jason Witten2009279412410302209
Kyle Rudolph201627831328407209
Jason Witten201331731118518206.1
Tony Gonzalez200933831358676205.7
Greg Olsen2016318012910733205.3
Zach Ertz201727741108248204.4
Tony Gonzalez200125731189176203.6
Jason Witten201129791179425203.2
Todd Heap200525751148547202.4
Jason Witten200826811219524202.3
Heath Miller201230711018168200.6
Rob Gronkowski201223558079011200
Dallas Clark200829771078486197.8
Kellen Winslow200926771268875196.4
Jeremy Shockey200525651218917196.1
Kellen Winslow200623891208753194.5
Jimmy Graham20163065959236193.3
Tony Gonzalez200630731049005193
Chris Cooley200725661107868192.6
Benjamin Watson201535741108256192.5
Tyler Eifert201525527461513191.5
Todd Heap200222681228366191.4
Heath Miller20092776987896190.9
Brandon Pettigrew201126831267775190.7
Greg Olsen201328731118166190.6
Chris Cooley200523711037747190.4
Travis Kelce201526721038755189.5
Vernon Davis20102656939147189.4
Dallas Clark2007285810161611188.5
Charles Clay201324691027596188.4
Antonio Gates201333771138724188.2
Antonio Gates201030506578210188.2
Marcedes Lewis201026588970010188
Delanie Walker201632651028007187.3
Shannon Sharpe20033562947708187
Todd Heap200626731167656185.5
Antonio Gates20113164887787183.8
Brandon Myers201227791058064183.6
Zach Ertz201626781068164183.6
Greg Olsen201227691048435183.3
Travis Kelce20142567878625183.2
Alge Crumpler200528651188775182.7
Tony Gonzalez20022663997737182.3
Alge Crumpler200629561037808182
Vernon Davis20112767957926181.7
Tony Gonzalez200529781169052180.5
Chris Cooley201028771268513180.1
Jermichael Finley20112455927678179.7
Visanthe Shiancoe200929567956611178.6
Delanie Walker201733741118073178.5
Antonio Gates20082860927048178.4
Shannon Sharpe200032671058105178
Jason Witten20052366897576177.7
Freddie Jones200026711307665177.6
Dustin Keller201127651158155176.5
Eric Johnson200425821178252176.5
Coby Fleener20142651927748176.4
Randy McMichael200425731187914176.1
Jeremy Shockey200222741278942175.4
Chris Cooley200826831118491173.9
Evan Engram201723641157226173.6
Brent Celek20112662978115173.1
Jack Doyle201727801086904173
Delanie Walker201430631068574172.7
Zach Ertz201525751128532172.3
Tony Gonzalez201034701086566171.6
Cameron Brate20162557826608171
Dennis Pitta201631861217292170.9
Martellus Bennett20132665947595170.9
Jordan Reed20162666896866170.6
Jeremy Shockey200626661156237170.3

The average age of this group is 27.43 years old. Below is a distribution graph of the ages of the tight end seasons.

5ppdev.com/web/apex/public


The obvious peak is from 25 to 27 years old, as 45.1 percent of the seasons fall within that range. 69 percent of the seasons land within 25 to 30 years old. Interestingly, a tight end is more likely to achieve a peak season at 30 years old than at 24 years old. We can speculate the reasoning for that but clearly, it takes some time for tight ends to develop in the NFL.

There’s certainly a gradual decline but it appears that there is a bit of a drop off after the age 31 season.

What Does This Mean For the 2018 Season?

While Rob Gronkowski’s multiple back surgeries are concerning, there’s no stopping the man. He led all tight ends in receiving yards last year while playing in just 14 games and averaged an impressive 10.32 yards per target. There’s arguably no better tight end in history, making Gronk tough to bet against entering his age 29 season.

Young stud tight ends Evan Engram and Hunter Henry will be 24 years old this season. Both are likely still improving at this stage of their careers. With Antonio Gates currently a free agent, I expect Henry to break out in a big way this season. After a promising rookie year, 24-year-old O.J. Howard’s fantasy arrow is also pointing up.

About as polarizing as they come, Eric Ebron has disappointed many fantasy owners over the years. Regardless of his past struggles, Ebron has performed impressively at a young age. Just 25 this season with a coach who believes in him, Ebron could break out at a cheap price.

Trey Burton will be 27 this season and enters an intriguing situation on the Bears. Coach Matt Nagy will use Burton to fill the “U” tight end role, which is critical to establishing mismatches. Burton was effective filling in for Ertz last season and could be undervalued heading into the 2018 season.

Jordan Reed’s age (28) isn’t a concern but his constant injury issues are. Regardless, he’s proven to be very effective when he’s healthy and could be undervalued with how many owners want to stay away.

Zach Ertz (28) and Travis Kelce (29) are both squarely in their primes. They’ll be reliable but are deservingly expensive picks. You’ll have to pay up for their top-end production.

Jimmy Graham (32) is starting to decline, averaging a career-worst 5.42 yards per target in 2017. Graham certainly has bounce-back potential on the Packers but is also currently being drafted as a top-five tight end.

Greg Olsen (33), Delanie Walker (34), and Jason Witten (36) are all getting up there in age. All three could sustain production but a breakout season at this point seems unlikely. Each remains a significant part of their offense but should only be acquired at the right price.