How Old Are the NFL’s Starters, and How do the Steelers Compare?

After taking a look at the ages of starting cornerbacks around the NFL on Monday, I was curious enough to go through every position across the league and find the average age at each position, and see how the Steelers compare.

Here are the results in the form of a fancy chart, going from oldest to youngest. The NFL average is in black, the Steelers are in gold.

First, the averages…

And now, the median ages…

It shouldn’t be a surprise that running backs are the youngest position (by a nice margin) across the league, or that the four youngest positions at running back, wide receiver, cornerback and safety. It also isn’t a shocking revelation that the Steelers are quite the veteran team, coming in below the NFL average at only quarterback, center, running back and guard.

The Steelers are getting long in the tooth in many key areas (like, say, the defense), but they have a number young players and recent draft picks that will hopefully be ready to take over for some of these veterans in the near future.

  1. Hines Ward brings up the average age of the Steelers receivers, but the rest of the group consists of Mike Wallace (24), Emmanuel Sanders (24), Antonio Brown (22) and, for the optimists in the house, Limas Sweed (26).
  2. The age of the Steelers defensive line was a hot topic around draft time when they used their first-round pick on Ohio State’s Cameron Heyward, which was the second time in the past three years they’ve used their top pick on a defensive end (Ziggy Hood in 2009). If all goes according to plan, the transition from Brett Kiesel and Aaron Smith to Hood and Heyward should be a smooth one.
  3. We talked about cornerbacks on Monday, and while the Steelers haven’t invested early picks in the position, they have selected four in the past three years, including two (Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen) this year.
  4. James Harrison and James Farrior are older, but LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons are still on the young side, even though they’re both getting ready to enter their fifth year in the league. Jason Worilds, Chris Carter and Stevenson Sylvester were all drafted in the past two classes.
  5. Rashard Mendenhall, entering his fourth year, is also significantly below the average. I suppose this is one of the advantages to putting such a heavy emphasis on youth early in the draft. The Steelers early draft picks are typically between the ages of 20-22 on draft day, and a lot of times underclassmen.

The development of a lot of these guys (particularly players like Sanders, Antonio Brown, Heyward, Hood, Curtis Brown, Allen, and Worilds) could be a large factor in the long-term success of the Steelers organization.

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  • Anonymous

    Interesting data. Where did you compile it from? I’m interested to see what happens when you include only 3-4 teams in the line and linebacker numbers. I suspect the line looks comparatively younger and the backers comparatively older. It’s just the nature of human aging that speed declines way before strength, so I’d expect more strength oriented positions to skew older than speed ones (hello there RB, DB, and WR).

  • SteelerBill

    Old?  Or older?  The fear, in my mind, is that they have to eventually hit the proverbial wall…..

  • DJAnyReason

    There’s a football sim game I play in large bursts from time to time called Front Office Football.  One of the reports you can generate in FOF is average age of a team, overall, by position, and by unit.  And it turns out that average age, in the game, is a not-terrible predictor of quality – that is, older teams are better.

    The logic behind this would also probably apply to the NFL.  Veterans are more expensive, and more determined – if you’ve got an older starter, you’re paying him more (so he is presumably worth more) and he has a longer NFL history so you know what you’ve got.  Rookies and young players, especially after the first round, are cheap, but you don’t really know if they’re good or not.  An older team will be full of players that are known good commodities.  A young team will be rebuilding and throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks.  This sort of analysis also applies to the analyses FO used to run on team drafting quality, where they’d count up how many starts teams got out of their late draft picks, and the Steelers would always rate low.  The analysis was flawed because the Steelers rated low due to having hit on so many players and having fewer spots available, while poorer drafting teams had to continuously cycle through players.

    All of this is to say that having an older team doesn’t necessarily mean anything.  The averages (both mean and median) are dragged down by teams starting players who really shouldn’t be starting, and won’t be in a couple years when they’re replaced by the next crop of low draft picks and undrafted FAs that are thrown at the wall to see if they stick.

    • SteelerBill

      Good morning DJ….I’m more of an Action PC or SOM guy myself…..

  • Gjfey34

    Hey Adam,

    Where did you get your information for the average/median ages for all NFL players by position? I’ve been looking everywhere for this and have yet to come up with a goo breakdown, by position. Any help you could give would be much appreciated. Thanks! Gerry

  • t1mmy10

    great write-up. how did you calculate all of the starters ages for the other teams (just curious)?

  • Gretz

    The ages are via Pro-Football-Reference, and individually going through each teams starting lineups. 

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  •  Bundesliga

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