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Fantasy Forecast: Age-Old Questions

It’s that time of year again: thoughts begin to seriously turn to football. Fans get all worked up as hope springs eternal for their team. But for weary fantasy football editors, it can only mean one thing: projections.

Yep. Projections. Here’s a little secret from a grizzled veteran of this rite of summer: all fantasy editors hate projections. While every fantasy footballer on the planet looks forward to the latest player projections, we hate them. Any editor who tells you otherwise is either lying or drinking. Or both.

Why do we hate projections? I’ve given this some thought, and I’ve boiled it down to two main reasons:

  • It’s A Lot of Work – this should be fairly obvious. As an editor, you not only have to come up with your own ratings, you have to act as a referee for your entire staff’s ratings. If you think I’m making the process out to be more difficult than it really is, try this experiment: walk into your favorite bar, and ask 20 guys who the hottest chick on the planet is; after you get all their answers, make a list that all 20 guys will agree is accurate. I rest my case.
  • The Job Never Ends – much like my wife’s nagging, projecting player stats is seemingly endless. Once you think you’ve covered all the angles and have produced the best possible rankings, something pops into your head that causes you to tweak one or two players … which leads to a complete re-ranking of the position … which leads to wondering how those tweaks may effect other positions … which leads to another three days of work.

Case in point: after all our advances in our projection methodology, I thought we had all of the bases covered. I mean, we accounted for past performance, strength of schedule, consistency, trend evaluations … what more could there be?

Wrong! A couple of seasons ago, I began to take note of all the bobbleheads on TV talking about players “being at the age when they hit they wall.” While all of us can stipulate to the ravages of age on physical performance, I began to wonder if there was any way to actually quantify the effects of age on player performance. In other words, how old is too old for purposes of fantasy football projections? Fortunately for you, Mighty Max, my trusty supercomputer, is loaded with all the pertinent data and is raring to go!

I decided to use fantasy performance as a gauge of player performance, using standard points per reception scoring for the offensive players. The criteria for inclusion:

  • The players considered in the sample had to play in at least eight games;
  • Each age/position combination had to have at least two players;
  • Ages are as of the beginning of every NFL season;
  • Performances of players over the past five seasons are being tracked;

Given those conditions, we get the following results for the offensive skill positions:

Age-1

So what does all this mean? Let’s look at the most scrutinized position, running back. We’ve all heard the adage, “running backs hit the wall at 30” and “Don’t draft any running backs turning 30.” We’ve all heard these words of advice from various fantasy “experts,” but are they true? This is an interesting question …

The answer is “no”— there was no running back “wall” at 30; the wall was actually at 29. Why is this the case?

My theory is that there are fewer and fewer running backs who are “workhorses.” Committees are more and more prevalent, as well as the NFL becoming a passing league. The end result is that all running backs are producing fewer fantasy points — the data here shows correlation, not causation. But just in case, here are some running backs heading into the season as 29-year-olds: Marshawn Lynch, Jamaal Charles, Arian Foster, LeGarrette Blount, Joique Bell and Ray Rice.

RB_Marshawn_Lynch_SEA_1
Marshawn Lynch pre-game at Super Bowl XLIX

But interestingly enough, there’s another trend here: the decline of quarterback performance when they hit 34. Whither Philip Rivers?

Moving to the other side of the ball, Mighty Max produced the following numbers for IDP:

Age-2

Interesting! Looks like there really isn’t a real trend on the defensive side of the ball, outside of defensive linemen hitting their wall at 33.

Finally, some of you will ask about the kickers. As always, my answer is: nothing about kickers matters. They are a crapshoot, irrespective of the analysis being done. Think I’m exaggerating? Take a look:

Age-3

The moral of the story: wait until the last round of your draft, and then grab the most consistent kicker on the highest scoring team available.

About John Georgopoulos

John T. Georgopoulos is a 23-year veteran of fantasy sports journalism. John’s Fantasy Forecast series has won the prestigious Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) award for Best Series, and he’s been nominated as an FSWA Award finalist on nine occasions. You can also listen to his weekly, non-sports NSFW opinions at The Riot.