"Age is just a number" is one of the more famous adages in modern language.
In the realm of professional football, age is important because the shelf life of a professional football player is much shorter than in any other job. Running backs' skills historically begin to deteriorate in their late 20s, while wide receivers have a bit more longevity. Receivers are able to stay dominant for a longer period of time because of their skill sets. They are able to win in facets of the game that don't necessarily require speed, whereas running backs have a harder time doing so because of the physical requirements of their position.
Anquan Boldin and Marques Colston are prime examples of receivers who have been efficient for a long time and have stayed that way well into their early 30s. I won't say that they've lost their youthful speed because they were never guys that were going to burn you. They beat you with physicality and a pair of soft mittens for hands. Those two traits have allowed them to continue their efficient play up until 2015. They've both been great fantasy football wide receivers throughout their illustrious careers, but a lot of people seem to be taking their age into account when drafting this year.
An incredibly reliable wide receiver in real football, Boldin has long been a great WR2 in fantasy football, especially in PPR leagues. His past two years with the San Francisco 49ers have produced near identical seasons:
There was a bit of a drop off in 2014, but that can be attributed to a regressed version of Colin Kaepernick and a healthy Michael Crabtree. Crabtree is now gone and Kaepernick figures to be at least somewhat improved. Torrey Smith was brought in to replace Crabtree, and though that may seem like a problem for Boldin, I believe it will actually help him. Smith is a vertical stretcher, as he pulls the safeties deep and opens up spaces in the intermediate range, where Boldin excels.
His 2013 and 2014 seasons ranked him as the 15th and 19th best receiver, respectively, in PPR leagues. Those finishes make him a solid WR2, and he did that at the ages of 33 and 34. At the moment, Boldin's overall ADP rests at 122.0, making him the second pick of the 11th round. He's being drafted as the 50th receiver (!!!), below players like Davante Adams, Michael Floyd and DeVante Parker, whose roles aren't even clearly defined at this point. Boldin's worst finish of his career actually was as the 50th best receiver in 2004, a season in which he only played 10 games. His second and third worst finishes were as the 37th and 31st best receiver in 2011 and 2012 playing for the Baltimore Ravens.
His floor is so high and his value so low, that you are assuming basically no risk at all considering his current ADP. If you draft him in the 11th round, which is where he is normally being drafted, you are getting a wide receiver that has the potential of being a mid-range WR2, and if he falters a bit, a WR3. It doesn't make much sense to take a chance a couple of rounds earlier on a young receiver who is in a lesser opportunity for targets. Targets are the lifeblood of fantasy football production for wide receivers. Anquan Boldin is going to get them and he is going to produce with them.
Colston is kind of a different animal. He's younger than Boldin, but his last two years have raised some concerns that his skills are diminishing. Here are his last five seasons:
His 2014 season was his worst fantasy-wise (save for an injury-ruined 2008), and 2013 was his second-worst. It's easy to assume that age has been catching up to him, but that may not tell the full story. Surely, he isn't the same dominant receiver he used to be. The emergence of young, dynamic pass catchers for the New Orleans Saints in the last few years may be the reason for his fallen production. Jimmy Graham hogged a lot of targets and touchdowns over the last four seasons, especially in 2013, the year that Colston's train seemed to be slowing down. Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas catching 70+ balls a piece that year didn't help. 2014 was very intriguing because his reception total nosedived, while his average yards per catch was the second-highest of his career. The Saints used him in a more specific role, as they turned to a more run-oriented approach. Young receivers Brandin Cooks and Kenny Stills took targets away, as well. Still, Colston finished as the 26th best receiver in 2013 and 36th best in 2014.
Going into 2015, Sproles, Thomas, Stills and Graham are now gone. Cooks is fully healthy after missing six games last season and C.J. Spiller was signed to be the pass-catcher out of the backfield. But there is a big role to be played by Colston. After Cooks went down for the final six games, Colston combined for 366 yards and four touchdowns over that span. Stills filled in for Cooks when he went down, but with Stills traded away, Colston's role during that span might provide a baseline for his 2015. And with the big-bodied red zone threat in Graham also traded away, Colston could very well be looking at more touchdown opportunities.
There are signs that the Saints are moving towards being a run-first team starting this year, but they ran for 1818 yards last season, good for 13th in the league. They are still going to pass a ton, and Colston will have a lot of targets coming his way. With more targets and more red zone opportunities possibly on the horizon, his 2010 season seems like an achievable goal (maybe with fewer receptions). With his overall ADP at 117.5, a 10th or 11th round pick is nothing compared to the possibility of a WR2 season from Colston.