The most dominant wide receiver of the recent era retired abruptly at age 30. After six straight Pro Bowls, Calvin Johnson left a 7-9 Detroit Lions team and the rest of the NFL in shock. It didn't necessarily show up in the form of missed games, but Johnson was growing weary from the back and forth of injury and rehab. The greatness of Megatron made his retirement proportionally jarring. For fantasy owners, it created an underlying unrest for aging wideout assets.
While the sting of losing a stud like Calvin early definitely hurts, the reality is that Calvin Johnson is uncommon. Unlike running backs, wide receivers can maintain fantasy relevance into their mid 30s. The graph below displays the average output of WRs compared to RBs, which can be used to frame our expectations.
Understanding narratives around players may be helpful as well. As a lifetime Lion, Calvin grew tired emotionally, and although it didn't show up in the form of missed games, if you were paying attention to the injury report, it was clear that he had been struggling for the last couple years. Some players talk about the game with undying love, some feel their NFL career is just a small facet of their life. Listening for those subtleties is as unscientific as it gets and anticipating a specific outcome is near impossible, but it is worth noticing.
Endgame Wide Receivers
Jerry is the only non-QB to hold fantasy relevance past age 38. In 2002, he made the Pro Bowl with 92 catches 1211 yards and 7 TDs at age 40. The following season he was still able to gather 63 receptions for 869 yards. Facebook/Jerry Rice
As shown in the table below, there have been a whopping 47 WR2 seasons from wideouts age 33 and older since 1994, nearly 2 guys every season. That's 2 players every year that will be written off as washed up, and you can get them in the double digit rounds of your draft to use as a stud fill-in when 27 year old Odell Beckham strains his hip or breaks his ankle.
The one thing that unites most of these wideouts was high market share volume. They're often the lone reliable receiving option on their team or have developed a dependable chemistry with their QB. They don't all have to be freaks like Terrell Owens or Jerry Rice, they don't all have to be paired with Hall of Fame quarterbacks like Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. If Joe Flacco and Mark Brunell need a guy on 3rd down to move the chains, they can be a sneaky high volume fantasy asset.
2019's Timeless Talents
ACE Stephen Warbington recently gave us a rundown of his view on specific aging wideouts. Here's two targets I would look to acquire at the age discount:
AP Photo/Rick Scuteri
Larry Fitzgerald produces Pro Bowl Caliber 1000 yard seasons when his QB is competent. Period. We were ready to start washing him out at age 29 with John Skelton throwing him the ball in 2012. By 2017 we realized how stupid we were after seeing him hang 3 straight 1K seasons from age 32-34. Now, his value has dropped after Josh Rosen's disastrous 2018. Kliff's high volume attack is going to need an engine, and we've seen mixed play from the young wideouts. We are buying Kyler like a top 10 QB, but letting his best receiver fall to WR40. Buy the dip.
Desean Jackson is the best deep threat of the last decade. Hands down. Now he gets a QB that can sling it and a coordinator that can scheme it. After TO showed us he can still run a 4.4, I don't think we need to worry about DJax losing a step just yet. He's still a young 32 and hasn't stopped burning DBs. I much prefer Wentz to Winston and think Desean will be a gem this year in the 10th round. The Philly wideout group has no true stud, yet has enough talent to demand respect across the board, providing a solid environment for Desean to thrive in single cover matchups. To get the juices flowing, here's DJax torching everyone.