Aging Out in Fantasy Football

Ever the Ageist

We get older each day it’s just a fact of life. However, the aging process is accelerated in the NFL, and we need to be prepared to usher players off our squad before their value begins to decline or worse declines further. In typical redraft leagues, age doesn’t play as big a part (in most cases it should) in the draft process because drafters don’t care about the future. Larry Fitzgerald and Frank Gore are still seen as assets in the redraft world when in Dynasty they are dinosaurs, and you are likely stuck with them on your roster because they carry little to no trade value.  

In this article, I will be targeting players who are approaching or currently standing on the edge of the value cliff that you should consider unloading before the inevitable fall. Andy Reid recently said when asked about releasing Jeremy Maclin:

This is part of the NFL business. I am not going to get into specifics with it, but this is the worst part about the job, clearly. It is not easy for (general manager) John [Dorsey]. It is not easy for me, or the coaches. But, it is the decision we ended up making and we go forward.”

We need to treat our dynasty team as a business devoid of emotion and make decisions in the best interest of our fantasy franchises and move forward.

I used Pro Football Reference to determine the peak performance window for each position with a slight tweak on their designation of “old” using 30 years old as the universal line of demarcation across all skill positions discussed to identify my AARP players.

Running Backs

Peak Performance = 23 to 25-year-old seasons

Cliff Diver Criteria = 27-year-old season

AARP RBs: I am going to spare you the details and extensive rationale behind the following players but know that the tread is running dangerously thin on these guys (all over 2,000 career carries) or they’ve already blown a tire and are parked on the side of the road waiting for a tow truck to drag them away.

Frank Gore (34-year-old season) – He’s not human. Gore is the first RB aged 33 or older to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark since 1990 (1,025 rushing yards in 2016), and that was largely driven by volume and durability (he played all 16 games). That leaves one last milestone for Frank Gore to reach (he will see his 3,000th career carry early this season) because another 260+ carries and a RB1 designation are not in the cards for him after Indianapolis drafted Marlon Mack and signed Christine Michael.

Adrian Peterson (32-year-old season) – AP has produced a solid fantasy season after a major knee injury in the past (1,485 rushing yards and 11 TDs in 2015) making it difficult to doubt him, but he’s going into his age 32 season and coming off another major knee injury that cost him all but 3 games in 2016. But sadly, the wear and tear on arguably the best RB of the last decade has finally caught up with Peterson. He will eclipse the 2,500-carry threshold this season which already qualifies him as defying the odds. The clock strikes midnight this season with Peterson on a new team (New Orleans) and in a timeshare for the first time in his career.

Matt Forte (32-year-old season)RETIRE ALREADY! The Chicago Bears made the correct call letting Forte walk after the 2015 (Forte’s age 30) season. Injuries have led to a gradual decline in production which is largely still buoyed by his plus pass catching ability (74 catches the last two seasons).  Forte has been a sub 4.0yd/carry guy (3.9 to be exact) during his time with the Jets and has been consistently outplayed by backfield mate Bilal Powell. There will be a changing of the guard in 2017 with Forte playing the breather back role in what I believe will be his NFL swan song season.

Marshawn Lynch (31-year-old season) – Buy the hype all you want but I remember Lynch as an oft injured RB in decline back in the 2015 season (he semi-retired and sat out the 2016 season to travel the world). I don’t think a year away from the game is ever good for a player regardless of circumstances and we are talking about a 31-year-old RB that has relied on power, physicality, and volume to be productive for the bulk of his career.

Other AARP Qualifiers – Darren Sproles (34-year-old season) and Danny Woodhead (32-year-old season)

Cliff Divers: The following running backs are speeding toward the finish line (irrelevancy) at an increasingly fast rate. I used a combination of volume, age, and situation to determine the following players. You need to dump these assets while you still can (if you still can).

LeGarrette Blount (31-year-old season) – 1,168 career carries

Spotrac – signed a 1 yr. / $1.25MM ($400k guaranteed) deal with PHI for 2017.

299 carries and the Patriots offense were largely responsible for Blount’s success during the 2016 season as he wasn’t good by any metric outside of TD rate. This will not be replicated with the Eagles in 2017. There has already been beat reporter speculation that assigned a 170 o/u for Blount’s total carries this season. Using that as a barometer against 2016 production would yield a 170-663-10 stat line for Blount in 2017, and I do not foresee the TD frequency remaining the same in Philadelphia. A 600-6 stat line is more likely. If anyone is still looking at his 2016 totals, SELL NOW for whatever you can get.

Jonathan Stewart (30-year-old season) – 1,501 career carries

Spotrac – signed a 1 yr. / $8MM contract restructure extension that leaves behind a $1.5MM Dead Cap Hit in 2018.

During my research, I was surprised to see that Jonathan Stewart was tied with Matt Forte for the 15th most carries in the NFL last season (218) mostly because I couldn’t believe they were both still top 15 volume running backs. 2016 marked only the 3rd time in Stewart’s eight-year NFL career that he exceeded 200 carries in a season. Stewart is unlikely to reach the 200-carry mark again this season after the Panthers spent high draft capital on Christian McCaffrey (1st Rd) and Curtis Samuel (2nd Rd) NOTE: I do believe that Samuel sees a handful of carries per game this season. The Panthers backfield is in transition, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Stewart failed to exceed the 170-carry o/u referenced in the Blount post. Reach out to the McCaffrey owner to see if they are interested in his handcuff.

DeMarco Murray (29-year-old season) – 1,420 career carries

Spotrac – Potential Out: 2018, 2 yr., $12,350,000; $0 dead cap

Murray broke down again late last season, and his career has largely been the product of a volume driven 2014 (his age 26 season by the way) campaign where he received an eye-popping 392 regular season carries to go along with another 44 in his only postseason playoff run. In hindsight, you should’ve sold him back then, but we’re here today. Murray’s 2016 can be broken down into two seasons:

Weeks 1-8 160 carries 756 yards 4.7 yds/carry

Weeks 9-16 133 carries 531 yards 3.99 yds/carry

Murray experienced a significant 0.7 yds/carry decrease during the back half of the season.  This number is only further exaggerated if we remove the single game with his highest per carry average for each half of the season (Wk2 @ DET and Wk10 vs GB) and are left with a drop of almost 1yd/carry (0.99 to be exact) from the first 8 games to the final 8 games. Derrick Henry closed the 2016 season strong averaging just shy of 5 yds/carry and 0.8 TD/gm across the final five weeks of the season. Henry was brought in as the heir apparent to Murray in Tennessee, and I see the torch being passed in 2017 with a significant shift in the total RB carries going his way. Reach out to the Henry owner to see if they are interested in his handcuff.

LeSean McCoy (29-year-old season) – 1,898 career carries

Spotrac – Potential Out: 2018, 3 yr., $27,300,000; $5,250,000 dead cap

Right about now you’re probably asking yourself how I could possibly suggest trading a player that accounted for 234-1267-13 on the ground alone last year. Well, McCoy will be transitioning to the AARP list with his 102nd carry of the 2017 season so be warned. As Dynasty owners, we need to conduct honest assessments of our rosters and determine if we are contending or rebuilding. A rebuilding team needs to cash in while McCoy still carries enough name recognition to net a reasonable return by targeting the right “contending” team owner. As an Eagles fan, I watched Shady dance in the backfield and can recall him ripping off countless memorable runs for the better part of his first five seasons in the NFL. What I also vividly remember is the endless TFL’s that the Eagles opponents racked up as well. McCoy’s game relies entirely on elusiveness and burst and while he has been largely healthy outside of his rookie season the numbers don’t lie about aging running backs.

2015 2016 2 yr avg

McCoy, L

4.4

5.4

4.95

Gillislee, M

5.7

5.7

5.7

Williams, K

5.8 N/A

N/A

Gillislee v. McCoy YPC Diff

0.75

We also need to consider that Rex Ryan / Anthony Lynn ran an extremely RB-friendly scheme during their time in Buffalo and while YPC typically stabilizes with volume it’s still pretty telling that McCoy’s backups out produced him on a per touch basis the last two seasons. Go buy stock in Jonathan Williams if you still can!

Other Cliff Dive Qualifiers – Mark Ingram (28-year-old season), Doug Martin (28-year-old season) and Latavius Murray (27-year-old season) NOTE: Each of their teams selected a RB by the 5th Rd in 2017 NFL Draft

Wide Receivers

Peak Performance = 24 to 26-year-old seasons

Cliff Diver criteria = 29-year-old season

AARP WRs – A NFL wide receiver’s peak age is very similar to the running back position but with one notable difference: the decline is typically more gradual which can push viable fantasy WR production well past a player’s age 30 season. We have watched players like Steve Smith (retired), Anquan Boldin (free agent) and Larry Fitzgerald (foreshadowing) remained productive well into their mid to late 30’s. I deem this to be largely based on the less physical nature of the WR position when compared to the RB position, and the nuances of route running that allows a technician to become a reliable chain mover viable later in their career.

Larry Fitzgerald (34-year-old season) – Leading the league in receptions is no small task especially at Fitzgerald’s advanced (for the NFL) age. Fitz typifies the transition referenced as he transitioned from one of the best boundary receivers of his generation to become a possession receiving security blanket for Carson Palmer in Arizona. Fitzgerald has said that the 2017 season will likely be his last so if you have him on your roster enjoy the ride. Next stop Canton.

Anquan Boldin (37-year-old season) – Every team needs an Anquan Boldin in their life. He’s a tough as nails, lunch pail type WR that is always where he’s supposed to be. Boldin is currently a free agent but has publicly stated that he wants to play in 2017 and is likely waiting until training camp to sign a deal (it’s what veteran free agents do). I assume that he will likely land back with one of his former teams in DET or BALT for what’s likely his swan song season.

Other AARP Qualifiers – Brandon Marshall (33-year-old season) and Victor Cruz (31-year-old season)

Cliff Divers – As stated above, the decline is typically more gradual for the WR position so identifying the players reaching their precipice is slightly more difficult. The WR position continues to get deeper every season with the league adopting a pass-happy approach.

Mike Wallace (31-year-old season)

Spotrac – In the final year of a 2 yr. / $11.5MM deal. UFA in 2018.

Fun Fact:  Did you know that Mike Wallace’s first name is Burnell?  Well Mr. BURN Wallace (has a nice ring to it) has been deemed a speed merchant throughout his career. ‘60 Minutes’ has seemingly made a living taking the top off opposing defenses. Speed kills but loosing speed kills too. I have always viewed Wallace as a one trick pony (slightly better version of Ted Ginn) type of player that thrived on the big play. Ironically enough that lid lifter status was proven short-lived when I looked deeper into his stats.

REC YDS AVG

PIT (4 YRS)

235 4042

17.2

SINCE (4 YRS) 251 3282

13.1

Wallace has a top 30 WR in Fantasy Points Per Target (FPPT) in 2016 on the strength of 114 targets which was good for 14th in the NFL. This represented the 3rd largest target total and 2nd highest catch rate of Wallace’s 8-year career. I treat fantasy anomalies as just that and as such don’t foresee Wallace approaching those 2016 totals again.

I know the narrative in Baltimore is who is Joe Flacco going to throw it to after Steve Smith retired, Kamar Aiken left in free agency, and Dennis Pitta fell victim to yet another (in all likelihood career ending) hip injury. Breshad Perriman is at a crossroads in his young NFL career and appears poised to see WR1 targets this season, they still have a glut of TE’s (Watson, Williams, Gilmore, Boyle, etc.) that can combine to replace Pitta’s production and I believe that one of Decker, Maclin or Boldin will be signed in the coming weeks (or months in the case of Boldin). An already average Mike Wallace will be one of the WRs we talk about being most impacted by an offseason signing. NOTE: Since writing this article Baltimore has signed Jeremy Maclin. The clock is about to run out on Mike Wallace, and it’s time to BURN your shares.

Julian Edelman (31-year-old season)

Spotrac – signed a 2 yr. / $11MM contract extension on June 8, 2017.  $2MM Dead cap in 2018.  $0 in 2019.  UFA in 2020.

I love Julian Edelman! Everyone wants a Julian Edelman on their team. How could you not like Julian Edelman? I think deep down even Dolphins, Bills and Jets fans like Julian Edelman. Enough with the love fest, Edelman appeared in all 16 games for the first time since 2013. I initially chose Edelman for this article because I felt that he wasn’t long for the Patriots because as of June 7th he was in the last year of a 4 yr. / $17M deal that he signed prior to the 2014 season which would’ve made him an unrestricted free agent in 2018. Well, the Patriots never cease to amaze me and signed him to a 2 yr. / $11M extension on June 8th. At first, this seemed to throw a wrench in my position, but upon further review, it only enhances it. Belichick has a well-earned reputation for unloading veteran (aging) talent before the fall, and I see this move as a decision to reward a “Patriot Way” guy and maintain continuity for Tom Terrific over the next two seasons. What they did was essentially give Edelman a raise in 2017 without handcuffing themselves in 2018.  I think it’s unlikely that the Patriots trade Edelman (at least until next offseason at least) but when you factor in the recent acquisition of Brandin Cooks (entering his age 24-year-old season), with a 5th year player option set to pay him $8,459,000 next season, I think it’s safe to say that Cooks will be the one getting a shiny new contract next offseason and Belichick will have a tough decision to make with Edelman. On the surface, the Patriots deciding to extend Edelman should only serve to increase his value with prospective buyers. Slot receivers, much like James Dean, live fast and die young. I highly suggest that you take a page out of Bill’s book and get some value for a diminishing asset while you still can.

Jordy Nelson (32-year-old season)

Spotrac – Potential Out: 2018, 4 yr, $31,823,563; $2,300,000 dead cap

Would it surprise you to hear that Jordy Nelson’s Player Profiler Best Comparable is Larry Fitzgerald? Well, it is, and much like Fitz himself, I expect Nelson to begin his transition from double digit TD superstar to chain-moving possession receiver in the very near future. Interestingly enough Fitz made said transition following his age 31 season and has since turned in the two highest reception seasons (and conversely the two lowest yards/reception) seasons of his illustrious HOF career.  Jordy Nelson owners find themselves in a difficult situation. What do you do with a highly productive (WR #2, INJ and #3 overall the last three seasons) fantasy asset that’s at an advanced age? I suggest the Andy Reid approach to roster construction. Conduct an honest evaluation of your roster and determine your short-term window (next two seasons) for a legitimate championship run. While I am not advocating any Nelson owner selling for pennies on the dollar, I would suggest putting him on the block and seeing what offers you get in return.

Other Cliff Dive Qualifiers – Pierre Garcon (31-year-old season), DeSean Jackson (31-year-old season), Eric Decker (30-year-old season) and Emmanuel Sanders (29-year-old season)

Tight Ends

Peak Performance = 25 to 28-year-old seasons

Cliff Diver criteria > 29-year-old season

AARP TEs – The tight end position has experienced quite a revolution over the last decade with the advent of the move tight end role in many of today’s offenses. These players were once thought of as oversized wide receivers who couldn’t really live on the boundary due to a general lack of burst and explosion compared to the defensive backs responsible for covering them. Common sense prevailed, and these players were moved inside the hashes so linebackers and safeties would have to deal with them. This has led to the emergence of the Jordan Reed’s and Zach Ertz’s of the world who do not profile as complete tight ends but present as matchup nightmares for opposing defenses. But enough about them let’s talk about some old war horses.

Antonio Gates (37-year-old season) – Gates made it cool for undersized college power forwards to take a stab at an NFL career. His success blazed the path for the likes of Jimmy Graham, Julius Thomas, and Rico Gathers. Going into his 15th NFL season, Gates will likely set the TE TD record this season and is a surefire Hall of Famer five years after he hangs it up. And while Gates has avoided major injury throughout his career, he has missed 7 of 32 games over the last two seasons which is a sign that his body just isn’t cooperating with him like it used to. The Chargers drafted Hunter Henry as the heir apparent to Gates in L.A. and an impressive rookie season should leave Chargers fans satisfied as Gates rides off into the sunset after the 2017 season.

Jason Witten (35-year-old season) – Witten was the TE14 in standard leagues last year, and that was largely a war of attrition. Witten has missed only one game in his 14 year NFL career having played with a lacerated spleen early in the 2012 season. The NFL’s ironman at TE is a complete player and valuable commodity for the Dallas Cowboys, but he’s been largely fantasy irrelevant since the start of the 2014 season. The Cowboys have attempted to find Witten’s eventual replacement over the last few years by signing Martellus Bennett and drafting the likes of Gavin Escobar and Rico Gathers. Gathers is the only player still sitting with Witten in the TE room and reports of his progress transitioning from the aforementioned college power forward to an NFL tight end have by all accounts been positive. Another Canton bound TE that appears destined to go out on his shield.

Other AARP Qualifiers – Vernon Davis (33-year-old season) and Zach Miller (33-year-old season)

Cliff Divers – Much like the WR position, the peak age and likely cliff for the tight end position is difficult to predict. These players typically take slightly longer to reach their peak due to their blocking and pass catching responsible within the framework of an NFL offense.

Delanie Walker (33-year-old season)

Spotrac – Potential Out: 2018, 2 yr, $11,468,750; $833,334 dead cap

Walker (great name by the way) has produced TE1 totals (5, 3, 8 & 11) in 12 team PPR leagues in each of his four seasons in Tennessee. He has been Marcus Mariota’s most trusted pass catcher for much of that time too. Well, times they are a-changin with the Titans investing heavily into the pass catcher position in this year’s draft with Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor, and Jonnu Smith. Smith (6’3” 248, 4.62 forty) bears a striking resemblance to Walker (6’1” 242, 4.58 forty) from a measurable standpoint and it’s easy to see 2017 being a learn at the feet situation for Smith in preparation of replacing Walker in 2018. To take the comparison a step further, PlayerProfiler.com had both players with College Dominator ratings above 30% which is considered extraordinary for a TE. I believe that Walker will remain a focal point in the Titans offense in 2017 but will become a cap casualty come 2018.

Other Cliff Dive Qualifiers – Greg Olsen (33-year-old season), Jimmy Graham (31-year-old season) and Martellus Bennett (30-year-old season)

You have been warned.  Father Time is undefeated in the NFL and the Fantasy Grim Reaper will claim some souls this season.  Best be prepared!

Follow me on Twitter @DFF_Walk

mwalker

Diehard Eagles fan, World's Okayest Dad and Dynasty / IDP Writer for the Dynasty Football Factory.

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