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Data Crunch: Aging Well

Posted Dec 26, 2013

In the 12th of our weekly ventures into data visualization, we look at WR Vincent Jackson’s career arc, demonstrating how he has continued to dominate at a point when some of his peers have dropped off

Every week, we football fans consume the NFL through live game action, replays and highlight shows.  And then we consume it again through the numbers.  Whether it's via fantasy football, statistical analysis or simply the league standings, numbers help us understand and digest the game we love.

This season, Buccaneers.com wants to help you see what the numbers are saying.

Welcome back to Data Crunch, our weekly foray into data visualization that will help tell the story of Tampa Bay Buccaneers football and the 2013 NFL season as a whole.  Here, we will not only dive deep into the statistics generated each week by the Buccaneers but we'll present it to you in graphical form to better convey what the numbers are telling us.  These interactive graphs allow the user to identify trends, gaining a better understanding of how wins and losses are generated and where the team and individual players are headed.

Our final data visualization exercise of the season focus on the continued strong play of wide receiver Vincent Jackson, who has set a new career high in receptions in each of the last two years, his eighth and ninth in the NFL.  Over the last decade, even as passing numbers across the league have risen steadily, few receivers have remained as productive as Jackson as their careers have progressed into their eighth or ninth seasons.

For instance, in the last two seasons Jackson has averaged 19.2 and 16.1 (so far) yards per catch, in both cases topping 70 receptions overall.  Those are two of the top 45 seasons in the last 20 years in terms of yards per catch by a player with at least 70 grabs.  The only other players to show up on that list more than once are Calvin Johnson, Steve Smith, Randy Moss, Torry Holt and Greg Jennings.  That’s obviously very good company for Jackson, but it’s also worth noting that, of all those above, only Smith had such a season in his age-30 season or later.  Jackson turned 30 last January.

It’s a common perception that NFL players tend to peak around age 27 or 28.  In reality, it varies quite a bit by position, but receivers do happen to follow that pattern, with a bell curve that hits the top at 27 and descends pretty rapidly from there.  The visualization below shows how Jackson has bucked that trend and given the Buccaneers outstanding production for the big contract he signed in March of 2012.

Follow the red dot in the chart below to see how Jackson’s annual production has moved closer to the top of the NFL’s leader boards as his career has progressed.  Hover over any of the dots to see which NFL receivers are represented.  Click through the tabs at the top to see Jackson’s progression in yards, yards per catch and receptions of 25 or more yards.