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Average Age Of Quarterback Starts

Yesterday, I looked Josh McCown’s weird, winding career. McCown started 33 games through age 33, but has since started 27 more games. He’s had one of the weirdest and back-loaded careers in NFL history.

Which made me wonder: how can we measure which quarterbacks had the most front-loaded or back-loaded careers? Here’s one clean way to do it. For every quarterback, identify his exact age for every start of his career, and then calculate the average age in all games he started. For McCown, with 60 starts, his average age (summing his age in every start, and dividing by 60) so far is 30.7. If Josh McCown somehow starts 16 games for the Jets this year, the first will come when he is 38.2 years old, and the last will come when he is 38.5 years old. That will bring his average age of start up to 32.3. That would be pretty old, but not remarkably old the way his median age would be (more on this in a minute).

By this method, the quarterback with the oldest average age is Doug Flutie. The CFL superstar and Bills fan favorite started 66 games in his NFL career, but on average, he was 35.5 years old during his average start. If you read yesterday’s post, you won’t be surprised to learn that after Flutie, Warren Moon, Roger Staubach, and George Blanda have the next oldest average age. Babe Parilli, who is 5th in median age, is down at #10, thanks to 9 starts coming at the age of 22 or 23.

The table below shows the average age and median age of start for all 179 quarterbacks with at least 50 starts. Some fine print: this only covers starts beginning in 1950, so this list may overstate the average age for quarterbacks who played pre-1950; similarly, for current quarterbacks like Luck, this obviously is biased in the other direction. The table below is fully sortable and searchable; by default, it lists the 15 oldest players based on average age of start.

QuarterbackStartsMedian AgeAverage AgeDiffMed Age RkAvg Age Rk
Doug Flutie6637.035.5-1.511
Warren Moon20334.834.7-0.132
Roger Staubach11434.634.1-0.543
George Blanda10435.234.1-1.024
Charlie Conerly8933.133.90.8155
Jeff Garcia11633.233.80.6136
Brad Johnson12533.333.50.2127
Kurt Warner11633.433.40.098
Billy Kilmer11433.233.20.0149
Babe Parilli10134.433.0-1.3510
Jeff Hostetler8333.433.0-0.41011
Trent Green11333.333.0-0.21112
Craig Morton14433.733.0-0.7713
Len Dawson15932.432.90.52014
Vinny Testaverde21432.932.90.01715
Ken Stabler14632.932.8-0.11816
Rich Gannon13233.932.4-1.5617
Steve DeBerg14032.232.30.12118
Sonny Jurgensen14732.232.20.02319
Steve Young14332.932.1-0.81620
Joe Theismann12432.132.10.024.521
Brett Favre29832.132.10.024.522
Y.A. Tittle13332.131.9-0.12623
Matt Hasselbeck16031.631.90.23124
Tom Brady23532.231.7-0.52225
Jim Kelly16031.731.70.02926
Frank Tripucka5233.431.7-1.7827
Danny White9231.731.70.03028
Jake Delhomme9631.031.60.64429
Lynn Dickey11132.031.5-0.62830
Ed Brown9631.131.40.33831
Steve Beuerlein10232.531.4-1.11932
Wade Wilson6930.831.40.65133
Otto Graham7131.031.40.44234
Chris Chandler15232.031.4-0.72735
Jon Kitna12431.031.40.44336
Earl Morrall10231.531.3-0.23337
Phil Simms15931.131.30.23938
Johnny Unitas18530.631.20.65639
Dave Krieg17531.031.10.14140
John Brodie15831.231.1-0.23541
Jim Harbaugh14030.831.10.35242
Jim Hart18031.531.0-0.53243
Erik Kramer6731.131.0-0.14044
John Elway23131.231.0-0.23645
Drew Brees23230.930.90.14746
Tony Romo12731.430.9-0.63447
Joe Montana16430.430.80.46048
Ron Jaworski14330.630.80.25849
Carson Palmer17430.830.8-0.14850
Bart Starr15730.830.8-0.15051
Billy Wade8531.130.8-0.43752
Josh McCown6028.530.72.310553
Cotton Davidson5330.830.7-0.14954
Peyton Manning26530.530.60.15955
Gary Danielson6030.030.60.66656
Bobby Hebert10030.230.50.46357
David Garrard7630.730.5-0.25358
Jay Fiedler6030.030.40.56759
Norm Van Brocklin10130.630.4-0.15760
Brian Sipe11230.330.40.16161
Mark Brunell15130.130.30.26462
Fran Tarkenton23930.630.3-0.35463
Jim Plunkett14429.030.21.39064
Mike Livingston7530.930.2-0.84565
John Hadl16630.630.1-0.55566
Charley Johnson12430.930.1-0.84667
Eli Manning19929.930.10.26868
Dan Marino24030.030.10.16569
Philip Rivers17629.929.90.06970
Ryan Fitzpatrick11629.929.90.07071
Boomer Esiason17329.629.80.27672
Chad Pennington8130.329.7-0.56273
Dan Fouts17129.529.70.278.574
Mike Tomczak7329.129.70.68875
Kerry Collins18029.729.70.07376
Bill Kenney7729.829.7-0.17277
Roman Gabriel15729.429.60.28178
Stan Humphries8129.629.60.07579
Bobby Layne13229.829.6-0.27180
Jack Kemp10529.329.50.18281
Joe Ferguson17129.529.4-0.178.582
Ken Anderson17229.729.4-0.37483
Randall Cunningham13527.729.31.612384
Gus Frerotte9328.329.31.011085
Matt Schaub9229.329.30.08386
Neil O'Donnell10029.229.30.08687
Jim Everett15328.929.20.39188
Matt Cassel8028.529.20.610489
Marc Bulger9529.529.1-0.47790
Steve McNair15328.929.10.39391
Mark Rypien7829.129.10.08992
Elvis Grbac7029.329.0-0.38493
Marc Wilson6028.829.00.29794
Bob Berry5228.729.00.29995
Rodney Peete8727.629.01.312796
Bob Griese15128.828.90.19497
Bubby Brister7528.228.90.711398
Aaron Rodgers13528.928.90.09299
Donovan McNabb16128.828.80.095100
Ben Roethlisberger18328.728.70.0100.5101
Scott Mitchell7128.728.70.0100.5102
Jay Schroeder9929.228.6-0.685103
Tommy Kramer11028.228.60.5114104
Daryle Lamonica8828.428.60.2107105
Tobin Rote11627.828.60.8119106
Vince Ferragamo5329.428.6-0.880107
Terry Bradshaw15829.128.5-0.687108
Frank Ryan8728.428.50.1106109
Bill Munson6628.228.50.3115110
Norm Snead15928.328.40.2111111
Troy Aikman16528.828.4-0.496112
Jay Cutler13928.428.40.0108113
Eddie LeBaron8528.828.4-0.498114
Jim McMahon9728.228.40.1112115
Steve Bartkowski12728.128.30.2116116
Archie Manning13928.628.1-0.5103117
Bill Nelsen7428.728.1-0.6102118
Ken O'Brien11027.928.10.2118119
Jeff Blake10026.928.01.1140120
Steve Grogan13527.128.00.8134121
Brian Griese8327.528.00.4130122
Greg Landry9826.927.91.1141123
Drew Bledsoe19327.727.90.2125124
Mike Phipps7126.927.91.0139125
Joe Namath12927.327.90.6133126
Alex Smith13628.427.8-0.6109127
Mark Malone5328.027.8-0.2117128
Jason Campbell7927.827.80.0121129
Joe Flacco13827.727.7-0.1124130
Aaron Brooks9027.627.70.1129131
Milt Plum10327.727.6-0.1126132
Michael Vick11326.327.61.2147133
Trent Dilfer11326.627.50.9145134
Matt Ryan14227.527.50.0131135
Kordell Stewart8227.127.50.4135136
Jake Plummer13627.727.5-0.2122137
Don Meredith8327.627.5-0.1128138
Richard Todd10827.827.5-0.3120139
Jeff George12427.027.40.4136140
Dan Pastorini11727.427.3-0.1132141
Kyle Orton8227.027.10.1137142
Daunte Culpepper10026.827.10.3142143
Colin Kaepernick5827.027.00.1138144
Jim Zorn10626.627.00.4146145
Charlie Batch5525.926.91.0157146
Eric Hipple5726.226.90.6149147
Tom Flores6826.726.70.0143148
Don Majkowski5725.826.70.9159149
Bert Jones9626.226.70.5151150
Doug Williams8125.326.61.2167151
Tony Eason5126.226.60.4150152
Neil Lomax10126.726.5-0.1144153
Chris Miller9226.126.50.4153154
Andy Dalton9326.126.50.3152155
Rick Mirer6825.626.50.9163156
Dave Brown6025.826.40.6158157
Chad Henne5325.526.40.9164158
Joey Harrington7626.126.30.3154159
Ryan Tannehill7726.226.2-0.1148160
Pat Haden5525.826.10.3160161
Tony Banks7825.626.10.5162162
Russell Wilson8025.925.90.0155163
Bobby Douglass5325.525.80.4165164
Sam Bradford7825.125.80.7168165
Bernie Kosar10825.925.8-0.1156166
Matthew Stafford10925.825.70.0161167
Byron Leftwich5024.925.60.6170168
David Carr7925.425.50.1166169
Vince Young5024.625.40.8174170
Lamar McHan7024.825.20.3172171
Mark Sanchez7224.925.00.1171172
Andrew Luck7025.025.0-0.1169173
Cam Newton9224.624.90.3173174
Bob Avellini5024.224.40.2176175
Mike Pagel5424.024.40.4177176
Tim Couch5924.324.2-0.1175177
David Woodley5323.924.00.1178178
Josh Freeman6123.823.70.0179179

As Richie guessed yesterday, Josh Freeman checks in as the player with the youngest average (and median) age. In retrospect, Freeman’s career is hard to explain: at the age of 22, he started 16 games, threw 25 touchdowns against just 6 interceptions, and led the Bucs to a 10-6 record. At the age of 24, he threw for 4,065 yards and 27 touchdowns. And then he started just five more games in his career to date. Is a McCown-like resurgence in his future?

Second on the list is David Woodley, who was the beneficiary of a great supporting cast. From ’80 to ’83, Woodley went to a Super Bowl and posted a 27-12-1 record despite having some of the worst passing numbers in the league. The Dolphins drafted Dan Marino, and Woodley’s career was all but over.

Third youngest by average age is Tim Couch. The Browns number one overall pick started 14 games as a 22-year-old rookie, but never played in another regular season game after his age 26 season. Unlike with Freeman, injuries were the prime culprit, mostly due to a shoulder injury.

One other note: median age can be a little bit funky. McCown’s median age of start right now is 28.5, but with 7 more starts this year, it will jump to 34.4! That won’t change his average age by as much, but I thought presenting both (and even the difference column, which McCown currently has the largest spread) might be interesting.

What stands out to you? Please leave your thoughts in the comments.

  • WR

    Interesting to see David Carr listed as one of the youngest entries on the list. His brother Derek isn’t here because he misses the 50 start cutoff, but both guys were full time starters at the age of 23. That would make Derek one of the youngest entries on the list if he were included, and shows how foolish it is for his detractors in the stat community to have already written him off.

  • sacramento gold miners

    Couple of thoughts on this topic. Doug Flutie had bad timing during his NFL career, the height issue was overblown. In today’s NFL, I think he would excel. David Woodley’s SB 17 performance likely convinced Miami they needed a franchise-type QB, and Woodley had a problem dealing with the pressure that comes with the position. Had a strong arm, and was mobile, attempted a 1987 comeback with the Packers.

    • Wolverine

      Interesting bit of trivia is that Woodley died in 2003 (he had a serious drinking problem) at the age of 44, making him the youngest death for a quarterback with a Super Bowl start….until Steve McNair’s tragic death at age 36.

      • Deacon Drake

        That is… interesting. Looking at Woodley’s numbers, seemed like the speed of the NFL may have been too much. Took a lot of sacks.

  • Richie

    I was also thinking about guessing Cam Newton. But he’s already started 44 games since turning 25, so I didn’t think he’d fare well. But there he is as the sixth-youngest player.

    David Carr and Matt Stafford also crossed my mind as guys who started a lot of games right off the bat. But I figured they both started too many games post-25 to do well on this list.

    • Wolverine

      You also have to remember that Matt Stafford missed almost half of his age 21 season, and most of his age 22 seasons with injuries, and hasn’t missed a start since then.

  • kevin trammo

    Looking at the top 20 to 25 and seeing how many of them didn’t start or had very few starts in their early to mid 20s for various reasons; Flutie )(played in USFL, CFL) , Moon (CFL), Staubach (military commitment) Garcia (CFL), Brad Johnson (late bloomer), Kurt Warner (grocery store, arena, NFL Europe), Hostetler (late bloomer), Trent Green (somewhat of a late bloomer) , Gannon (late bloomer) , Deberg (kept getting stuck behind #1 picks and legends), Steve Young (USFL and stuck behind Joe) and Theismann (CFL). And then you have Vinny, who played a lot in his 20s. Just caught my attention.

    • Wolverine

      I know there have been posts about Vinny before, but his career is fascinating to me. He was terrible with the Bucs, but ended up having a decent career. Jared Goff and Blake Bortles fans can look to Testaverde’s career for hope.

      • sacramento gold miners

        Agree about Testaverde as a role model for playing a long time, but I would hope Goff and Bortles would aim for more consistency and team success. Vinny was higher rated than Goff or Bortles, and was more mobile coming out of Miami. Decent career, but thought it would have been better. For me, Bernie Kosar was the superior NFL QB.

        • Wolverine

          I think late-90’s Testaverde was a very good quarterback. He quarterbacked one of the best offenses in the league with the ’96 Ravens, but the terrible defense he was saddled with prevented team success, not him. He should have made the Super Bowl in ’98 after an All-Pro caliber season with the Jets…but his teammates kept fumbling in scoring territory during the AFC Championship game. I’m not saying he’s a hall of famer, or anything. I just think he deserves some credit for turning his career around after most people (including me) had written him off as Todd Blackledge-level draft bust.

          • sacramento gold miners

            Agreed, it appeared Testaverde was a massive bust after his days in Tampa Bay, so at least he improved to have a credible career. But Vinny usually struggled on the big stage, dating back to his days at the University of Miami, when he had a fantastic supporting cast. I think he’s the Norm Snead of the modern era, a guy who had some good seasons in a long career.

  • Wolverine

    I’m still kind of mystified about what happened to Josh Freeman. He had a legit great year in 2010 (although you can argue it was anchored by interception avoidance, which hardly ever sticks) and was on pace for another great year in 2012 (before he mysteriously imploded in the last 5 games). The dude was talented, and there was no injury that we know of. He had plenty of chances on other teams, but never stuck. The only conclusion I can (hesitatingly) draw is that perhaps the whispers about his lax work ethic had some truth to them.

    • Kaedwon

      You aren’t alone in your mystification. He was a true Indigo QB by his second year. That was the same season (2010) that Mike Williams had double-digit TD receptions as a rookie. Freeman’s DGAF attitude surely played a role in his demise, but Raheem Morris’s coaching ineptitude didn’t exactly help. Freeman, Williams and Morris were all flashes that happened to occur at the same time,in the same pan.

  • Paul

    In 5 years well see if Tom Brady has moved into the top 10 of oldest average age.

    • Richie

      It won’t even take that long. It looks like he only need about 42 more starts to pass Parilli for the #10 spot.

      He’ll have to keep going until 2024 (age 47) to get the #1 spot.