Fantasy Breakdown: A Closer Look At 30-Year-Old Wide Receivers

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Fact or Fiction: No Country For Old Men

Fantasy Football StockA prevailing theory in the NFL is that a 30-year-old running back is on the downside of his career. Thus leading to many fantasy football players looking to avoid aging ball carriers come draft time. But it’s not just running backs who fall victim to Father Time when they hit their thirties. Although often overlooked, the same rule also should be applied to the wide receiver position.

A wide receiver’s fantasy football window appears to be just about closed come their 30th birthday. Just like the running back position, the wide receivers bodies start to slow as well as their fantasy production when the players enter their thirties. A quick look at the 2015 season seems to support this theory.

At the completion of the 2015 season, 83 of the top 100 fantasy scoring wide receivers were born after 1986, making them younger than 30. Of the 17 pass catchers that were at least 30 years of age in 2015, just five of them finished the season ranked inside the top 40 at the wide receiver position.

For example, in Calvin Johnson’s case, despite finishing as the 9th best fantasy wide receiver in 2015, his production dropped off in his first year as a thirty something. In 2014, when the pass catcher was 29, he averaged 11.98 fantasy points per game played in standard scoring leagues. After his 30th birthday, Johnson averaged just 10.83 fantasy points per game played in 2015. While that doesn’t seem like a huge drop in production, it is a nine percent fall off from the year before. If Johnson was able to just maintain his average fantasy points per game from 2014, he would have finished as the 7th best scoring fantasy wide receiver last year instead of the 9th.

30 Year Old Wide Receivers in 2015
Player Fantasy Rank
Brandon Marshall 3rd
Calvin Johnson 9th
Larry Fitzgerald 11th
James Jones 24th
Ted Ginn 26th
Anquan Boldin 44th
Nate Washington 50th
Steve Smith 52nd
Danny Amendola 53rd
Marques Colston 58th
Andre Johnson 62nd
Vincent Jackson 62nd
Malcolm Floyd 65th
Jericho Cotchery 68th
Roddy White 82nd
Lance Moore 84th
Harry Douglas 88th

The 30-year-old wide receiver theory also applies to more than just the 2015 season. If you take the top 12 fantasy scoring wide receivers from last season and average their fantasy scoring numbers, the top 12 wide outs in 2015 averaged 99 catches, 1,378 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. Using these numbers as the base line, there are just 20 such single season performances in the history of the NFL that match this criteria.

Player Year Age Rec Yards TD
Antonio Brown 2014 26 129 1,698 13
Jerry Rice 1995 33 122 1,848 15
Robert Brooks 1995 25 102 1,497 13
Antonio Brown 2015 27 136 1,834 10
Issac Bruce 1995 23 119 1,781 13
Marvin Harrison 2002 30 143 1,722 11
Marvin Harrison 2000 28 102 1,413 14
Marvin Harrison 2001 29 109 1,524 15
Marvin Harrison 1999 27 115 1,663 12
Tory Holt 2003 27 117 1,696 12
DeAndre Hopkins 2015 23 111 1,521 11
Brandon Marshall 2012 28 118 1,508 11
Brandon Marshall 2015 31 109 1,502 14
Herman Moore 1995 26 123 1,686 14
Randy Moss 2003 26 111 1,632 17
Jerry Rice 1994 32 112 1,499 13
Jerry Rice 1990 28 100 1,502 13
Sterling Sharpe 1992 27 108 1,461 13
Steve Smith 2005 26 103 1,563 12
Demaryius Thomas 2014 27 111 1,619 11
[the_ad id=”58837″]Of those 20 single season performances, the average age of the wide receivers was 27 and just three of the players that recorded at least 99 receptions, 1378 yards and 11 touchdowns were older than 30. With 12 of the 20 players falling between the ages of 26-28, this is the age to target when selecting your wide receivers in your 2016 fantasy drafts.

At this age range of 26-28, the players have had a chance to go through the three-year growth that is standard for wide receivers in the NFL. A great example of this maturation process for pass catchers would be the Texans DeAndre Hopkins. Entering the 2015 season the pass catcher was the 13th wide receiver being taken in fantasy drafts yet he finished 2015 as the 6th best scoring wide out as his game showed major growth in his third year in the league.

All the while the 26-28 year old wide receivers bodies have not yet gotten beaten up to the point that their physical attributes start to wear. So for the 2016 season guys like Antonio Brown (28 years old) and Julio Jones (27 years old) will look to be able to hold on to their top fantasy wide receiver spots, while it is tough to imagine guys like Eric Decker (29) and Larry Fitzgerald (33) being able to produce at the level in which they did in 2015.

[the_ad id=”61410″]For dynasty or MFL players the 30-year-old wide receiver theory is especially important. While Antonio Brown likely will be the top fantasy player in 2016, he is at the later part of his ability to stay atop of the mountain and likely will see a decline in his play in the very near future. So instead of selecting Brown in these types of leagues, you would want to target younger wide receivers that still have a longer window of opportunity to play in their primes, a guy like the Giants Odell Beckham for example.

Regardless of the type of fantasy league that you participate in be very aware of the 30-year-old wide receiver rule. When it is your turn to select a player look to target pass catcher in the 26-28 year old period of time to get the most of their prime in 2016.

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