It happens every year. You’re in a fantasy draft, perhaps with your best friends at one of their houses, and you are on the clock in the 8th round. You want a wide receiver and are trying to choose between two players. Your first option is the hot young rookie receiver that has received terrific marks and has tons of “upside”. Your second option is a 30-something with a history of production, but a poor long term outlook at this stage in his career. You take the rookie, and witness him struggle with a new offense and NFL defenses, putting together a promising, yet sub-par season, not returning nearly what you paid to get him. Meanwhile the veteran does what he has done his whole career: ball. Don’t be ashamed, even the best fantasy players make this mistake sometimes, but there is a lesson in there: age-related discounts exist and are looking to be exploited every season. Here are five players with a history of production that can be had at a fraction of the cost because of their age (ADP data from Fantasy Football Calculator):
Steven Jackson, Falcons
ADP: 36 (8.05 Overall)
It should come as no surprise that the NFL’s active leader in career carries is coming at a discount in fantasy leagues this season. After signing on to be the Falcons lead back last off-season, we saw Jackson’s ADP end up somewhere in the mid to late second round. This was due to the assumed opportunities he would have for receptions and touchdowns in an offense with two elite receivers and a Hall of Fame tight end. 734 total yards and a hamstring injury later, and Jackson’s ADP has dropped almost six full rounds despite being in the exact same situation fantasy owners coveted just a year ago. And while he may have disappointed owners that drafted him in the upper rounds last season, SJax did about what fantasy owners expected over the final six weeks of the year:
After dealing with a nagging hamstring injury, Jackson was a low end RB1/high end RB2 over the season’s final six games, averaging 15.84 PPR points per contest (the App’s scoring is .5 PPR). With Julio Jones and Roddy White expected to be completely healthy for week 1, I see no reason why he cannot repeat this kind of production in 2014. Can you expect him to miss a few games? Absolutely, especially since he is already dealing with hamstring issues, but even 10 games of solid RB2 production is a bargain in the 8th round. Moreover, I feel much better getting something I know in Jackson at RB36 than the unknown with rookie Devonta Freeman at RB40.
Fred Jackson, Bills
ADP: 37 (8.07 Overall)
Maybe there is just something about the last name Jackson and being underrated. Here are Fred’s PPR scoring averages the last five seasons: 14.5, 12.3, 21.3, 11.7, 13.3. He has been as consistent as anyone over that time frame, and has scored more points per game than C.J. Spiller (RB17) three out of the four season’s they have been together. I projected the veteran to do so again in 2014 back in May, and I’m sticking to it. If the Bills trading for Bryce Brown has taught us anything, it is that the Buffalo backfield is a two man job and that the team is not willing to give Spiller a full load. Spiller and Jackson split the carries between them about 55/45 and I think a similar share should be expected this season, with Jackson handling most of the red zone and third down duties.
There is no other explanation for Fred’s absurd RB37 ADP than his age (33), but I think it is clear that Jackson is the exception to the age related decline principles of the position based on his career. J.J. Zachariason mentioned on his Living the Stream podcast that Jackson is one of only two players in league history to record 200 carries and 40 receptions at age 32. The other player was WALTER FREAKING PAYTON! Clearly, longevity has been on his side, and I think that fantasy owners should continue to draft him until he is no longer effective. His success from ages 28 to 32 have made him a consistent age-related discount, and he should be one again in 2014.
Marques Colston, Saints
ADP: 31 (7.01 Overall)
Colston was clearly not right towards the middle of last season as a foot injury hampered his ability to separate and make plays downfield and in coverage. After he had both the week 7 bye and week 9 game (which he sat out) to rest, it was a different story:
Over the season’s final 8 weeks, Colston was a strong WR2 and doing the same things he’s done over his Saints career. Drew Brees targeted him almost nine times a game over that stretch, which is a desirable total in a potent Saints offense. Rookie Brandin Cooks will bring young and electric playmaking to the table, but should not be going higher than Colston in drafts (Cooks is WR29), and should not take away too much of the veteran’s work after the departures of Lance Moore and Darren Sproles. I think one last season of around 1,000 yards and 7 touchdowns is both reasonable and priced at a value right now in drafts for Colston.
Anquan Boldin, 49ers
ADP: 47 (10.08 Overall)
Boldin experienced a rejuvenation in his age 33 season with San Fran, recording his highest point total since 2008. The former Cardinal and Raven is still effective in his old age due to his ability to win jump balls in traffic. This season, we are often seeing blurbs like this about Boldin:
“opportunity-inflated numbers” and “low-ceiling” are words frequently used to describe Boldin’s 2013 efforts and 2014 projections respectively. Many, like Rotoworld, will point to the absence of Michael Crabtree for much of Boldin’s 2013 success, but a look at his splits with and without him show that to be false:
Boldin was targeted more often and was more efficient with a healthy Crabtree taking away coverage last season, despite what some would have you believe. I expect Colin Kaepernick to attempt more passes this year, which can only be a good thing for Boldin with Crabtree on the field. After finishing as WR15 last year in PPR leagues, Boldin is poised to be a steal at his current WR47 price.
Heath Miller, Steelers
ADP: 16 (13.07 Overall)
Heath Miller is a player I am all over this season, ranking him a full ten spots higher than he is currently being drafted. Lunacy? Maybe, but I think it is an absolute travesty that the Steelers veteran tight end is receiving no respect this year. His age is a concern, as outlined here by Jonathan Bales of the New York Times, but Miller is now fully healthy after shredding his knee two seasons ago, and should resume his role as Ben Roethlisberger’s safety blanket and primary red zone target. The average height of the Steelers’ top three receivers (Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, and Lance Moore) is 5’10”. Heath Miller is 6’5″. With 16 touchdowns to replace after the losses of Jerricho Cotchery (10) and Emmanuel Sanders (6), Miller represents a mortal lock for 8-plus scores, and I think 10 is incredibly likely. There is no better TE bargain right now, and I advise fantasy owners to take note.