How Do Age Curves Work In The NFL?
If you play dynasty fantasy football, it is nearly impossible to not consider age. After all, that’s kind of the whole point, right? Build a dynasty that can win year-in and year-out. As a result, age ends up a part of every decision making process: the startup draft, trades, rookie drafts, etc. But are we thinking about age the right way? Getting age curves right is imperative for dynasty fantasy football.
Because the various NFL positions have different play-styles and risks associated with them, they age differently as their NFL careers go on. It likely isn’t fair to compare a 28 year-old WR to a 28 year-old RB. Or maybe it is. The only way we can know for sure is by looking at the data, which is what I set out to do today.
Age Curves by Position
I took a look at every PPR fantasy performance since 2000, and separated them by age and position. In an effort to make the data easy to consume, I took a look at the number of top 24 performances by age at both RB and WR, while looking at just top 12 for the “onesie” positions of QB and TE.
The above plot shows the distribution of the fantasy seasons by age and position. It allows you to see how heavily concentrated top performances are around certain ages, and the layering allows you to compare across positions.
What Age Curves Say About RBs and WRs
I’m looking at these two positions together since they are the focal points of most fantasy leagues, and you typically start a similar amount of them. Some of what you see above falls in line with how you’ve likely approached dynasty in the past. Elite WRs appear to last longer than RBs, and the gaps are fairly significant once players reach age 29 or so.
We also see a much tighter distribution for RBs around the early ages of their career. This falls in line with what you’d expect, but is not typically factored in to how people approach rookie drafts and/or teambuilding. Often times we see folks investing heavily in young WRs, be it through a rookie or startup draft. Instead, this data seems to point towards taking some more seasoned WRs, maybe mid-20’s, and using rookie capital on RBs. If you are taking a RB who already has a few years of production under his belt, you are likely buying a player in decline.
To this end, I like to rotate my roster very heavily at the RB position, and acquire WR talent along the way. It goes something like this:
- Draft elite rookie RBs
- Wait for an elite season
- Trade RBs for more stable WR investments
My general mindset at RB is to assume that a great season is likely a player’s best season, especially when he manages to play all 16 games. Then trading those RBs allows me to be elite at WR, a position that has more stability over time.
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What Age Curves Say About QBs and TEs
Most fantasy leagues only require one QB or TE, and only one of these positions appear to be markedly impacted by age. QBs take slightly longer getting started than TEs (though that trend may be ending), but they last an incredibly long time. This is more evidence to not give up anything of real substance to upgrade the QB spot in dynasty, and even in 2QB/Superflex formats I think the position is very likely over-valued from the standpoint of age. Even a QB who has hit 30 still likely has a handful of quality seasons remaining, yet every year the top of the QB ADP board is the youngest players at the position. Think about how many elite Drew Brees seasons you’ve missed out on by taking the young QB de jour.
TE has a similar arc in the beginning to WRs. They take a little bit of time to get going, and peak at similar ages. However, TEs fade more quickly than WRs do, especially once they hit 30. The position is a lot more physical, and there is plenty of wear and tear accrued in the run game. Perhaps that will not be as big of a deal for glorified WRs like Evan Engram, but for the most part these guys are taking a beating every week.