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Ballin' in the Golden Years: An in-depth look at the production of WRs in their later years, and what it means for Steve Smith

David Banks

Greetings CSR faithful. As many of you know I am a regular commenter on CSR, though I rarely author my own posts. Today is a slow day at work so I thought I'd offer up something substantive during the doldrums of the NFL offseason, hopefully more substantive than my normal contributions.

Today I will look at the production that the top-25 WRs in NFL history put up at ages 33 and 34. Why ages 33 and 34, you ask? OH! THAT'S RIGHT! Our very own Steve Smith, aka the Rules and Regulations, aka His Shortness, aka The Furious Flying Fists of Teammate Death (sorry, I couldn't resist) just recently turned 34 years old.

We CSR faithful are no stranger to speculation on who will attempt to fill Smitty's legendary cleats when he finally decides to hang them up. Some were clamoring for us to draft a WR at #14 overall in the 2013 NFL draft but those talks died down once we drafted a certain celestial body of hydrogen gas undergoing thermonuclear fusi....OK, let me stop, Star Freaking Lotulelei. Some thought we might nab a WR later in the draft, but that didn't happen either. Some want us to go after Charlotte native Hakeem Nicks of the New York Giants, and some think that the answer is currently on our roster.

Whatever your opinion was/is it doesn't change the fact that Steve Smith will be our unquestionable #1 WR going into week 1 of the 2013 NFL season at the grand age of 34. So, what kind of production can we expect from him? Let's dive right in...

Why the heck am I writing this post?

There are two general reasons why I am writing this post:

1. To provide you with some (hopefully fun) information regarding the top WRs in NFL history in the later part of their career

2. To test out the soundness of my own opinions regarding Steve Smith and our WR situation in 2013.

The list

In the chart below you will find a list of the top-25 WRs in NFL history, as ranked by yardage. Please note that I only included WRs, so Tony Gonzalez is not on this list despite the fact that he is still going strong in his late 30s, as we all know too well. All data is gathered from Pro Football Reference.

Player Height Year 1 (33 years old) Year 1 Yardage Year 1 Receiving TDs Year 2 (34 years old) Year 2 Yardage Year 2 TDs
Jerry Rice 6'2" 1995 1848 15 1996 1254 8
Terrell Owens 6'3" 2006 1180 13 2007 1355 15
Randy Moss 6'4" 2010
393 total yards (played with 3 teams) 5 Did not play in 2011, came back in 2012 2012 yardage 434 2012 TDs 3
Issac Bruce 6'0" 2005 525 3 2006 1098 3
Tim Brown 6'0" 1999 1344 6 2000 1128 11
Marvin Harrison 6'0" 2005 1146 12 2006 1366 12
James Lofton 6'3" 1989 166 3 1990 (In 1991 he put up 1,072 yds 8 TDs) 712 4
Chris Carter 6'3" 1998 1011 12 1999 1241 13
Henry Ellard 5'11" 1994 1397 6 1995 1005 5
Torry Holt 6'0" 2009 722 0
Retired at age 33
NA NA
Andre Reed 6'2" 1997 880 5 1998 795 5
Stephen Largent 5'11" 1987 912 8 1988 645 2
Reggie Wayne 6'0" 2011 960 4 2012 1355 5
Irving Fryar 6'0" 1995 910 8 1996 1195 11
Art Monk 6'3" 1990 770 5 1991 1049 8
Jimmy Smith 6'1" 2002 1027 7 2003(1,000+ yd seasons in 04 and 05) 805 4
Charlie Joiner 5'11" 1980 1132 4 1981 1188 7
Hines Ward 6'0" 2009 1167 6 2010 755 5
Derrick Mason 5'10" 2007 1087 5 2008 1037 5
Michael Irvin 6'2" 1999 (only played 4 games) 167 3
Retired at age 33 NA NA
Don Maynard 6'0" 1968 1297 10 1969 938 6
Steve Smith 5'9" 2012 1174 4 2013
NA NA
Muhsin Muhammad 6'2" 2006 863 5 2007 570 3
Rod Smith 6'0" 2003 845 3 2004 1144 7
Keenan McCardell 6'1" 2003 1174 8 2004 393 1

Raw Stats

Average yardage and TDs at age 33 is 964 yds and 6 TDs.

Average yardage and TDs at age 34 is 1001 yds and 7 TDs.

Wow, I wasn't expecting this. On average, they actually got slightly BETTER from age 33 to age 34. Good sign, right? Well, not so fast, maybe not...there are a few problems with this.

First off, Michael Irvin and Randy Moss greatly skew down the age 33 list due to their terrible numbers, and both of them didn't play at age 34 (Irvin retired and Moss was out of the league for a year) so I didn't count them above. In other words, they are negatively affecting the age 33 list while not affecting the age 34 list at all.

Secondly, Torry Holt retired at age 33 and Steve Smith's 2013 season is still an unknown, so they weren't included when I calculated the age 34 list either. So, this is how the lists compare on average with Irvin, Moss, Holt, and Smitty removed.

Average yardage and TDs at age 33 is 1,031 yds and 7 TDs.

Average yardage and TDs at age 34 is 1,001 yds and 7 TDs.

Ok, now THAT looks a little bit better. You'd expect a dip in stats, on average, as the player ages.

By Decade

One thing that should stand out is that the football of the 1990s is different than the football of the 1970s. The football of the 2000s is different than the football of the 1990s. Heck, the football of the late 2000s is different than the football of the early 2000s. How do the numbers look, on average, by decade?

1960s: 1 player

Age 33: 1,297 yds 10 TDs

Age 34: 938 yds 6 TDs

Maynard was ahead of his time, which is one of the reasons why he is in the HOF.

1980s: 3 players

Age 33: 737 yds 5 TDs

Age 34: 848 yds 4 TDs

They actually improved from ages 33 to 34

1990s: 7 players (excludes Irvin due to reasons listed above)

Age 33: 1166 yds 8 TDs

Age 34: 1095 yds 9 TDs

Jerry Rice helps out this group quite a bit, especially in the age 33 list. He had monster numbers that year.

Early 2000s (2000-2005): 5 players

Age 33: 943 yds 7 TDs

Age 34: 961 yds 5 TDs

Roughly the same amount of production.

Late 2000s (2006-2012): 5 players (excluding Holt, Moss, and Smitty for reasons listed above)

Age 33: 1,051 yds 7 TDs

Age 34: 1,014 yds 7 TDs

Roughly the same amount of production.

It isn't surprising to me that the late 2000s had the second highest yardage and TDs averages considering the current state of the NFL. It probably would have been the highest if Jerry Rice didn't exist.

Height

One of the obvious things that stick out on this list is the fact that there are only four other players than Steve Smith that are shorter than 6'0" tall. Let's look at what their averages are. This won't be including Smitty.

Age 33: 1132 yds 6 TDs

Age 34: 969 yds 5 TDs

The thing that is interesting is that Smitty's 2012 season is almost perfectly aligned with the average age 33 season for the other sub 6' WRs ( he had 42 more yards and 2 fewer TDs).

For a comparison, here are the averages for the 6' and greater WRs (excluding Irvin, Moss, and Holt):

Age 33: 1007 7 TDs

Age 34: 1009 yds 7 TDs

On average the taller WRs had roughly the same amount of production at age 33 as the shorter ones but were able to sustain their success at age 34 slightly better than the shorter ones.

So what does this mean for my personal opinions on our WR situation, and what should you take away from all of this?

Before the 2013 draft I argued so much about the merits of drafting a WR early in the draft that it is easy to forget that drafting a WR at #14 overall was never my preferred choice of action. I was in favor of going DT in the 1st round and either WR/OG in the 2nd round. I simply said that if we wanted to go that route I wouldn't be opposed to it. In case you've forgotten (though I repeat myself so much that I'm sure you haven't if you are a CSR regular) my opinion on our WR situation is this:

1. Though I wouldn't have minded us drafting a WR in 2012, I am fine with our draft and I think that we may be able to get by next year with Smitty as our #1 WR.

2. Though I'm not saying it WILL happen, I wouldn't be surprised at all if Smitty does not record a 1,000 yd season in 2013.

So after going through all of this, do I stand by my opinions regarding Smitty in 2013? Well...yes and no. I was actually surprised by just how many players were still very productive at age 34. I wasn't expecting that many.

However, these guys are in the top-25 for very good reason. Not only did they have long careers, they had very productive years. As shown above, on average top WRs have a slight dip in production from age 33 to 34. Some players stay the same, some get better, some have a slight dip, and some have a major dip.

On average, they have a slight dip. There are many contributing factors to the statistical changes, and many of them can't be expressed in a numerical way. That is one of the downsides of statistics. As I've argued in other topics, stats are just stats. What one player did/did not do doesn't really affect what Smitty will/will not do in 2013.

For all we know Smitty could go out and post a 1,300 yd 6 TD season. He could also struggle mightily and post a 600 yd 1 TD season. And really, that is what I hope you take away from this. Yes, stats may say one thing but they are just that...numbers. Numbers selectively processed to produce a result that may or may not hold true.

My predictions for Smitty in the 2013 season

So, what do I expect from Smitty in the 2013 season? Hmmm...that is a tough question to answer. We obviously play a pretty tough schedule this year. Smitty will be tested right away in week 1. In the opening game we will face Richard Sherman and the Seattle Seahawks.

Richard Sherman is a trash talkin', tall CB...who just so happens to have the gameskills to back up his massively big mouth. Steve Smith isn't exactly a choir boy on the field himself. Don't be surprised if the young, tall, talented Sherman is able to take Smitty out of the game, both physically and mentally. Look for him to talk a lot of trash to Smitty to try and goad him into committing personal foul penalties.

Week 1 will be a good test to see just how effective Smith will be in 2013, because he will have several match-ups throughout the year vs. good CBs. In addition to Seattle he will have to try and get off of Revis Island twice when we play Tampa Bay, and the NYG and SanFran defenses are no joke either.

In 2013, I expect Smitty to eek out one last 1,000 yd season. Due to losing a few steps over the past few years I don't expect him to be a top 10 or 15 WR. So I will predict a statistical season of:

1,040 yds and 3 TDs.

Do you agree with my prediction? Disagree? Let me know in the comments below! Thanks for reading!

The content of these posts are those of the user/fan making the post only

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