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The Browns Have A Tight End Who’s Defying Time

Cleveland Browns tight end Gary Barnidge is 30 years old. Most would call him a young man — a millennial, even! He was 4 when the Berlin Wall came down, one of his favorite actors is Jonah Hill, and he’s participated in a reality TV dating show.

In NFL years, though, he’s a geezer. Our perceptions of the average age of an NFL player are sometimes skewed by visibility — the best players tend to have the longest careers. But only 19 percent of active players are 30 or older, and most players peak in their mid-to-late 20s. Which is why it’s impressive that Barnidge is having the best season of his career, by far:

fischerbaum-barnidge-1

Barnidge has 667 receiving yards for the Browns through 10 games (on pace for 1,067), plus seven touchdowns. That’s more than the 603 yards he totaled in his first seven seasons. This kind of late blooming is rare: The table below shows all players who had at least 500 receiving yards in a season after turning 30 and in that season surpassed their career total up to that point.1

RECEIVING YARDS
PLAYER AGE YEAR POS SEASON # IN SEASON CAREER PRIOR
Gary Barnidge 30 2015 TE 8 667 603
Mervyn Fernandez 30 1989 WR 3 1,069 1,041
Jim Jensen 30 1988 WR 8 652 414
M.L. Harris 30 1984 TE 5 759 487
Lou Piccone 30 1979 WR 6 556 537
Willie Miller 31 1978 WR 3 767 57
Pat Curran 30 1975 TE 7 619 83
Woodley Lewis 33 1958 RE 9 690 642
Jerry Williams 31 1954 LH 6 668 610

These are not exactly household names — it’s tough to build a memorable career with such a late start, and most of these players had just the one good NFL season to their name. Barnidge’s closest comp is probably Pat Curran, another tight end with a particularly belated breakout season (seven years in, to Barnidge’s eight). Curran faded after 1975, tallying 349, 123 and 92 yards in his last three seasons, but Barnidge could be on pace for a lot more yardage in his breakout year. Although the list above can’t make anyone optimistic about his prospects, the Cleveland end is in uncharted territory.

Footnotes

  1. We looked at players with at least 1 receiving yard before their breakout year.

Reuben Fischer-Baum is a visual journalist for FiveThirtyEight.

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