With all of the great age-related fantasy football information available, I became interested in writing an age-related article of my own. Because early wide receivers are such a big part of my draft strategy, I decided to start here. In this article, we’re going to examine the peak age for wide receivers seasons and ultimately decide when wide receivers are at their best.

Defining A Peak Season

 

Since Apex runs only PPR (Points Per Reception) leagues, the peak is set as the average number of receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns for WR1s (the top 12 receivers from this past season).

Below is a table showing those 12 receivers:

 PlayerRecRec YardsTDs
Average95.331400.929.67
1Demaryius Thomas92143014
2Antonio Brown11014988
3Josh Gordon8716469
4AJ Green98142611
5Brandon Marshall100129512
6Calvin Johnson84148912
7Dez Bryant93123313
8Eric Decker87128811
9Andre Johnson10914075
10Pierre Garcon11313465
11Alshon Jeffery8914217
12DeSean Jackson8213329

 

The average numbers from a WR1 this past season was 95 catches for 1,401 yards and 10 touchdowns. To increase the number of our sample size, we’re going to round down and set the threshold at nine touchdowns.

Examining Historical Seasons

 

Since 1990, 31 seasons qualify as peak seasons using this definition. They are listed below, sorted by receiving yards. This list was generated by Pro-Football-Reference.com:

RkPlayerYearAgeGRecYdsY/RTDY/G
1Jerry Rice19953316122184815.1515115.5
2Isaac Bruce19952316119178114.9713111.3
3Marvin Harrison20023016143172212.0411107.6
4Torry Holt20032716117169614.512106
5Herman Moore19952616123168613.7114105.4
6Calvin Johnson2011261696168117.5116105.1
7Marvin Harrison19992716115166314.4612103.9
8Randy Moss20032616111163214.717102
9Michael Irvin19952916111160314.4410100.2
10Rod Smith20003016100160216.028100.1
11Wes Welker20113016122156912.86998.1
12Andre Johnson20092816101156915.53998.1
13Steve Smith20052616103156315.171297.7
14Marvin Harrison20012916109152413.981595.3
15Reggie Wayne20072916104151014.521094.4
16Brandon Marshall20122816118150812.781194.3
17Jerry Rice1993311698150315.341593.9
18Jerry Rice19902816100150215.021393.9
19Jerry Rice19943216112149913.381393.7
20Antonio Brown20132516110149913.63893.7
21Robert Brooks19952516102149714.681393.6
22Randy Moss2007301698149315.232393.3
23Brett Perriman19953016108148813.78993
24Sterling Sharpe19922716108146113.531391.3
25Terrell Owens2000271497145114.9613103.6
26Chad Johnson2005271697143214.76989.5
27Larry Fitzgerald2008251696143114.911289.4
28A.J. Green2013251698142614.551189.1
29Marvin Harrison20002816102141313.851488.3
30Larry Fitzgerald20052216103140913.681088.1
31Larry Fitzgerald20072415100140914.091093.9

Several players appear multiple times but this study can still teach us when they were at their best. The oldest player to make this list was Jerry Rice at 33 years old; oddly enough that season tops the list for most receiving yards with 1,848. The average age of this list is 27.52 but we can learn more by looking at the distribution graph below.

5ppdev.com/web/apex/public


There was only one occurrence for 22-24 and 31-33; establishing that the peak comes from 25-30. An incredible 80.6% falls within that range. That tells us that in terms of early round picks, you don’t want your receiver to be too old or too young.

The only question in my mind: is our sample size big enough? There’s one easy way to solve that, let’s make it bigger.

 

Re-Defining a Peak Season

 

Since the NFL has become extremely pass-heavy over recent years, receptions were immensely inflated in 2013. To improve our sample size, we’ll reduce receptions to 80, yards to 1,400, and touchdowns to 8.

By lowering the threshold, we broadened our sample size to 49. The players are listed in a 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
4Torry Holt20032716117169614.512106
5Herman Moore19952616123168613.7114105.4
6Calvin Johnson2011261696168117.5116105.1
7Marvin Harrison19992716115166314.4612103.9
8Josh Gordon2013221487164618.929117.6
9Randy Moss20032616111163214.717102
10Michael Irvin19952916111160314.4410100.2
11Rod Smith20003016100160216.028100.1
12David Boston2001231698159816.31899.9
13Rob Moore1997291697158416.33899
14Andre Johnson20082716115157513.7898.4
15Andre Johnson20092816101156915.53998.1
16Wes Welker20113016122156912.86998.1
17Steve Smith20052616103156315.171297.7
18Victor Cruz2011251682153618.73996
19Marvin Harrison20012916109152413.981595.3
20Michael Irvin1991251693152316.38895.2
21Reggie Wayne20072916104151014.521094.4
22Brandon Marshall20122816118150812.781194.3
23Jerry Rice1993311698150315.341593.9
24Jerry Rice19902816100150215.021393.9
25Jerry Rice19943216112149913.381393.7
26Antonio Brown20132516110149913.63893.7
27Robert Brooks19952516102149714.681393.6
28Randy Moss2007301698149315.232393.3
29Calvin Johnson2013281484149217.7612106.6
30Brett Perriman19953016108148813.78993
31Santana Moss2005261684148317.65992.7
32Isaac Bruce2000281687147116.91991.9
33Sterling Sharpe19922716108146113.531391.3
34Terrell Owens2000271497145114.9613103.6
35Chad Johnson2007291693144015.48890
36Demaryius Thomas2012251694143415.261089.6
37Chad Johnson2005271697143214.76989.5
38Larry Fitzgerald2008251696143114.911289.4
39Demaryius Thomas2013261692143015.541489.4
40A.J. Green2013251698142614.551189.1
41Antonio Freeman1998261584142416.951494.9
42Marvin Harrison20002816102141313.851488.3
43Randy Moss1999221680141317.661188.3
44Terrell Owens2001281693141215.181688.3
45Larry Fitzgerald2011281680141117.64888.2
46Larry Fitzgerald20072415100140914.091093.9
47Larry Fitzgerald20052216103140913.681088.1
48Muhsin Muhammad2004311693140515.111687.8
49Marcus Robinson1999241684140016.67987.5

The average of this group is 27.04, down half a year from our previous grouping. Let’s see if our distribution graph follows the same trend.

 

5ppdev.com/web/apex/public


 

While 22 year-olds Randy Moss, Larry Fitzgerald, and Josh Gordon do improve the outlook for young receivers, it still appears to be an anomaly. By that I mean, Moss, Fitzgerald and Gordon will or have dominated because they’re special talents. Just because they’re special talents, doesn’t mean that betting on 22 year-old receivers is a good idea. Drafting special talents, however, is a great idea.

Once again, we see the same initial trend that wide receivers hit their peaks at 25-30 years old. 77.6% of these historical seasons fall within that range.

What does this mean for 2014?

 

Firstly, I don’t want owners to misinterpret this study and believe Josh Gordon is risky because he’s not 25 yet – that’s not the point of this article. Gordon is a rare talent; he’ll produce either way.

Calvin Johnson, 28, makes a quality first-round selection in PPR leagues. Don’t worry about scarcity; he gives you a quality weekly advantage. Demaryius Thomas, 27, looks to be squarely in his prime. AJ Green, Antonio Brown, and Dez Bryant, each 26, are also in the peak of their careers.

Andre Johnson is a guy on the opposite side of the spectrum. While I love his work ethic and talent, he’ll be 33 entering the 2014 season. Larry Fitzgerald, 31, is another concerning player; he’s already showing signs of decline by not reaching 1,000 yards in either of his last two seasons.

While this isn’t the end-all-be-all, it’s another metric that we can measure wide receivers by. Especially when using an early pick, you don’t want to select a risky player.