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Dynasty Fantasy Football: Recent Positional Age of Decline

posted by Rich Hribar

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Now that you’ve been introduced to the dynasty format and discovered what type of owner you are, it’s time to start getting into the brass tacks of roster building. Hopefully you’ve caught the latest from Chad Scott recapping the first three rounds of an early bird dynasty mock draft. If you’re not accustomed to playing in a dynasty league, some of those picks may be startling at first glance.

Instead of the early rounds being a race to hoard as many able bodied running backs as possible, a dynasty startup will be a mix of all of the skill positions centeredrsz_cj on a plethora of strategies. Youth and positional longevity go to battle with already made star power regularly in every transaction you’ll make going forward. Those decisions carry critical weight in choosing between Keenan Allen over Brandon Marshall or if you should choose Andrew Luck over Aaron Rodgers.

To get a gauge on the longevity of usable fantasy production, we’re going to do a run through of the performances from each position over the past five seasons. For the sake of creating a neutral ground for scoring, we’ll use standard quarterback (25 pass yards equal one point/four point passing touchdowns) and half point per reception scoring  for backs and receivers (full point PPR leagues are broken, but that’s another story for another time).

 

Wide Receivers

It’s not uncommon to see more pass catchers leave the boards early in your draft and teams built around the position. The first factor is demand. The majority of leagues require starting at least two or three of them and if there’s a flex spot, even more. You need more of them on your roster than any other position to begin with. The second deciding factor in choosing an elite receiver over a running back is because typically the duration of their careers and productivity lasts longer.

Listed on the chart below are the seasons from 2009-2013 of receivers who scored 125 points or more, which is the average score of finishing 40th at the position in scoring. Over those five seasons, 206 seasons qualified and here they are split by age, points per game and how many seasons were considered starting quality.

AGE

#

%

PTS/GM

TOP 24

21

5

0.02

9.8

2

22

10

0.05

12.4

6

23

20

0.10

11.4

9

24

25

0.12

11.1

12

25

26

0.13

12.2

17

26

22

0.11

12.6

15

27

19

0.09

11.6

12

28

18

0.09

12.8

13

29

15

0.07

12.1

9

30

13

0.06

11

6

31

9

0.04

11.9

7

32

9

0.04

12.1

5

33

6

0.03

9.1

3

34

5

0.02

10

2

35+

4

0.02

11

2

 

It takes some time for most receivers to develop into strong fantasy entities despite the recent success of Keenan Allen and Josh Gordon. The peak performances for recent receivers have been occurring between ages 24-26 before gradual depreciation begins to seep in. There’s a strong window open through age 28, but the older age group that follows carries less weight than the fledgling years of growing into an asset.

Of the top 20 scoring seasons over the past five years, 14 were by receivers that were 28 and younger, with only two coming from a player that had already reached 30 years of age. In 2013, that was nearly no different as the same number (14) of 28 years or younger made up the top 20, with four coming from those who had already hit 30. The perfect ongoing case study for this example is by looking at our favorite receiver in the game today, Calvin Johnson.

 

Rank

Player

Year

Age

Team

Games

Points

1

Calvin Johnson

2011

26

DET

16

312.2

1

Calvin Johnson

2012

27

DET

16

281.4

3

Calvin Johnson

2013

28

DET

14

261.2

5

Calvin Johnson

2010

25

DET

15

226.7

22

Calvin Johnson

2009

24

DET

14

166.2

 

Johnson follows the above information nearly to a tee. Ascending at 24 and 25 while peaking (for now, at least) at 26, then has gradually dipped over the past two seasons and injuries are starting to creep into the equation again. I wanted to use him as the example because while his drop off is happening, he’s still performing at an elite level overall. The same doesn’t hold true for those who don’t carry as much talent. Turning 29 doesn’t mean that a player will hit a cliff and plummet as if they’re chasing the Roadrunner, but the window is closing and father time remains undefeated.

In building my roster, I prefer to shop for players that haven’t quite hit their apex yet. That doesn’t mean I will ignore older players at the position, but if I do look for veteran and established production, I make sure it is attached to an above average quarterback (think along the lines of Jordy Nelson over Larry Fitzgerald) who are capable of inflating point totals and extending a the shelf life of a receiver.

 

Running Back

In timely fashion, fellow Fake Footballer Matt Franciscovich recently noted that the majority of running backs reach their peak before age 28 as opposed to the old adage that 30 years old meant shipment to the glue factory for backs. Those are all facts and here’s the same chart as above with all running backs that scored 100 points or more (average of RB40) over the past five years.

AGE

#

%

PTS/GM

TOP 24

21

4

0.02

10.5

2

22

15

0.08

11.7

10

23

20

0.10

12.2

12

24

29

0.15

13.1

15

25

28

0.14

12.3

16

26

28

0.14

12.6

20

27

24

0.12

11.9

15

28

21

0.11

11.5

13

29

11

0.06

10.6

7

30

9

0.05

10.8

6

31

4

0.02

11.9

2

32

4

0.02

11.2

2

33

1

0.01

6.6

0

34

0

0.00

0

0

35+

0

0.00

0

0

 

Matt ForteOut of the top 30 scoring seasons since 2009, only one (Matt Forte in 2013) was from a back over the age of 27. That’s it, only one. 41 out of the top 50 scoring seasons were from backs 27 or younger and 47 of those same 50 were 28 or younger. 29 is the new 30.

It’s not all doom and gloom if something that occurred in 2013 becomes an ongoing trend. This past season, 11 of the top 24 scorers were 28 or older, largely due to the fact that seven of those backs caught 40 or more passes during the season and three had 70 plus receptions. In 2013, five backs had 70 or more receptions, half of the total amount that have accomplished that feat since 2009 and only the second time since 1970 that has happened in a season. If teams are going to keep using their backs in the short passing game, it will begin adding usable years to those who are elite at it like Forte was this year.

 

Quarterbacks

Quarterback is the easiest position to navigate in leagues that require starting only one. Quarterback careers last longer than any other position and more quarterbacks are providing useful fantasy production than ever before. Since 2009, there have been 55 seasons by 22 different players in which a signal caller tossed 25 or more scores. Career longevity and low demand for your roster provide you a large landing pad to correct any errors you make along the way and obtain a starter.

AGE

#

%

PTS/GM

TOP 12

21

0

0.00

0

0

22

3

0.02

20.1

3

23

7

0.06

16.1

3

24

15

0.12

14.6

5

25

10

0.08

14.9

6

26

6

0.05

16.6

4

27

9

0.07

15

3

28

13

0.11

15.6

5

29

11

0.09

15.2

5

30

11

0.09

16.6

5

31

10

0.08

15.2

5

32

7

0.06

17

4

33

6

0.05

17.8

5

34

6

0.05

17

3

35+

9

0.07

17.1

4

 

There were 123 qualifying seasons for quarterbacks that scored 150 points or more (average for QB24) since 2009. The glaring thing that will jump out at first is the odd dip in number of players from the age 26-27 group before jumping back up.

That shouldn’t be a shock with the current contract structure of today’s NFL, and that age range falls right into the middle of when rookie contracts expire. More often than not, the majority of teams that miss on drafting their franchise quarterback throw in the towel (and usually coaching structure) and repeat the process all over again. Those players that were receiving volume at a younger age either become backups or vagabonds and youth is ushered in for our fake game. Players like Colt McCoy, Tim Tebow, Mark Sanchez, Vince Young and a half dozen others fall into this group as upcoming players like Jake Locker and Andy Dalton will force their teams to make that decision this season.

Players that do get that endorsement from their real franchise generally assure your fake one will have at least a safe floor quarterback. Really, bad players don’t keep getting contracts to be starting quarterbacks.  It’s no secret that the more experience an already good quarterback gets, the better he becomes for us. Of the top 20 scoring seasons of the past five years, 12 were from quarterbacks 28 or older, ten were 30 plus and only five were 25 or younger. If you land a true franchise guy, you can get production late into their 30’s, just like Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are currently providing. With the league focusing on protecting quarterbacks, we could start seeing the position push towards a career apex of 40 years old for many future stars.

 

Tight Ends

AGE

#

%

PTS/GM

TOP 12

21

2

0.02

8.5

1

22

5

0.04

8.5

1

23

9

0.08

8.6

3

24

11

0.09

8.7

6

25

18

0.15

8.6

8

26

13

0.11

8.6

8

27

16

0.13

8.9

9

28

13

0.11

7.3

5

29

10

0.08

8.7

5

30

9

0.08

9.6

6

31

4

0.03

8.6

2

32

2

0.02

6.9

0

33

3

0.03

8.4

2

34

1

0.01

8.6

1

35+

3

0.03

11.1

3

 

rsz_jimmWhat an ugly position, which is why you can save it for last if your league scores tight ends the same as receivers. 119 seasons met the 85 point requirement, which was the average score of the 24th highest scorer. The peak age is similar to that of the other skill positions, but you can see the ceiling never becomes anything that will carry you to a string of titles. Owners will point to Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski being those difference makers, which is true if you were able to buy early for the right cost.

The same opportunity cost exists in dynasty startups as it does in redrafts with tight ends and the position is more physically daunting that wide receiver due to having to play in line, so the wall and injuries hit earlier and more often. We’ve already seen those mythical beasts like Graham and Gronk miss a good amount of time or play through injuries recently that have hampered performance.

Typically, tight end is a learning curve for a lot of young players due to those blocking requirements that come with the position. Even with the game opening up to more speed and space, creating opportunities for the new hybrid models, coaches still aren’t going to give a player significant snaps if he can’t run block.

One note about the above chart is that all four seasons from a tight end 34 or older were from Tony Gonzalez. The transcendent future Hall of Famer missed only one game over his 17 seasons. Unless you believe those types of guys who are elite and never get injured  grow on trees, your best bet in handling the position is grabbing youth hitting that upside range early and riding that wave if one those guys work out.

The NFL is a beautiful game, but one that is grueling on the finest of physical specimens. When setting up your new team (or maintaining your ongoing one), you’ll need to find a harmony between age and production and keep your roster in constant motion balancing both to avoid dead seasons. That may be inevitable as you fight the law of averages, but this information can keep you making sound decisions in playing probability in regards to age. You need to treat your franchise like you would treat your vehicle., meaning that you need to replace older parts as you go along to keep it running and eventually you’ll need to scrap it before it breaks down on the highway.

Rich Hribar

Rich Hribar is a husband, father, sports meteorologist and a slave to statistics. A lifelong sports fan and fantasy gamer.

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