I closed my last piece, The 100 Stat Salute to Derrius Guice, by looking at Derrius Guice’s age and how he had a chance to become one of the youngest players to achieve a number of statistical accomplishments.
While researching this topic, I noticed that many of the players who produced at very young ages, specifically 21 and under, have gone on to have highly successful NFL careers. This got me thinking more and more about how much emphasis teams should be placing on the ages of players in the draft.
I read several studies done on draft age and subsequent career production, and their conclusions were that lower/younger draft age does, in fact, appear to have a relationship with superior career output.
I had found the answer I was expecting, but I wasn’t satisfied with the way in which the conclusion was ultimately reached. In my opinion, either the sample sizes used (number of overall players, draft years and draft rounds observed) were not large enough or there was not a wide enough variety of production metrics incorporated.
I created a study of my own in an attempt to provide a more definitive answer to the question of just how much age matters in the NFL draft. As you will see, the results and their implications for the Redskins’ 2018 draft class are quite interesting.
DRAFT AGE STUDY
Before those results are examined, I need to first explain how our sample of players was selected and which performance metrics were tracked for these players.
- The sample collected was comprised of picks from every draft between 1990 and 2013. We start with 1990 because it’s the year the NFL changed its eligibility requirements and allowed college juniors to enter the draft. We end with 2013 to ensure that we are not including any players still on their first contract. Also, a 2016 study by Football Outsiders found that the average career lasts about 5-6 years.
- Draft age and production data were collected from every player selected in the top 100 picks or in the first three rounds, whichever number of picks was greater. Players selected in rounds one through three of the supplemental draft were also included. More picks and/or rounds would have been added, but after the top 100 picks, the number of players without age data begins to grow at a rapid pace.
- That gave me a sample of 2,415 players, which is just shy of the total number of different players to play in a game in the last two seasons combined (2,494). I was unable to find a similar study with a sample size greater than 900.
- Draft age was defined as a player’s age on September 1st of the player’s draft year. These ages are listed as whole numbers/integers (e.g. 22) and not exact ages (22-172d). This data was collected from Pro Football Reference, and that is how they display age on their draft pages.
- The following career metrics were collected for each player in the sample: number of first-team all-pro selections by the Associated Press (AP1), number of Pro Bowl selections (PB), career approximate value (CarAv or AV), number of years as a primary starter (St), number of games started (GS) and number of games played (GP). To learn more about these statistics visit PFR’s statistics glossary page.
Now that the groundwork has been laid, we can discuss the findings.
Nearly 80% of the sample of 2,415 comes from players with a draft age of either 22 or 23. The average age of all players included in the study is 22.42-years-old.
|Counts and Percentages of Sample|
|21 & Under||329||14%|
|24 & Over||196||8%|
Let’s really kick things into gear by examining the averages of our production metrics by age group.
|Averages by Age Group|
|21 & Under||0.43||1.38||39.00||4.88||76.25||103.14|
|24 & Over||0.06||0.32||20.88||2.81||45.02||71.99|
The numbers and color scales clearly indicate that as draft age decreases, career production increases. This is especially true of the 21-and-under group, who have fared significantly better than their older counterparts.
The 21-year-olds averaged over twice as many all-pro selections, close to double the amount of Pro Bowl bids and a 25 percent higher career AV than the 22-year-old subset.
The difference is especially stark between the youngest and the two oldest age groups. The young guns averaged 4.3 times more all-pro selections and 3.3 times more Pro Bowl honors than the 23-year-old group. They were also at least 45% higher in terms of career AV, primary starter seasons and games started.
These differences balloon even further when the very youngest and oldest groups are compared. The 21-and-unders averaged seven times more all-pro picks and 4.4 times more Pro Bowls than the 24-and-overs. They posted at least 65% better numbers in the approximate value, starter seasons and games started departments.
It should be noted that the 22-year-olds hold a sizeable edge over the two older subsets, as well. They were 45% and 90% better on average across our six categories when compared to the 23-year-old and 24-plus cohorts, respectively.
Perhaps, these large disparities are the result of a handful of extreme outliers skewing the averages. Let’s look at the median figures to see if this is the case. Note that all-pro and Pro Bowl medians are not listed because they are zero for each age.
|Medians by Age Group|
|21 & Under||34||4||69||95|
|24 & Over||13||1||25||67|
The gap between our two youngest groups certainly closed a bit. However, all in all, things actually got even worse for draftees that were 23 or older. Let’s close things out by taking a look at the percentage of players in each age bracket to hit specific milestones in our production metrics. Maybe, just maybe, our results will be different this time around.
|Percentage of Age Group|
|Age Group||>= 1 AP1||>= 1 PB||>= 30 AV||>= 3 St||>= 70 GP||<= 10 GP|
|21 & Under||21%||39%||56%||66%||68%||2%|
|24 & Over||5%||15%||30%||43%||48%||10%|
If you guessed that looking at things from this perspective wouldn’t change much, then congratulations, because you are correct.
Once, again the all-pro and Pro Bowl categories stand out. The 21-and-under group produced more players with one or more all-pro selections than the 23-year-old and 24-and-over subsets did combined (68 to 63). They were comparable when it came to the number of players with at least one Pro Bowl selection (129 to 170), as well. All of this is true, despite the fact that there are over 800 more players combined in the latter two age brackets.
You might also notice there was no benchmark set for number of games started. I replaced games started in this section with a category that looked at the percentage of players in each age segment that played 10 or fewer games. This is essentially a measure of how many players were total busts. Unsurprisingly, this percentage basically doubled as you moved to each successive older age group.
The percentage of players that met or exceeded a career AV of 30 is also quite notable. Those numbers fall by more on average than they do in any of these other metrics.
I would spend more time going over all of these figures, but this article is A) not just about this study, and B) I think you get the point by now.
What Does It All Mean?
The fact that players who were drafted at younger ages have gone on to have better careers in the last 20-some-odd years is quite evident. Research done by myself and others has shown this to be true.
Why is this case, though? Well some will say it’s because these younger players get the luxury of an extra year or two to accumulate stats and that those particular years are key, because they occur closer to players’ athletic primes. In my experience, this is a popular theory, but it is one that I think is missing the greater point.
I believe these more youthful draftees have more productive careers, simply because they are better players. The logic being that better players declare for the draft at younger ages, because they are ready to play at the pro level earlier than most and want to maximize their earning potential.
They typically break out earlier in college and they’re doing so against players that are sometimes three and four years older. What would’ve been the point of Ezekiel Elliot, Amari Cooper or Marshon Lattimore staying in college as 21-year-olds? Sure, they probably would’ve smashed record books, but why? For the glory? They found even more of that as rookies in the NFL. Saquon Barkley, Denzel Ward, D.J. Moore, Derrius Guice and Da’Ron Payne could have stayed at school as 21-year-olds, but they have already dominated in college, and there is frankly no need for them to prove anything else at that level.
Most importantly, players declare for the daft when they are younger, because they want to increase the number of years that they can make money and want to have the opportunity to earn a bigger payday with their second contracts faster (i.e. at a younger age).
Now, some players make a bad decision by leaving college early, but I think that, by and large, most of the ones who leave at very young ages are doing so for good reason. They know they have already produced at a high level as amateurs and that they have a better than average chance of cashing in as professionals. Basically, they know they are #GoodAtFootball and they don’t want to play for free when they don’t have to.
What Should be Done with This Information
Is draft age the end-all, be-all when it comes to prospect evaluation? No, absolutely not. Is it relevant and actionable information teams should incorporate more heavily into their decision-making process? Yes, I believe that it definitely is. If nothing else, if a team has roughly the same grade for a pair of prospects and one is three years older than the other, they would be wise to go with the youth there.
Why Is It Relevant Now?
You might be asking yourself why I’m talking about the draft in July. I would certainly understand if you did.
I am doing this, first, because both drafts have now taken place (regular and supplemental) and the 90-man rosters heading into training camp are essentially set. More importantly, I wanted to find out which teams appear to be incorporating age into their draft strategy and how that strategy, or a lack thereof, has the potential to affect those teams and many of this year’s rookies for years to come.
Of course, this is a Redskins site, so we will look to see if this is something the Redskins have started doing and what it means for the future of some of their draft picks.
Let’s start by looking at how the average age of Washington’s 2018 draft class compares to the other 31 teams in the NFL.
RANKING THE 2018 DRAFT CLASSES BY AGE
Before we dig in, I need to share that the averages used for these rankings are based on the exact ages of the players as of a week ago from today. Also, the ages of the supplemental draft picks were included in the calculations for the Giants and Redskins.
|Team Ranking by Average Age of 2018 Draft Picks|
Oh my god, the Redskins might actually be doing something smart and ahead of the curve! I feel like that is always an appropriate reaction when the front office of this particular team does something impressive.
As you can see, the Washington Redskins had the youngest draft class in the NFL this year. Even if you drop supplemental pick, Adonis Alexander, out of the equation, they would still remain in first (22.01). Let’s check the medians again to make sure these numbers aren’t too heavily based on one or two of the team’s nine draft picks this offseason.
|Team Ranking by Median Age of 2018 Draft Picks|
The Skins are still on top!
I think it also bears mentioning that both of the most recent Super Bowl participants rank highly and seem to have assigned value to youth. Some other perennial playoff contenders like the Steelers, Saints, Panthers, Lions and Chiefs appear to have done the same. Unfortunately, so have the Cowboys. As we have seen, history tells us that this strategy should bode well for these franchises.
Next, we’ll take a look at the youngest players in the league to get an idea of which players had the biggest effect on these rankings.
THE YOUNGEST PLAYERS IN THE NFL
All of the following ages for the top-25 youngest players are as of today. The ages are listed by years and days old. All players, including undrafted free agents, were eligible to be on this list as long as they were on a roster.
|Top-25 Youngest Players in the NFL (on rosters)|
|6||Ronald Jones II||TAM||2-38||20-350d|
First, we see that Tremaine Edwards, UDFA Deontay Burnett, James Daniels, UDFA Olasunkanmi Adeniyi and Chukwuma Okorafor are the five youngest players in the league. The Bills, Titans, Bears and Steelers should certainly feel good about that.
However, what sticks out the most to me is that the Redskins drafted three of the 14 youngest players in the NFL this year. Tim Settle, who just turned 21 a week ago from today, is the seventh youngest player overall and is the youngest defensive linemen in the league. First-round pick, Da’Ron Payne ranks fourth among D-linemen and 14th overall. Derrius Guice is the tenth youngest player in the pros, and is only older than fellow rookie second rounders Kerryon Johnson (by a hair) and Ronald Jones at the running back position.
I have Adonis Alexander as the 57th youngest player. I did not get to Geron Christian, who is also currently 21-years-old, I believe that he probably is one of the 100 youngest players in football, as well. Those are pretty high rankings, considering over 2,800 players are currently on rosters right now.
What also stands out here is the number of these players the Skins have relative to the rest of the NFL. They are the lone team with three of the youngest 15 and 20 players. The Steelers join the Redskins as the only teams with two of the ten youngest players. Both Pittsburgh players sit in the top five, but it should be noted that one of them is a UDFA. The Panthers are the only other team with three of the youngest 25 players, but two of them were seventh-round picks. Two of the Redskins on this list went in the top 60 picks.
The Steelers, Eagles, Cowboys and Bears are the other teams with multiple players who rank among the 25 youngest in the NFL. Finally, the Redskins, Steelers, Panthers, Cowboys and Bengals are the only teams with three or more of the 42 players born in 1997 or later.
Let’s turn our attention to the flip side of this coin, and see who some of the more senior citizens of the 2018 draft and the NFL are.
THE OLDEST PLAYERS IN THE DRAFT
The five oldest players in the draft were Texans tight end Jordan Akins (26-091d), Ravens tight end Hayden Hurst (24-329d), Browns cornerback Simeon Thomas (24-300d), Jets defensive linemen Nathan Shepherd (24-283d) and Panthers linebacker Marquis Haynes (24-215d).
It’s not as big a deal for the Browns and Panthers because they selected those players with late-round picks, but you have to be questioning the logic used behind the Texans, Jets and Ravens using top-100 picks on those aforementioned players.
The Ravens’ selection was especially puzzling. They picked the draft’s second oldest player, Hayden Hurst, with their first pick and made him the first tight end to hear his named called on draft night. The next five oldest first rounders were 49ers offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey (23-324d), Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley (23-211d), Buccaneers defensive tackle Vita Vea (23-164d), Patriots running back Sony Michel (23-152d) and Browns number one overall pick Baker Mayfield (23-096d).
This knowledge should take a bit of the luster away from those picks. And if you’re a Redskins fan, it should make you feel better about ending up with Da’Ron Payne instead of Vita Vea. However, at the same time, it might make you less comfortable with the selection of the Redskins’ oldest 2018 draft pick, Troy Apke (23-099d).
THE OLDEST PLAYERS IN THE NFL
Since we’ve spent so much time talking about youth and the youngest players, I thought it would be fun to take a quick detour by showing you the oldest players in the NFL and on the Redskins roster. I didn’t include special teamers and backup quarterbacks on these lists - because who cares, right?
|Top-25 Oldest Players in the NFL (on rosters)|
Reigning MVP, Tom Brady, is the oldest player in the National Football League. Other ageless wonders like Terence Newman, Drew Brees, Josh McCown and Julius Peppers sit right behind Brady on this list.
And if you must know, the oldest special teamers, and the oldest overall players in the league are Adam Vinatieri (45-203d), Phil Dawson (43-177d), Matt Bryant (43-051d) and Shane Lechler (41-346d). Brady and Sebastion Janikowski (40-139d) are the only other players on a roster who are currently over 40.
It should be noted that most of these men are not still playing because they started their careers at an older age; they are playing at this age, again, because they are just really good at the game of football. The average draft age for this top-25 is 22.56, which is very similar to the average draft age of the 2,415-player sample used for the study I presented earlier (22.42).
What about the home team, though? None of the oldest players reside in Washington? A couple do, but they just missed the top-25 cutoff. Vernon Davis (34-169d) and Alex Smith (34-073d) are the 30th and 33rd oldest non-special teamers in the league (34th and 37th oldest if you include backup quarterbacks. Take a peek below at the rest of the Redskins in the 30-and-older club. You’ll notice that I caved this time by including the backup QB and a special teamer.
First, I want to wish Trent Williams a happy birthday. The Silverback turns 30 today. Williams is one of four offensive linemen on this list, one of five if you count Nick Sundberg. This means either 25 or 33 percent of the Redskins over 30 are offensive linemen. I know the team has a lot already invested in this unit, but they will probably need to continue adding pieces here in the coming years.
Two of the team’s three starting corners in the nickel package, Orlando Scandrick and Josh Norman, rank among the ten oldest Skins players. This team will really need a few of the next five corners on the depth chart (Dunbar, Moreau, Holsey, Stroman and Alexander) to step up sooner rather later. Fortunately, Dunbar is the oldest of this bunch, and he is only 26; the other four are 24 or younger.
I also want to point out that I have seen Ziggy Hood on multiple 53-man roster projections. I know Tim Settle is a fifth-round pick, but I would not be happy at all if the seventh oldest player on the team somehow bumps the seventh youngest player in the NFL off the roster. Especially, when that player is as unproductive as Ziggy Hood has been. For reference, Hood had the second lowest cumulative PFF grade among all non-offensive linemen last season. Only DeShone Kizer posted a lower mark (-32.6 to -26.3).
Ultimately, no matter what happens this year, I don’t expect about half of the current 12 oldest Redskins to be on the final roster come the start of the 2019 season.
We’re not really here to talk about old players, though. Let’s get back on track and close things out by looking at some of the records that could be broken by the Redskins’ new youngsters.
ARE THESE PRECOCIOUS ROOKIES PRIMED TO SET REDSKINS RECORDS?
Da’Ron Payne, Derrius Guice and Tim Settle aren’t just some of the youngest players in the NFL today, they will likely become some of the youngest players to have donned a burgundy and gold jersey in an NFL game.
In the table below, you will see the ten youngest Redskins to have ever played in a regular season contest. The date and ages listed are for the players’ first career games; in other words, I did not double count players who would have showed up on this list multiple times.
The date and corresponding ages used for Payne, Guice and Settle are from Washington’s regular season opener against the Cardinals, so obviously these are just projections, as of right now.
Also, the ages for several pre-modern era players had to be approximated because game logs are not available for them. The date of the first game of the season in question was used to calculate their first-game ages.
|Youngest 1st Games in Redskins History|
If Tim Settle plays in Week 1, he will become the sixth youngest person in franchise history to play in a regular season contest. He would be the youngest defensive linemen ever to do so and the second youngest player since World War II to play for Washington (Tom Carter ranks first in that regard).
Payne will almost certainly become either the youngest or second youngest (possibly behind Settle) D-linemen to play for the Skins. He will be at least the tenth youngest to play for the franchise, regardless of position.
Both of these rookie linemen have a chance to become the youngest players in team history to record a sack. The only 21-year-olds that have ever officially recorded a sack for the Redskins are Su’a Cravens (21-115d), Champ Bailey (21-145d) and Sean Taylor (21-199d). Not bad company, right?
As I touched on a few weeks ago, Derrius Guice is also in line to enter the team’s record book. He’s set to become the seventh or eighth youngest Redskin (again, depending on Settle) to ever see the field and the second youngest member of the franchise to gain a yard from scrimmage.
Ted Wright will be the only player to have ever gained a yard for the franchise at a younger age. Wright put up just 267 yards of total offense and played in 19 games over the course of his two-year career that took place between 1933 and 1934. Needless to say, I’m pretty sure this is the only thing Wright will ever have over Guice when it comes to playing NFL football.
If Guice rushes for 100 yards or gains 100 yards from scrimmage at any point this season, he will become the youngest Redskin ever to do so. He also has the chance to reach 1,000 yards rushing and/or from scrimmage at a younger age than any player in franchise history. If he were to hit those marks by Week 16, he would become the eighth (rushing yards) and ninth (scrimmage yards) youngest player to ever accomplish those feats in NFL history.
Guice, Payne and Settle will each play the entirety of their rookie seasons at the age of 21, which is something that has only been done by roughly 100 different players in the last five years. This list includes a multitude of excellent players I’d love to tell you about, but in the interest of holding on to any remaining semblance of brevity, I’ll leave that research up to you instead.
History has shown us that youth matters in the NFL draft, and the Redskins did a better job acquiring precocious young players in this year’s draft than any other team. Da’Ron Payne, Derrius Guice, Time Settle, and to a slightly lesser extent Adonis Alexander and Geron Christian, are some of the very youngest players in the entire league. If you needed another reason to get excited about these players and the team’s outlook as a whole, then well, you got it.
*All statistics are courtesy of ESPN, FiveThirtyEight, Football Outsiders, NFL.com, Pro Football Focus, Pro Football Reference, Redskins.com, Rotoworld, Sports Reference, The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal*
Which of these 21-year-old Redskins will have the best NFL career?
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How important of a factor should age be when deciding which players to draft?
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Not even worth considering
Not very important
Which of these scenarios is most likely to play out?
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Da’Ron Payne and Jonathan Allen lead the Redskins to three top-10 finishes in rushing defense in the next four years.
Derrius Guice rushes for over 5,000 yards before his four-year rookie contract expires.
Geron Christian supplants Trent Williams as the starting left tackle by the end of the 2019 season.
Tim Settle develops into the team’s best late-round pick on the defensive side of the ball since Dan Synder bought the team in 1999.
Adonis Alexander is the Redskins’ top corner by the end of the 2019 season.