A Little Bit of Heresy: Is T.O.’s Age a Factor?

Terrell Owens getting old?

Is Terrell Owens getting old?

Now that the Cowboys have signed a big-name second receiver in Roy Williams, some assume that this means Terrell Owens will start producing the kinds of numbers we’ve seen from him in the past two seasons. However, Owens is at the exact age when many of the greatest receivers of all time started seeing a sharp decline in production. We hear how Owens is in such good shape, and many would dismiss the suggestion that his age (he turns 35 in December) has anything to do with his production this year, but consider the facts about players who have lasted until age 35 or more.

At his current pace, Owens would finish the season with 61 receptions for 979 yards and 13 touchdowns. This is a significant drop in production from the past two seasons, when he finished with more than 80 receptions and 1,000 yards in each season.

Below is a list of receivers ranked in the top 50 all-time in receptions. The focus of the information is on these players’ declines after reaching the age of 35.

1. Jerry Rice

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 40

It is odd to begin with Rice, because Rice performed pretty well after turning 34.  However consider the facts: from 1986 to 1996, Rice had 11 seasons where he gained 1,000 yards or more. He was injured in 1997 at the age of 35, then returned. After his return in 1998, he managed three more 1,000 seasons over the next seven years.

2. Cris Carter

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 35

Carter played until the age of 37, including a final year in Miami. He gained 1,274 yards at the age of 35 in 2000 but managed only 871 in 2001 at the age of 36.

3. Tim Brown

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 35

Brown had nine straight 1,000-yard seasons from 1993 to 2001. He was 35 in 2001 when he gained 1,165 yards. He had 960 in 2002 and declined from there.

4. Marvin Harrison

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 34

Harrison gained 1,366 yards during the Colts’ Super Bowl season of 2006. He had only 247 yards last year and is not on pace to surpass 1,000 yards this season.

5. Isaac Bruce

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 34

Bruce took a back seat to Torry Holt several years ago, but Bruce managed 1,098 yards at the age of 34 in 2006. He had 733 yards last season and is not on pace to surpass 1,000 yards this year as a member of the 49ers.

6. Andre Reed

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 32

Reed had a total of four 1,000-yard receiving seasons, with the last of them coming in 1996. He declined rapidly after that season.

7. Art Monk

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 34

Monk had a total of five 1,000-yard seasons with Washington. He gained 1,049 yards during the Redskins’ Super Bowl season of 1991, but he never came close to surpassing 1,000 yards after that.

8. Keenan McCardell

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 33

McCardell had five 1,000-yard seasons in Jacksonville and Tampa Bay, but after joining the Chargers at the age of 34, his production dropped. He had 917 yards at the age of 35 with San Diego, but less than 700 in the next two seasons combined.

9. Jimmy Smith

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 36

Smith recorded a 1,000-yard season during his final year, which is highly unusual. He gained 1,023 yards at the age of 36 in 2005.

10. Irving Fryar

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 35

Fryar did not have a 1,000-yard season until his eighth year in the league, but he got better with age. Between 1991 (age 29) and 1997 (age 35), he had five 1,000-yard seasons. After 1997, though, his production fell.

11. Rod Smith

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 35

Smith had eight 1,000-yard seasons, with the last coming in 2005 (1,105) at the age of 35.  He had only 512 yards in 2006.

12. Steve Largent

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 32

Largent had eight 1,000-yard seasons, but none after 1986 at the age of 32. He had only 403 yards at the age of 35 during his final season in 1989.

13. Henry Ellard

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 35

Ellard was like Fryar in some ways, continuing to find ways to stay productive after several seasons in the league. His production dropped off after gaining 1,014 yards at the age of 35 in 1996.

14. Keyshawn Johnson

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 30

Johnson had four 1,000-yard seasons by the age of 30, but none after that.

15. Eric Moulds

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 31

Moulds had four career 1,000-yard seasons, but none after gaining 1,043 yards at the age of 31 in 2004.

16. James Lofton

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 35

Lofton is an odd figure in this group. His production fell off after the 1985 season, and he was never a team’s primary threat after that. However, in 1991, he managed to gain 1,072 yards with the Bills at the age of 35.

17. Charlie Joiner

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 34

Joiner played much of his career in a 14-game schedule, so 1,000-yard seasons were less common.  Even so, his per-game production increased significantly in the late 1970s after he had turned 30. His final 1,000-yard season was in 1981 at the age of 34, though he came close a couple of times after that season.

18. Charley Taylor

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 25

Taylor played his entire career when teams threw less and when the league played 14-game schedules. He had only one 1,000-yard season but remained productive until the age of 34.

19. Don Maynard

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 33

Quite amazingly, Maynard had five 1,000-yard seasons despite playing in 14-game schedules (the AFL’s pass-happy ways helped). His decline started in 1969 at the age of 34.

20. Raymond Berry

Age during the last 1,000-yard receiving season: 27

Berry only had one 1,000-yard season. He was productive until the age of 33 but struggled at the age of 34 in his final season in 1967.

A Few Other Notables . . .

There are some other receivers worth mentioning:

Michael Irvin: Irvin’s final 1,000-yard season came at the age of 32 in 1998.

Joe Horn: Horn’s production began to fall after he gained 1,399 yards at the age of 32 in 2004.

John Stallworth: He had a huge season in 1984, gaining 1,395 yards at the age of 32. He declined after that point.

Drew Pearson: Pearson only had two 1,000-yard seasons, with the last coming in 1979 when he was 28.

Bob Hayes: Hayes’ stats are unusual. He had two 1,000-yard seasons to begin his career, but he never reached that mark after those first two seasons. His numbers declined rapidly after he turned 30.

  • chase

    Yeah, and I said this before everyone started to question it. I said I don’t think it’s TO’s double coverage everytime keeping him from getting off the line so quick. TO is in great shape on the outside yeah, but I have watch TO closely since his niner days and for anyone that has….you can see a tremendous change.

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  • aj

    i can not stand T.O. but watching the last couple games, Romo has missed him and thats because the O line as caved in on him.(minus the the 9ers game) when he has time he can wait for TO to get going and hit him deep, which is what he does best. i dont care, what the guys age is, look at our offense. put barber up the middle, two tight ends and roy williams with TO, also with patric. the other teams defense shouldn’t even know whats going on when the cowboys run the offense

  • Harrison, Bruce, and Owens each are looking pretty good lately, even if their production levels have fallen off a bit. I noted in an earlier post that I was saying during the game that some team is going to single-cover Owens and shut him down. Two plays later, Owens scored on a 75-yard touchdown.

    So, my prediction for Owens’ demise was a bit premature. He’s on pace now to have about 1,070 yards.