"Youth is wasted on the young."
That quote, which is attributed to George Bernard Shaw, may find an exception in the NFL.
The most productive players in the NFL are typically those in their second, third and fourth years. While wide receivers and star quarterbacks can maintain productivity far longer, production is generally both stronger and more consistent among younger players than veterans.
And among veterans, there are productive vets and unproductive vets.
Then, among the unproductive vets, there are those who still have gas left in the tank and those for whom we should start digging their fantasy graves.
So are there any disappointing veterans worth targeting for fantasy football in 2012?
Yes, as you'll see shortly.
But before we begin, a couple clarifications are in order.
First, I defined "veteran" as a player who will be entering at least their seventh season in 2012. I realize "seven" was an arbitrary decision to use as the floor. But I wanted a number that would exclude players like Calvin Johnson (going into his sixth season) and DeSean Jackson (going into his fifth season), since they still strike me as fairly young players.
Also, I did not include veteran players who had both excellent seasons in 2011—like Wes Welker and Marques Colston—and are expected to return to their elite offenses for 2012. After all, fantasy owners aren't exactly bailing on these guys.
Instead, I'll focus on vets who either disappointed in 2011 or who may appear on the surface to be risky picks for 2012.
Who are the players not yet ready for AARP?
Believe it or not, Andre Johnson will be entering his 10th season in the league in 2012.
Battling injuries in 2011—the fourth such season in his previous nine—Johnson almost certainly sets off warning alarms in fantasy owners' minds.
Age. Injury-prone. Quarterback who is injury-prone.
No thanks, right?
In the 2011 playoffs, Johnson had five catches for 90 yards and a touchdown against the Bengals, followed by eight receptions for 111 yards against the mighty Ravens defense.
And all this despite playing with a third-string quarterback.
What's more, elite WRs certainly can still ring up 1,000-plus yards in their double-digit seasons.
Marvin Harrison had 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns in his 11th season.
Randy Moss had 1,264 yards and 13 touchdowns in his 12th season.
Isaac Bruce had 1,098 yards (though only three touchdowns) in his 13th season.
Jerry Rice had 1,211 yards and seven touchdowns in his staggering 18th season.
Andre Johnson has elite skills, so he can certainly do the same.
With his injury history, he will not command a first-round pick next year. A fourth-round pick may be his average draft position in 2012.
If so, that would be a great value, and you would be foolish to give up on him.
Reggie Wayne is entering his 12th season in 2012.
But as we've seen, that doesn't mean Wayne can't produce any more.
Sure, Wayne fell off the fantasy cliff in 2011, ending as the 33rd-ranked fantasy receiver with 7.5 FPPG, worse than players like Jabar Gaffney.
Still, you may be surprised to know that Wayne was just 39 yards short of a 1,000-yard season despite skank at quarterback.
Depending on where Wayne ends up when free agency ends, he could be poised to be a serious value pick.
So don't overlook this veteran in 2012.
OK, I need to explain this one a bit.
Fitzgerald isn't a washed-up vet. But he isn't a fantasy darling either.
Calvin Johnson, Rob Gronkowski, Packers receivers, Giants receivers, exciting 2011 rookies like A.J. Green and incoming rookies like Justin Blackmon get all the hype.
So picking veteran Larry Fitzgerald—entering his ninth season in 2012—may have all the appeal of picking old Richard Pryor as your favorite comedian.
But Fitzgerald quietly put up 80 catches for 1,411 yards and eight touchdowns.
And all this despite a revolving door of two sub-par quarterbacks in Kevin Kolb and John Skelton.
Fitzgerald actually finished 2011 as fantasy's sixth-best receiver at 11.6 FPPG.
But considering he was most likely one of the top three WRs taken in drafts last year, he did still underperform to his draft status.
He still is in a bad situation in Arizona, where there seems to be a quarterback controversy that threatens to drag through training camp.
That means Fitzgerald is certainly no longer a first or second-round pick.
But based on his skills and production, don't overlook him.
Sure, he's no longer the flashy young fantasy stud, but he's still a fantasy stud.
In case you hadn't heard, Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham will be all the rage in 2012 drafts.
But if you miss out on those tight ends, don't overlook Gates.
Gates battled through injuries in 2011, yet posted 64 catches, 778 yards and seven touchdowns in 13 games.
Over a full season, that would have projected to 78 catches, 957 yards and nine touchdowns.
What's more, he caught 73.6 percent of his targets in 2011—better than Gronkowski's 72.6 percent—and was fairly consistent with his 78.2 percent rate in 2010.
This elite catch rate comes despite quarterback Philip Rivers' poor showing in 2011.
And with receiver Vincent Jackson likely leaving the Chargers during free agency, Gates is likely to see even more passes in 2012.
He may be entering his 10th season, but Gates is still a very solid pick.
Gonzalez seems to have been around since the days of Johnny Unitas.
Well, maybe not that long. But he was in the same draft class as Tiki Barber and Jake Delhomme, players who are long gone.
Gonzalez is entering his 16th—yes, 16th—season in 2012.
Some fantasy players may not even have been born when he started his NFL career.
But all that matters is that this veteran is still producing.
In 2011, he caught 80 balls for 875 yards and seven touchdowns, an improvement over 2010, when he caught 70 passes for 656 yards and six touchdowns, and consistent with 2009, when he caught 83 balls for 867 yards and six touchdowns.
It's hard to imagine Gonzalez falling off the map in 2012, especially with 2011 standout rookie Julio Jones drawing significant defensive attention, along with Roddy White.
Clearly not a sexy pick, but nevertheless, don't give up on Gonzalez.
Vick will be entering his 10th season in 2012.
After a huge 2010 season, he was one of the first quarterbacks taken in 2011 fantasy drafts.
But after a fairly pedestrian 18-touchdown, 14-interception season with only one rushing touchdown (compared to nine scores on the ground the previous year) that included missing a few games with fractured ribs, fantasy owners are likely to avoid Vick like the plague.
Yet Vick finished the season as fantasy's 10th-best quarterback with a solid 20.1 FPPG.
While he is unlikely to get nine rushing touchdowns again, as he did in 2010, he is also unlikely to only get one rushing touchdown as he did in 2011.
Three rushing touchdowns may be more reasonable. And with DeSean Jackson almost certain to return via the franchise tag, Vick will still lead a talented offense with Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy (who is a good receiver) and the rediscovered Brent Celek.
Don't give up on Vick just yet.
Schaub will start his ninth season in 2012.
After a season-ending lisfranc injury in 2011, some fantasy owners want nothing to do with Schaub anymore.
Old. Injury-prone. Receiver who is also injury-prone.
But these are misguided reasons to give up on Schaub.
The injury-prone label may also be unfair to Schaub, who played all 16 games in both 2009 and 2010.
And we've already discussed Andre Johnson.
Schaub has a very good career 92.2 quarterback rating, and he will continue to perform at a high level when healthy.