I've been looking forward to Chase Stuart's 2012 season age-weighted research for some time now, and his conclusions don't disappoint.
Some background first, though: Last year - the 2011 season, Stuart found that the Seahawks were the NFL's youngest team, and his calculations, logically, are weighted based on the players that actually play and contribute. As he put it:
"Measuring team age in the N.F.L. is tricky. Calculating the average age of a 53-man roster is misleading because the age of a team's starters is much more relevant than the age of a team's reserves. The average age of a team's starting lineup isn't perfect, either. The age of the quarterback and key offensive and defensive players should count for more than the age of a less relevant starter. Ideally, you would want to calculate a team's average age by placing greater weight on the team's most relevant players."
I.e., your starting quarterback's age should be more heavily weighted to represent your team's age over, say, a fourth-string 7th-round cornerback that doesn't even see snaps in special teams and doesn't suit up for games. He's young and skews your team's average age downward, but does he play a big part in your success or failure? No. So, Stuart used ProFootballReference's proprietary Approximate Value metric to determine these player weights, and in 2011, the Seahawks' weighted average age was only 25.7 years old. As I said, youngest team in the NFL.
Of course, in 2011, the Seahawks also went 7-9, missed the Playoffs, had Tarvaris Jackson starting at quarterback and were very unevenly balanced with a strong defense and a poor offense, inconsistent, mistake prone, and frustrating to watch at times, so 'winning' the prize for youngest team didn't mean as much as you might think. "It's nice for the future," anyway. Bodes well. This is an improving team, right?
Well. 2012 was a whirlwind, and after a slow start, Seattle finished the year red-hot, compiled an 11-5 record with historical scoring binges and a league-best scoring defense, bounced the Redskins from the Playoffs in their place, and very nearly succeeded at closing out one of the great comebacks in NFL Playoffs history before falling to Atlanta. This is a team that you can legitimately be excited about, but there's no way the 2012 Seahawks, Super Bowl favorites by the end of the season, were as young, relative to the rest of the league, as the 2011 team, right?
Seattle's nucleus of starters on defense - Red Bryant (28), Brandon Mebane (28), Alan Branch (28), Chris Clemons (31), Brandon Browner (28), Richard Sherman (24), K.J. Wright (23), Earl Thomas (23) and Kam Chancellor (24) - stayed pretty much intact, got a year older, but was buoyed by an infusion of young talent in Bobby Wagner (22), Bruce Irvin (although Bruce is actually older than most of the secondary at 25), and to a lesser extent, Byron Maxwell (25) and Jeremy Lane (22). Jason Jones (26) was a bit of a wash when combined with Greg Scruggs' (22) valuable snaps later in the year. Marcus Trufant got a significant number of snaps at age 32, but that was likely balanced out a bit by Clinton McDonald (26), Mike Morgan (25), Malcolm Smith (23), Jeron Johnson (24) and Winston Guy's (22) value and role.
On offense, Russell Wilson (24) took over for Tarvaris Jackson, and was protected by Russell Okung (25), Paul McQuistan (29), Max Unger (26), J.R. Sweezy (23)/John Moffitt (26), and Breno Giacomini (27). Zach Miller (27) and Anthony McCoy (25) saw significant snaps at TE, and Russell's main targets were Sidney Rice (26), Golden Tate (24), and Doug Baldwin (24). He handed the ball off to Marshawn Lynch (26) and Robert Turbin (23). Michael Robinson (30) was the old man of the group.
So, inconceivable as it may be, the 11-5 2012 Seattle Seahawks, the team that finished #1 in Football Outsiders' DVOA and in the top-10 for all-time best DVOA marks, a squad that just missed out on a chance to play in the NFC Championship after mounting a 20-point comeback in the fourth quarter against the Falcons, was once again the youngest team in the NFL in 2012 on a 'player-value' weighted scale.
26.1 years of age, on average. And, if you're wondering, Chase used the player's exact age on Dec. 31, 2012 for purposes of that article, and when I say exact age, I mean exact, down to the day age. So some people are 30.99 years old, some are 28.42, etc.
Even more exciting, the Seahawks could actually end up getting younger this year on a weighted-value basis. Factor in the additions of Percy Harvin (24), Cliff Avril (26), and Michael Bennett (27) and the value they'll likely bring on a snap-to-snap basis, combined with any incoming draft picks - perhaps a three-technique that will get a lot of snaps (or maybe 24-year old Jaye Howard), perhaps a 'move-TE' and another WR, perhaps a linebacker, perhaps another running back, and hell, James Carpenter (23) at left guard - and you could see this team doing a Benjamin Button impression in 2013.
As Stuart puts it:
"Seattle is in fantastic shape"
The Seahawks rank as the youngest team in the league thanks to the 3rd youngest defense and the 4th youngest offense. And that's before they added Percy Harvin, who doesn't turn 25 until May. Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett are in the primes of their careers, and will actually lower the defense's age if they replace Chris Clemons. Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Bobby Wagner, Bruce Irvin, Kam Chancellor, and K.J. Wright were all under 25 last year, a scary thought for NFC West offenses. Only one of the 11 offensive starters was older than 27 last year (29-year-old left guard Paul McQuistan), so the Seahawks are in excellent shape on that side of the ball, too.
Now, ProFootballReference's AV metric very well respected but in truth is a little vague, so for clarity, where did the Seahawks end up, age-wise, on a purely snap-count weighted scale?
Although it's certainly an improvement over simple math, Stuart's AV-weighted averages still have a couple of drawbacks. First, AV gives no value to specialists, so kickers, punters, long snappers, and the hundreds of players who toil in relative obscurity on coverage units don't contribute to their teams' average ages. Second, because AV itself isn't calculated until after All-Pro teams are announced, AV-weighted ages, by definition, can't be determined until after the season is over.
So, weight by snap count:
The logic of weighting by snap counts is simple: the extent to which a player's age matters is a function of how often he actually sees the field. It solves the problem of faulty assumptions like rosters or starting lineups remaining static through the season, it accounts for the fact that specialists actually do play, and it can be calculated at any point in time.
Weighted by snap count, the Seahawks actually come in YOUNGER than per Stuart's AV-weighted scale, at 25.8 years old. This ranks 2nd in the NFL, with Cleveland just edging them out (also 25.8 years old). Per that snap-count-weighted metric, Seattle's offense was the 5th youngest in 2012 (a number that will likely go down with James Carpenter and Percy Harvin seeing more snaps) and their defense was the 2nd youngest unit (also due to likely go down with Avril/Bennett and Irvin seeing more snaps in the place of Clemons and probably Branch).
Anyway - interesting stuff. If you were wondering - the Cardinals were the oldest team in the NFC West on an AV-Weighted scale (18th) in 2012 at 27.6 years old. The Niners were close behind in 17th place, also 27.6 years old. The Rams were the 6th-youngest team by that metric, so unfortunately, Seattle's division doesn't seem likely to start getting worse anytime soon.