For the purpose of this article, “N” refers to the first season a wide receiver aged 28 or older sat inside the top-12 of average draft position. “N+1” would be one season removed from “N.”
Production and value are not interchangeable terms when discussing players in fantasy football. There should be a clear designation between the two. One may assume the more productive you are, the more value you have. However, that is not always the case. At some point, wide receivers begin to decrease in value regardless of production. Understanding when it may be can ensure you aren’t left holding the bag on a depreciating asset.
The Old Wide Receiver Myth (Production)
Surely you have heard that you don’t want old wide receivers on your fantasy team. Well, that’s not entirely true. Data supports the notion that a WR1 season is not all that uncommon up through age 32. So while there may be ‘prime’ years for receivers, there is not something magical happening at age 28, 29, or even 30 years old, making every wide receiver less productive. However, some magic does occur when looking at their value.
The Old Wide Receiver Truth (Value)
Again, production and value are not the same things. Using average draft position (ADP) gives us an idea of a given player’s consensus value. There we see a 30-year old finishing as the WR10 (Adam Thielen) being drafted in the seventh round of start-up drafts. However, the WR22 in fantasy scoring in 2020 was drafted in the middle of the third round (CeeDee Lamb). What gives?
We know that many factors impact value beyond just production, but age is the primary consideration. Even when a receiver is producing at a high level, their age can be the driver that knocks their value. Understanding when that is most likely to occur provides you an advantage in drafts and trades.
When Does the Value Cliff Occur?
I used ADP to determine ‘value’ and chose August as the point in time to compare ADP. As the NFL season is beginning, how do fantasy managers value certain players?
From August 2014 to August 2020, there have been 20 instances of a wide receiver age-28+ cracking the top-12 wide receivers according to ADP. Removing the three from August 2020 as we do not yet have their “N+1 ADP” from August 2021 leaves us 17 instances. Only twice have we seen a receiver gain value within the top-12 after turning 28-years old (A.J. Green and Antonio Brown). Both Green and Brown saw their value increase marginally, by two and one spots, respectively, in receiver ADP.
Of the 15 receivers who lost value, the average drop was 15 spots at the position. Outliers, however, cannot be ignored as Calvin Johnson’s drop after retirement and Brown’s devaluation after his Las Vegas antics bring the average way down. Even removing those two outliers still yields an average devaluation of seven wide receiver spots in N+1. The depreciation naturally is even steeper on average in year N+2.
Avoiding the Depreciating Asset
The three 28-plus-year-old receivers who sat as top-12 wide receivers in August 2020 ADP include Davante Adams, De’Andre Hopkins, and Odell Beckham. As of March 2021, two had lost value as Adams climbed from two to one. Whether he can maintain the value increase to August 2021 remains to be seen, but as of now, Adams remains a hard move-now asset.
As a reminder, ‘move now’ does not mean trading at any cost. Adams should warrant a large offer as his production has shown no signs of tailing off. However, it isn’t his production we are most concerned about; it’s the depreciation. If Adams returns another top-3 season in 2021, he will most likely still fall in value. If he struggles at all or battles injury, the market could decline rapidly and never rebound to the current valuation.
Looking at the March 2021 wide receiver ADP, there are seven who are 26 or younger. They would represent good starting points for returns in an Adams trade. Exchanging the older receiver for a younger version and another asset or two will prevent you from sitting on a depreciating investment. Get the best return now and move off before they lose value.
Don’t forget to check out the other great articles at Fantasy Intervention, including Taylor’s most recent piece on the safest running back assets in dynasty. You can also find him on Twitter @_TaylorCornell.