Getting better with age isn't an expression that generally applies to players in the NFL. Every position is different for when a breakdown starts to happen, and wide receivers might have the most shelf life among skill players.
You can be successful into your early 30s. Or, if you're Jerry Rice, you can still make it to the Pro Bowl when you're 40. In 2002, Rice had 92 catches for 1,211 yards and seven touchdowns for the Raiders at 40, which is just amazing.
Unfortunately, there aren't many players like Rice, which is why he's the GOAT at receiver -- and maybe any position. But there are receivers who have thrived in their 30s, and hopefully more will be successful this year.
On Friday's Fantasy Football Today podcast, we talked about older wide receivers and any concern for their performance in 2020. The guys we focused on were Julio Jones (31), Adam Thielen (30), T.Y. Hilton (30), A.J. Green (32), Julian Edelman (34), DeSean Jackson (33), Alshon Jeffery (30) and Antonio Brown (32). Other receivers who fall into this category include Marvin Jones (30), John Brown (30), Emmanuel Sanders (33), Golden Tate (32), Larry Fitzgerald (37), Cole Beasley (31), Mohamed Sanu (30) and Danny Amendola (34).
To get an idea on how these receivers might perform this year, I went back and looked at all the receivers 30 or older from 2010-19. I used 85 targets as the marker for these receivers, and there were 97 times where a receiver ages 30-37 hit that mark over that time.
Here is a breakdown of those seasons:
- Age 30 (30 receivers): Anquan Boldin (2010), Jabar Gaffney (2010), Wes Welker (2011), Roddy White (2011), Nate Burleson (2011), Brandon Lloyd (2011), Larry Fitzgerald (2013), Vincent Jackson (2013), Marques Colston (2013), Greg Jennings (2013), Nate Washington (2013), James Jones (2014), Brandon Marshall (2014), Dwayne Bowe (2014), Calvin Johnson (2015), Danny Amendola (2015), Ted Ginn Jr. (2015), Julian Edelman (2016), Pierre Garcon (2016), Mike Wallace (2016), Brandon LaFell (2016), DeSean Jackson (2016), Demaryius Thomas (2017), Michael Crabtree (2017), Emmanuel Sanders (2017), Antonio Brown (2018), Golden Tate (2018), Julio Jones (2019), Cole Beasley (2019), Mohamed Sanu (2019)
- Age 31 (25 receivers): Santana Moss (2010), Deion Branch (2010), Steve Smith (2010), Gaffney (2011), Boldin (2011). Welker (2012), Andre Johnson (2012), White (2012), Lloyd (2012), Malcom Floyd (2012), Vincent Jackson (2014), Fitzgerald (2014), Colston (2014), Jennings (2014), James Jones (2015), Marshall (2015), Jordy Nelson (2016), Ginn (2016), Wallace (2017), LaFell (2017), DeSean Jackson (2017), Thomas (2018), Crabtree (2018), Sanders (2018), Tate (2019)
- Age 32 (16 receivers): Reggie Wayne (2010), Chad Johnson (2010), Smith (2011), Branch (2011), Moss (2011), Boldin (2012), Andre Johnson (2013), Welker (2012), White (2012), Fitzgerald (2015), Washington (2015), Marshall (2016), Amendola (2017), Nelson (2017), Edelman (2018), Sanders (2019)
- Age 33 (nine receivers): Wayne (2011), Smith (2012), Boldin (2013), Andre Johnson (2014), White (2014), Floyd (2014), Fitzgerald (2016), Nelson (2018), Edelman (2019)
- Age 34 (seven receivers): Hines Ward (2010), Plaxico Burress (2011), Wayne (2012), Smith (2013), Boldin (2014), Fitzgerald (2017), Amendola (2019)
- Age 35 (four receivers): Donald Driver (2010), Smith (2014), Boldin (2015), Fitzgerald (2018)
- Age 36 (four receivers): Derrick Mason (2010), Wayne (2014), Boldin (2016), Fitzgerald (2019)
- Age 37 (two receivers): Terrell Owens (2010), Smith (2016)
To see how these receivers performed, I broke it down into three levels of production. Tier 1: 230 PPR points. Tier 2: 200 PPR points. Tier 3: 170 PPR points. Tier 4: Everything else. I consider any receiver in the top three tiers a potential starter in a three-receiver league.
For receivers in their age 30 year, there were seven in Tier 1 (Welker, White, Fitzgerald, Vincent Jackson, Calvin Johnson, Brown and Julio Jones), three in Tier 2 (Edelman, Garcon and Thomas) and 12 in Tier 3 (Boldin, Lloyd, Colston, Jennings, James Jones, Marshall, Ginn, Wallace, LaFell, DeSean Jackson, Tate and Beasley). That means 73.3 percent of these receivers were potential starters, with 33.3 percent in the top two tiers.
The 31-year-old receivers had six receivers in Tier 1 (Moss, Welker, Andre Johnson, White, Marshall and Nelson), no receivers in Tier 2 and seven receivers in Tier 3 (Branch, Gaffney, Lloyd, Vincent Jackson, Colston, James Jones and Sanders). That's a 52 percent success rate as possible starters, with only 24 percent in the first two tiers.
For the receivers in their age 32 season, there were four in Tier 1 (Wayne, Smith, Andre Johnson and Fitzgerald), one in Tier 2 (Welker) and four in Tier 3 (Chad Johnson, Boldin, Edelman and Sanders). That means 56.3 percent of these receivers were potential starters, with 31.3 percent in the top two tiers.
Of the nine receivers at 33, three were in Tier 1 (Boldin, Fitzgerald and Edelman), two were in Tier 2 (Smith and White) and three were in Tier 3 (Wayne, Andre Johnson and Floyd). Only Nelson was below 170 PPR points at 154, and the success rate of potential starters in this age range was 88.9 percent, along with 55.6 percent in the first two tiers.
Wayne and Fitzgerald were the only receivers at 34 in Tier 1, while Boldin was the only receiver at this age in Tier 2. No receivers made it in Tier 3, and only 42.9 percent of these receivers were possible starters.
For the four receivers at 35, only Driver failed to score in the top 3 tiers with just 131 PPR points. Smith was in Tier 2, and Fitzgerald and Boldin were in Tier 3. Even though it's just four players, 75 percent of them were potential starters.
As these receivers aged, their production, predictably, got worse. There were no Tier 1 or Tier 2 players of the receivers at 36, and only Mason and Boldin scored in Tier 3. That's a 50 percent success rate of possible starters.
For the two receivers who played at age 37 over this span who qualified, Terrell Owens was in Tier 2, while Smith was in Tier 3. For both of these receivers, it was the final year of their careers, and they ended on a high note as potential Fantasy starters.
So what can we learn from this? For starters, some of the best receivers of all time age well with guys like Wayne, Smith, Fitzgerald and Boldin. And hopefully others like Julio Jones, Green and Edelman continue to follow suit in 2020.
You can see here that receivers can be productive into their 30s. And the thing we want to do now is find out what to expect from this year's group of receivers in that age range. Let's break down these receivers -- hopefully they don't break down -- with some pros and cons for each guy.
Pro: He's averaged 103.8 catches a season over the past six years. ... He's averaged 161.7 targets over the past six years. ... His worst season in receiving yards over the past six years was 2019 when he had 1,394.
Con: He has one season in his career with double digits in touchdowns, which was 10 in 2012. Over the past six years, he's averaged just 6.2 touchdowns over that span. ... His 14.1 yards per catch in 2019 was the second-lowest of his career for a season where he played more than five games. ... Last year, in the six games following Sanu's trade to New England, Calvin Ridley outplayed Jones, averaging 17.1 PPR points per game compared to 14.4 for Jones.
Analysis: Jones is likely going to be drafted in Round 2 this year based on Average Draft Position, and he's expected to be a top-five receiver in all leagues. Even though he's 31, and he could lose some production to Ridley, I'm still perfectly fine with Jones in that spot. He's played at least 14 games six years in a row, and I don't expect him to slow down in 2020 given the Falcons' high volume of passing. They led the NFL in pass attempts in 2019 and should be pass happy again this year.
Pro: Prior to last year, he averaged 147.5 targets for 102 catches, 1,324.5 yards and 6.5 touchdowns. ... He averaged 16.0 PPR points per game through the first six games in 2019 before hurting his hamstring in Week 7. Only nine receivers averaged at least 16.0 PPR points or more last year. ... Stefon Diggs is gone, which leaves Thielen clearly locked in as the No. 1 receiver for Kirk Cousins.
Con: He played fewer than 16 games for the first time in his career last year because of a hamstring injury. ... He averaged just 4.8 targets per game and 3.0 catches per game last year in the 10 games he played. ... Even with Diggs gone, Minnesota spent a first-round pick on promising rookie Justin Jefferson from LSU, who could see plenty of time in the slot.
Analysis: Thielen is being drafted in Round 3 as the No. 9 receiver off the board based on ADP, and that's a great spot for him. He should easily lead the Vikings in targets, and hopefully he's back to seeing close to 140 again for the season. Now, we know Minnesota wants to remain a run-first team, but hopefully Thielen could find the end zone around nine times again (he scored nine in 2018 and was on pace for nine over 16 games in 2019). He's a great bounce-back candidate heading into this year.
Pro: The last three years he spent with a healthy Andrew Luck (2014, 2016 and 2018), Hilton averaged 135.3 targets for 83 catches, 1,345.3 yards and 6.3 touchdowns. Philip Rivers is now his quarterback in 2020. Rivers' No. 1 receiver for the Chargers over the past four seasons has at least 1,000 yards and six touchdowns in every year. ... Hilton was on pace for a career-best eight touchdowns last year based on 16 games. ... Last season was the first time in his career he missed more than two games in a season.
Con: While Hilton is the No. 1 receiver for Rivers, the team added talented rookie Michael Pittman in the second round of the NFL Draft, one year after selecting Parris Campbell in Round 2. Both are expected to see a healthy amount of targets, if healthy. ... The Colts were No. 25 in pass attempts per game last year and added rookie running back Jonathan Taylor in Round 2 of the NFL Draft. We might not see the Colts throw more in 2020, even with Rivers. ... Rivers and Hilton won't have the chance to build a strong rapport based on the lack of offseason work.
Analysis: Hilton, who is entering a contract year, should still be the clear-cut No. 1 receiver for Rivers, even with the addition of Pittman and Campbell healthy after an injury-marred rookie campaign. His ADP is in Round 5, which could be a steal given his upside if healthy. It's doubtful the Colts give him 130-plus targets if the run game is working, but if he's near 120 targets then he should be successful as a potential top 15 Fantasy receiver in all leagues.
Pro: He's expected to be fully healthy after missing all of 2019 with an ankle injury. ... Over the first eight games of 2018, before he suffered a toe injury, he was on pace for 90 catches for 1,374 yards and 12 touchdowns on 152 targets. ... He has four seasons in his career with at least 16 games played, and he's scored at least 10 touchdowns in three of them.
Con: He's missed 13 games over the past three seasons with toe and ankle injuries. ... He's never played a game for Zac Taylor or with Joe Burrow, and the first time all three will be together is training camp. ... The Bengals added second-round rookie Tee Higgins to an already crowded receiving corps with Green, Tyler Boyd and John Ross.
Analysis: Green, if healthy, should still be a solid Fantasy option, and his ADP is Round 6, which is fair value. He should be able to connect with Burrow right away, but hopefully Burrow will be ready to play with the lack of offseason work. We don't know if Taylor will continue to pepper Green with targets with all of this talent in the receiving corps, as well as Joe Mixon, but the biggest concern with Green is health. He's an injury risk, especially at 32, which is why he's just a borderline starting Fantasy option coming into the season.
Pro: His average for a 16-game pace over the past three seasons are 152 targets for 99 catches, 1,118.7 yards and 5.7 touchdowns. ... At 33, he was the No. 9 receiver on a per game basis last year at 16.0 PPR points per game. ... He had 58 more targets than anyone else on the Patriots last year and no significant receiver was added in free agency or the NFL Draft.
Con: Tom Brady is gone. And while Cam Newton was brought in as a replacement, Edelman will have to learn a new quarterback for the first time in his career. ... Fitzgerald in 2017 is the only receiver at 34 or older since 1985 with at least 100 catches in a season. ... Edelman has only played 16 games three times in his career.
Analysis: If Edelman comes close to the rapport he had with Brady with Newton, you're going to be thrilled to get Edelman in Round 7 based on his ADP. But that's the concern is that Newton and Edelman won't have time to get on the same page at that level with the lack of offseason work. There's no reason to draft Edelman as a starting Fantasy receiver this year, especially at his age, but he remains a high-end No. 3 receiver, especially in PPR. In non-PPR leagues, Edelman should be considered a No. 4 Fantasy receiver on Draft Day.
Pro: In the eight games Jones played with a healthy Matthew Stafford last year, he was on pace for 84 catches, 1,070 yards and 12 touchdowns. ... In two of the past three seasons with Detroit, Jones has averaged at least 14.0 PPR points per game. ... He has 23 touchdowns in 38 games played with the Lions over the past three years.
Con: Jones has missed 10 games over the past two seasons, including three games last year with an ankle injury. ... Stafford also missed eight games last season with a back injury. However, in five games without Stafford last year, Jones still averaged 12.0 PPR points per game. ... Detroit added two rookies in the NFL Draft with running back D'Andre Swift and receiver Quintez Cephus, and the Lions already have talented options in Kenny Golladay, T.J. Hockenson, Kerryon Johnson and Danny Amendola.
Analysis: It's hard to find cons for Jones, especially at his ADP in Round 9. That's larceny given his potential after what he's shown the past three seasons when healthy. Now, you have to hope the injuries that have occured over the past two years aren't the start of him breaking down. And if the Lions run the ball better with Swift and Johnson, as well as Hockenson taking on a bigger role, it could hurt Jones' production. Still, the ability to draft a player of his caliber in Round 9 is great, and he's one of my favorite sleepers this year, even at 30.
Pro: He's coming off the best year of his career in 2019 in his first year in Buffalo when he averaged 14.7 PPR points per game. ... He had 115 targets last year, and the last two times he's had over 100 targets in a season he averaged at least 13.8 PPR points per game. ... With Stefon Diggs now on the roster, Brown will likely see lighter coverage as the No. 2 receiver for Josh Allen.
Con: Diggs joining the roster won't be good for Brown's targets, especially since he appears to need at least 100-plus to be successful. ... He also has to contend with Beasley still being a significant factor in the passing game, and Beasley had 105 targets in 2019. ... The addition of Diggs isn't expected to open up the passing game much, and Buffalo added Zach Moss to Devin Singletary, along with Allen being heavily involved in the ground attack.
Analysis: Brown is expected to regress with his production now that Diggs is in Buffalo, but Brown is not a bad receiver to draft as a reserve in Round 12 based on his ADP. He should still make plenty of splash plays with Allen, especially if he's seeing lighter coverage. It likely comes down to how many targets Brown will get, and hopefully he's still over 100. I have no problem drafting Brown as a No. 4 Fantasy receiver, with his value slightly higher in non-PPR and 0.5 PPR leagues.
Pro: Given the injury status for Jeffery (foot) and the inexperience of the rest of Philadelphia's receiving corps, Jackson could be the No. 1 receiver for Carson Wentz to open the season. ... He's appeared in 14 games over the past two seasons due to injury, but he's scored at least 11.0 PPR points in seven of them, with seven touchdowns. ... He's averaged more than 17.6 yards per catch in five of the past seasons.
Con: We're keeping this about football and not about the anti-semitic comments he made in July, but Jackson could be facing a potential suspension as a result. ... He's missed 18 games over the past two seasons and hasn't played 16 games since 2013. ... The Eagles added receivers Jalen Reagor, John Hightower and Quez Watkins in the NFL Draft, and Jackson could struggle with targets, especially if Jeffery is healthy.
Analysis: Jackson could be a good Fantasy receiver if healthy and active for most of the season, especially if Jeffery misses time. We'll see what happens with Reagor, but don't forget about sophomore receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside also having a role. And then there are tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert to factor in, as well as running backs Miles Sanders and Boston Scott. It's a crowded offense, so Jackson is only worth drafting as a reserve receiver with a late-round pick.
Pro: Tate closed last season with at least 12 PPR points in four of his final five games and eight times in 12 outings in 2019. ... He had at least seven targets in seven of 12 games. ... Since 2014, Tate has averaged at least 13.1 PPR points in five of six seasons. The one time he failed to reach that mark was 2018 when he was traded from Detroit to Philadelphia.
Con: The Giants have a lot of mouths to feed with Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram, Saquon Barkley and Tate, and Tate could struggle with targets on a consistent basis if everyone is healthy. ... In the four games in 2019 where Tate had fewer than seven targets, he averaged just 7.3 PPR points per game. ... For non-PPR leagues, Tate has scored six touchdowns or less seven years in a row, and his career high is seven touchdowns in 2012 with Seattle.
Analysis: You're going to see Slayton (Round 9) and Shepard (Round 11) as the first two receivers drafted for the Giants in all leagues, and Tate's ADP is Round 14. That's fantastic value given what he did last year and should be capable of again, even with everyone healthy. Daniel Jones should improve in his second year, and Tate will be one of his top targets. He's a quality No. 4 Fantasy receiver entering the season, but he could easily emerge as a No. 3 Fantasy option -- with the upside for more -- early in the year.
Pro: Drew Brees will be the best quarterback Sanders has played with after he signed a two-year, $16 million contract with the Saints this year. ... He should never see tough coverage on a consistent basis playing in an offense with Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara and Jared Cook. ... Despite coming off an Achilles' injury in 2018 and being traded from Denver to San Francisco in the middle of the season, Sanders still scored at least 15 PPR points in five games, including three with at least 24 PPR points.
Con: Over the past three seasons with Thomas and Kamara being the leaders in the passing game, the No. 2 wide receiver in New Orleans hasn't had more than 70 targets in a year. ... While Sanders did have some big games in 2019, he also had 10 games with nine PPR points or less. ... He's scored six touchdowns or less in five seasons in a row, including a combined 11 touchdowns over the past three years.
Analysis: Sanders never looked as explosive in 2019 after his Achilles' injury, and he's likely slowing down at 33. Brees is still going to focus on Thomas and Kamara in the passing game, and Cook is probably still the third option over Sanders. I also wouldn't rule out Tre'Quan Smith still having a role as a field stretcher given his speed. Sanders is only worth drafting with a late-round pick in deeper leagues, and he's not someone I plan to have much stock in this season.
Pro: His performance in 2018 at age 30 is one the best performances ever for a receiver in this age range when he had 104 catches for 1,297 yards and 15 touchdowns. ... Prior to 2019, he had six years in a row with at least 101 catches, 1,200 yards and eight touchdowns. ... In the one game he appeared in 2019 with the Patriots, he still managed to score 15 PPR points.
Con: It's a big one since he's not in the NFL right now, and we don't know if a team is going to sign him. If he were to sign, he would be considered a potential No. 2 Fantasy receiver on Draft Day in all leagues. ... During his six-year run from 2013-18, he had at least 154 targets in each season. It's doubtful that would continue on any team that signs him. ... He could still face a suspension from his off-the-field transgressions in 2019.
Analysis: Every Fantasy player should be taking a flier on Brown if you're drafting now with the chance he signs with a team prior to training camp. The Seahawks could be the team he ends up with, and that would be interesting to see how he fits with Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf. As stated above, Brown would be considered a No. 2 receiver in most scenarios, especially if he got the chance to play with Russell Wilson. He's a potential game-changer if he's back in the NFL in 2020.
Pro: There were 24 seasons since 1985 where a receiver had 100-plus catches at age 30 or older, including Fitzgerald, who did it three times (2015-17) when he was 32-34 with 109 catches, 107 catches and 109 catches over that span. ... Even at 36 last year, he still led the Cardinals in targets (109), catches (75), receiving yards (804) and touchdowns (four). ... He's missed six games in his career and none since 2014.
Con: It's doubtful that he's the best receiver in Arizona with DeAndre Hopkins now on the roster, and Christian Kirk should also outperform Fitzgerald this season. ... As stated above, there isn't a great track record in recent seasons for receivers at age 37. ... Fitzgerald is no longer a consistent threat to make plays down the field, and he's been under 11.0 yards per catch for four seasons in a row.
Analysis: Fitzgerald is still worth drafting with a late-round pick in deeper leagues, but Hopkins should be the leader of this receiving corps now, with Kirk as the co-pilot. Fitzgerald will be the No. 3 option for Kyler Murray, and his stats should continue to decline. He's a Hall of Fame receiver, but his best days as a Fantasy option are behind him.
Pro: If healthy, Jeffery would be the No. 1 receiver for the Eagles this season, ahead of Jackson and the younger options led by Reagor. ... He's been a go-to target for Wentz, and the last time both were healthy in 2017, Jeffery had 57 catches for 789 yards and nine touchdowns on 120 targets. ... In 39 career games with Philadelphia, Jeffery has 19 touchdowns.
Con: Health is the biggest concern for Jeffery, who is dealing with a significant foot injury from last year, and he might not be ready for Week 1. ... He could struggle for consistent targets if Jackson is healthy and active, along with the addition of Reagor as a first-round pick. ... The Eagles seem intent on moving on from Jeffery after this season, which means there could be some discord between both parties on and off the field.
Analysis: It's not a bad idea to take a flier on Jeffery with a late-round pick in all leagues. If he does return for Week 1 or early in the season, you could be getting one of Wentz's top targets. Now, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Jeffery fall behind Jackson and Reagor given his health, but there's little risk and plenty of reward if you're drafting Jeffery with one of your final selections.
Pro: He had a career-best 105 targets and six touchdowns in 2019 and showed solid rapport with Allen in their first year together. ... His role should be locked in even with the addition of Diggs as the slot receiver in Buffalo. ... Since 2016, he has two seasons where he's averaged at least 11.8 PPR points a game.
Con: It's hard to expect Beasley to get over 100 targets again if Diggs and Brown are healthy. ... He only has one season in his career over 70 catches, with 75 his career high in 2016. ... Prior to scoring six touchdowns last season, he combined for seven touchdowns in 2017-18.
Analysis: Beasley could be worth a late-round flier in PPR, but his value takes a hit with Diggs in Buffalo. It's doubtful Allen can support three receivers playing at a high level, and Diggs and Brown have a higher ceiling with their production. Beasley will have some good moments in 2020, but don't bank on consistent stats this year.
Pro: Sanu is already working out with Newton this offseason. ... He should remain a top-three receiver for the Patriots along with Edelman and N'Keal Harry. ... In 2018, before getting traded from Atlanta to New England, he had 66 catches for 838 yards and four touchdowns on 94 targets, which is a realistic expectation this year.
Con: We expect the Patriots to be a run-heavy team in 2020, and Sanu could be fourth in targets behind Edelman, Harry and James White. ... He struggled with the Patriots in 2019 with 26 catches for 207 yards and one touchdown on 47 targets in eight games. ... He's never had more than five touchdowns in a season.
Analysis: The hope is Harry sees more playing time than Sanu this season given the upside for the second-year receiver compared to the nine-year vet. It was an odd fit when the Patriots traded for Sanu since he's better suited to play inside, which is where Edelman has most of his success. Still, Sanu gets a fresh start with Newton, and we'll see how that helps Sanu this year. At best, he's only worth a late-round flier in deeper leagues.
Pro: In three of Amendola's first six games last season, he managed to score at least 17 PPR points, and that came with a healthy Stafford. ... He had seven games with at least eight targets. ... He has at least 61 catches in three of his past five seasons.
Con: The Lions have plenty of weapons with Golladay, Marvin Jones, Hockenson, Kerryon Johnson and Swift. ... Amendola has never scored more than four touchdowns in a season. ... The last time he had at least 100 targets in a season was 2012 with the Rams.
Analysis: Amendola is only worth a late-round flier in deeper PPR leagues. The Lions aren't going to feature Amendola in this offense when everyone is healthy, and he's not a difference-maker for Fantasy managers. At best, he could be a bye-week replacement in deeper PPR formats during the season.