How Worried Should We Be About Jordy Nelson’s Age?

Jordy Nelson was a stud in 2014, with 98 receptions for 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns. But that was two years ago, and now Nelson will be 31 years old during the 2016 season. How worried should we be about his age?

The first thing I did to answer this question was to form a group of comparable players. I looked at all WRs who had at least 1,200 receiving yards in their age 29 season since 2000. That gave me 17 comparable WRs. I chose that yardage cutoff fairly arbitrarily, but it’s significantly fewer yards than Nelson had, so it shouldn’t be overly flattering.

I then looked at how those 17 WRs did in their age-31 seasons. Here were the results:

WRGamesRecsYardsTDs
Marvin Harrison1594127210
Reggie Wayne16100126410
Brandon Lloyd16749114
Chad Johnson167210479
Steve Smith14465542
Derrick Alexander8141341
Roddy White169213517
Vincent Jackson167010022
Torry Holt169311897
Derrick Mason168610733
Terrell Owens1477120014
Brandon Marshall16109150214
Eric Moulds168810435
Keyshawn Johnson10456003
Joe Horn147897310
Andre Johnson1611215984
Donald Driver169212958

Those players averaged 14.8 games with 79 receptions for 1,059 yards and seven TDs. That works out to 15.3 PPR points per game, which would have been good for WR22 in per game scoring last season. That would have placed Nelson between Martavis Bryant and Emmanuel Sanders.

But it’s worth noting that some of these players actually had better seasons after their age-31 season. Since we’re concerned about age, it may make more sense to look at these players’ best seasons1 at age 31 or older. That gives us these results:

WRGamesRecsYardsTDs
Marvin Harrison1695136612
Reggie Wayne16100126410
Brandon Lloyd16749114
Chad Johnson167210479
Steve Smith167913947
Derrick Alexander8141341
Roddy White169213517
Vincent Jackson167010022
Torry Holt169311897
Derrick Mason167310287
Terrell Owens1581135515
Brandon Marshall16109150214
Eric Moulds168810435
Keyshawn Johnson16709816
Joe Horn1694139911
Andre Johnson1611215984
Donald Driver169212958

When looking at their best seasons at age 31 or older, this cohort averaged 15.5 games with 83 receptions for 1,168 yards and eight TDs. That works out to 16 PPR fantasy points per game, which would have been good for WR20 in per game scoring last season. That would have placed Nelson between Jeremy Maclin and Brandin Cooks.

Let’s talk worst-case scenario. It actually doesn’t look that bad. Only three WRs failed to surpass 1,000 yards in a season at 31 or older. One was Derrick Alexander, who retired after his age-31 season. He was injured in his age-30 and -31 seasons prior to his retirement. Brandon Lloyd famously came out of nowhere to star for Denver in 2010 and never came close to matching that production. He had nowhere near the pedigree or track record of Nelson. Keyshawn Johnson was WR25 in his season included here. Nelson is coming off of an ACL tear, which generally speaking doesn’t concern me but I’m by no means an expert on the subject. An actual expert is more concerned about his hip.

Let’s talk upside. As I mentioned earlier, the cutoff I used was not particularly flattering to Nelson. That might have been an understatement. He had the second highest yardage total in the cohort, behind only Marvin Harrison. He tied for the second most TDs with Terrell Owens, again only behind Harrison. And his 10.06 yards per target were second only to Steve Smith Sr.’s 11.02. All things considered, you could argue he had the best age 29 season since 2000. League trends are a factor too. Teams have been passing more for more completions. That has resulted in more receptions for WRs.

Overall, I’m not really concerned about Nelson’s age in regards to the 2016 season. The downside seems fairly limited. The average results for the other WRs are probably conservative estimates for Nelson. So if the price is right, Nelson is a target. But is it?

Let’s start with dynasty. 14TeamMocker rather convincingly argues that Nelson’s value won’t rise even if he does have a good season in 2016. But if his value stays stable and you get a good year out of him, then you still might want to acquire him. Some players who are similarly valued according to the Dynasty ADP App are T.J. Yeldon, the wrong back to own in Jacksonville, and Thomas Rawls, whose value is very fragile. Ultimately, I think I would only make a point of targeting Nelson on teams where I expect to be highly competitive over the next two seasons due to his age.

According to the Best Ball ADP App, Nelson is currently being drafted as the 13th WR off the board near the end of the second round in that format. That’s a hearty discount to his past production while still being expensive enough that he’s got some risk, so it will ultimately come down to your risk tolerance. I’m typically willing to take some risks to get shots at hitting on a high-end WR so I’ll end up having some exposure to him this season for sure.

  1. For best, I just went with most fantasy points according to ProFootballReference. PFR uses standard scoring so this may undersell things for PPR purposes.  (back)
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