Running Back Age Curves, Breakout Rates, and Failure Rates – The Wrong Read, No. 35

Welcome to the 35th installment of the “The Wrong Read.” This article series started as one that reflected on recent podcast episodes and extended the ideas discussed there to logical conclusions with broader applications. Since then it’s become a space for me to write about whatever I want, with irregular references to various podcast episodes. Over the last couple weeks I’ve been examining the effects of age on NFL production for wide receivers. We determined first that WRs do not typically age in the way most people think. In particular, if you’re buying WRs who are at their so-called peak production age and selling after they’ve passed it, in most cases you’re buying them too late. In fact, most WRs do not improve at all past the age of 23.

In large part this is because breakout rates are significantly higher at younger ages, while failure rates are significantly higher at older ages. The combination of a decreasing rate of breakouts and an increasing rate of failure creates the effect we noticed: WRs appear to get progressively worse after reaching age 23. Obviously it would be wrong to interpret the results in quite this way — most WRs do not in fact slowly get better from age 21 to 23 and then slowly get worse after that.1 Rather, what the chart indicates is that after age 23, WRs tend to fail more often than they break out. The chart below shows this clearly:

  1. In other words, you can’t use the PPR change by age chart as a way to visualize the age curve for individual players.  (back)

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By Blair Andrews | @AmItheRealBlair | Archive