It’s hard to move on from some of our favorite players in fantasy football. We have watched them grow from rookies to vets, and many are our favorites in real life. We have their jerseys and cheer for them on Sundays. They hold a special place as fans and for our teams.
As King Henry rallied the troops in Shakespeare’s Henry V (“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more”), we hold on to the end, hopeful that players age like Larry Fitzgerald and Jerry Rice, ignoring the fact that ends similar to Demaryius Thomas and Andre Johnson are more typical.
We have always heard the saying “better a year too early than a year too late”. Successful NFL teams have long followed this, and fantasy owners should follow suit. We have an emotional connection to players for the wins and championships they have taken us to. However, we need to take a mindset similar to the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots, and move on before we get saddled with an aging asset taking up space on our bench.
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Better folks than I have already tackled the numbers for this. Back in 2012, Alee over at ProFootballFocus took a look at the ‘Age of Decline’ for wide receivers. Looking at data from 1970 through 2011, it seems that age 35 is when wide receivers typically “fall off the cliff”. There are, of course, outliers to this, but the Rices and Fitzgeralds of the world are not the norm. Receivers were typically peaking during their age-26 to age-27 seasons. From age 28 on, most receivers typically see a gradual decline.
Wide Receiver Peak Age from Apex Insider Blog.
Over on APEX fantasy Football Money Leagues, Mike Braude examined the Peak Age for an NFL wide receiver. His data showed the peak years for a wide receiver going from age 23 to age 30, with a decline typically occurring in the age-29 season.
Just recently in 2018, Mike Tagliere took a look at what age receivers decline over at Fantasy Pros. Mike looked at the data from 2006-2017, eliminating players with 50 targets or less, to remove the flash and burn out type occurrences. Mike examined 916 total individual seasons. In this data, it was discovered that near the age-29 season, there were about 11.7% of top-five finishes in fantasy football at the receiver position, with another spike of 7.9% at age 31 seasons, and a similar spike to 6.3% at age 34.
In this article, he also examined overall top-12 wide receiver seasons from 2006-2017. This data showed that wide receivers can produce top-12 potential through their age-23 season. After that, there is a rather steep decline, with Terrell Owens and Larry Fitzgerald being the outliers; two (likely) Hall of Fame caliber players.
Data from At What Age Does A Wide Receiver Decline.
That data showed strong support, indicating that players can continue to produce WR2- and WR3-type seasons later into the career. There are plenty of solid “starters” for your fantasy football teams who fall in this category and can continue to produce for you.
All of this seems to point out that the peak seasons for WR1-type production from a player fall between their age-23 and age-30 seasons. There is not a massive cliff that players fall off, and while they might not continue to produce as elite options, they can still be fantasy starters for your team. High-end players can still be productive WR2 and WR3 options.
Data from FF-Today.com.
Data above is split from WR1 – WR2 – WR3 groups. Players will rise and fall and I feel certain that with the 2019 wide receiver group in the draft, rookies will replace a few players.
Players to Sell
A word of caution for those reading this. I am a fantasy player who would rather deal a player a year too early, at the peak of their value, maximizing my return, than hold on to a player just a year or two too late. It is useful to look at Dynasty Startup ADP to see how players are valued.
Golden Tate, NYG
Tate finished 2018 as the WR28 in PPR leagues. After being traded from Detroit to Philadelphia he was pretty much a bust for the rest of the season, only once topping double-digit fantasy points. Golden Tate will be turning 31 coming into the 2019 season, and just signed a new contract with the New York Giants.
Tate will be paired up with the WR29, Sterling Shepard. Both of them appear to fit the same position in New York working out of the slot. Tate and Shepard are both in the top five for most slot targets over the past three seasons according to Pro Football Focus. Looking at recent trades for Golden Tate, I believe you could make a swap for a 2020 second-round pick if you’re rebuilding or maybe in a package deal to move up for one of the younger players in the WR2 group.
Mohamed Sanu, ATL
The Falcons drafted Calvin Ridley in the first round of the 2018 draft, and Sanu will be turning 30 on August 22nd. Atlanta managed to produce a WR1, a WR2 and a WR3 as Sanu came in as the WR31 overall for PPR. Sanu appears to be an easy candidate to slide out of the ranks as a WR3 as Ridley continues to emerge, not to mention Austin Hooper continuing his ascendance at tight end. Sanu seems like the perfect piece to send to a team competing in 2019 for a possible bump up in draft capital.
TY Hilton, IND
The diminutive speedster turns 30 on November 14th and with the resurgence of Andrew Luck, should continue to produce as a low-end WR1 and high-end WR2 for the next two or three years. Similar to the next two names, I think you are best served to hold Hilton as a team that is competing but if my team is out of contention, I will see if I can get a 2020 first and possibly even a 2019 first. A recent trade in the DLF trade finder showed a package of TY Hilton for Nick Chubb, a move I would auto accept to acquire Chubb.
Julio Jones, ATL
This is one player you might be selling a year too early as Jones still projects as a top option at the position. He has also dealt with numerous foot injuries. I’ve seen Jones and James Washington traded for Saquon Barkley in the trade finder (smash accept) and a few deals where he is being dealt for multiple first-round picks. Can you find a trade partner who gets you one of the top 2019 WRs and maybe two 2020 picks? Shoot for the moon if you’re dealing Jones. Even on a rebuild, he should still be a WR2/WR3 when you’re ready to compete.
Antonio Brown, OAK
Brown will turn 31 years old in July and is joining a new team. Brown fits the profile of a wide receiver who will likely continue producing like a WR2 and WR3. When I see a deal though of Rashaad Penny, a 2019 first AND a 2020 first, it tells me that it might be a good time to deal.
AJ Green, CIN
The Bengals’ star wide receiver will be turning 31 in July and in two of the past three seasons, he has failed to play the full 16 games. In 2016, a hamstring injury sidelined him for six games and in 2018, he missed several games due to a toe sprain. Green is a player I might wait till the season starts to move. However, most fantasy owners might be wary of dealing for him after he dealt with an injury most of last season.
There is no direct age drop-off for elite players. Some of these players will likely continue to produce as WR2s and WR3s for a few more seasons. This could be a perfect off-season to move them to acquire multiple assets for teams in a need of a rebuild, or maybe just to refresh the roster with an infusion of youth for rosters that are stacked deep with talent.
Pete is a Western Washington University (Go Vikings! Undefeated at Football since 2009!) History grad with a doctorate in dynasty football, from a certificate he bought online. He prefers stats and analytics but realizes film grinding is an important part of the process. Dabbles in "Mild Takes" and believes in the process.
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