Football is a young man’s game. Players are typically drafted out of college at the age of 21 or 22, and the average NFL career lasts just three seasons. Those fortunate enough to still be playing after they hit 30 years old are exceptional and those still around at age 35 are a rarity.
These are 25 players that are still producing at a high level even as they’re entering their 12th, 13th, 14th season, and even more. It doesn’t include those currently unsigned which means players like Terrell Owens, Donovan McNabb, and Plaxico Burress are ineligible. And it also doesn’t include those that have retired, so while Brett Favre is probably still talented enough to edge out many of the guys on this list, you won’t see him on here.
Donald Driver is an amazing story, considering he was formerly a seventh-round pick and he’s enjoyed a productive 13-year career with the Green Bay Packers. Driver has made three Pro Bowls and totaled over 10,000 yards, but he had to restructure his contract with the team just to come back for 2012.
Driver caught 37 passes for 445 yards and six touchdowns in ’12, and even though he’s well into his thirties, he just edges out Randy Moss for the final spot on this list, which makes him the best 35-year-old-plus wide receiver in the world.
Matt Bryant’s overall value would be higher if he actually did the kickoffs for the Atlanta Falcons but he had an amazingly productive year as a field-goal kicker.
Bryant converted 27 of 29 field goals in 2011, leading the NFL with a 93.1 percent rate. He also kicked 45 extra points in 45 tries, finishing with 126 points for the season.
Matt Hasselbeck had a pretty good season last year for the Tennessee Titans, throwing for 3,571 yards and 18 touchdowns. He posted his highest single-season passer rating (82.4) since 2007 and he also led two fourth-quarter comebacks and three game-winning drives.
It remains to be seen whether he will start this season for the Titans, but if he will be the backup, it gives the Titans arguably a top-three backup in the game.
Phil Dawson has been an extremely reliable kicker for the Cleveland Browns during his whole career and 2011 was another good season. He was 24 of 29 on field goals for an 82.8 percent success rate and he has converted at least 82 percent of his field goals for each of the last five seasons.
Dawson has a strong leg for a 195-pound kicker and he set career highs in 50-yard field goals (seven), 50-yard field goal attempts (eight), and 50-yard field goal percentage (87.5) last year.
Jason Hanson had pretty much the same season Phil Dawson did last year, as both converted 24 of 29 field goals last year for an 82.8 field goal percentage. Hanson converted all 54 extra point attempts, he was 17-of-18 on field goal attempts of 39 yards of fewer, and he was even 5-for-7 on field goals of 50-or-more yards.
Hanson is 42 years old but he’s still going strong and he’ll be back in 2012 for the final year of his four-year deal with the Detroit Lions.
Brian Moorman is just a punter but he is a very good one, as Moorman hasn’t missed a game since beginning his NFL career in 2001, and he’s made two Pro Bowls and two All-Pro teams.
Moorman had arguably his best year ever in 2011, averaging an all-time best 48.2 yards per punt while dropping 20 of them inside the 20-yard line.
Bobbie Williams signed with the Baltimore Ravens after his contract with the Cincinnati Bengals expired, and he’s a good player when healthy. Williams started nine games last year, allowing just one sack and five quarterback pressures while rating well as a run blocker.
He’s had an extremely quiet NFL career but he has been a solid guard for over a decade.
Kelly Gregg is essentially a large body that can plug the middle of the defensive line and he can play nose tackle in a 3-4 defense.
John Kasay has been an underrated kicker during his whole career and he had another good year at age 42 last year.
In year one with the New Orleans Saints, Kasay nailed all 63 extra points, kicked 28 of 34 field goals for an 82.4 percent success rate, and converted all 21 field goals of 39 yards or fewer.
Neil Rackers has one of the game’s strongest legs when he’s on and he completed 32-of-38 field goals last year for an 84.2 success rate. He has led the league in field-goal percentage twice in his career, including a then-record 40 successful field goals back in 2005.
Rackers has nailed seven field goals of 50 or more yards in the last two years and he’s near-automatic under 40 yards.
Adam Vinatieri has a pretty good chance at making the Hall of Fame one day when he wraps it up, and in addition to the clutch kicks he made with the New England Patriots back in the glory days, he has had a terrific 16-year career as a kicker.
Vinatieri was 23-of-27 on field goals last year and there are few kickers I would want more than Vinatieri with the game on the line.
Brad Meester has been a rock for the Jacksonville Jaguars, starting 177 games at left guard and center over the last 12 seasons. He hasn’t made a Pro Bowl or an AP All-Pro team but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been a very solid center and that’s exactly what he is.
Meester was the 11th rated center in the NFL last year, according to Pro Football Focus. He was the fifth-rated center the year before. It’s time people recognize how valuable he has been to the team.
Todd McClure is about the same player as Brad Meester—both are lifelong interior offensive linemen for the same team and both debuted in 2000.
McClure has started 179 games for the Atlanta Falcons and he had started 16 games for nine straight years before finally missing three last years. Pro Football Focus still rated McClure as the sixth-best center in the NFL and didn’t allow a sack all season and he’s a valuable protector for quarterback Matt Ryan.
Matt Birk has a legitimate case at the Pro Football Hall of Fame after having made six Pro Bowls and started 171 games over the last 12 seasons.
Birk has started 16 games every year since 2000 for two separate teams and last year Pro Football Focus rated him as the ninth-best center in the game. He was the best in the NFL the year before that and the second-best back in 2009, which means he has annually been one of the league’s elite centers.
Champ Bailey is still a borderline top-five cornerback in the NFL regardless of the fact that he’s now played 13 NFL seasons. Bailey made his 11th Pro Bowl in 2011, an all-time record for a cornerback, despite missing three games due to injury.
Bailey recorded two interceptions and 10 passes defensed, allowing just a 54.0 completion percentage on throws his way.
I never thought I would see Jeff Saturday playing anywhere but in Indianapolis. However, he will start 2012 snapping the ball to Aaron Rodgers after 13 seasons with the Colts as Peyton Manning’s center.
Saturday has started 16 games for three straight years and he’s missed time in just two of the last 12 NFL seasons. Saturday is a five-time Pro Bowler and a two-time All-Pro center who ranked as the fifth-best center in the league in 2011, according to Pro Football Focus, rating as a stellar pass-blocker and run-blocker.
In 14 seasons, London Fletcher has played every single game—224 in a row since debuting in the league in 1998.
Fletcher has made three straight Pro Bowls—his first one at the age of 34. He racked up over 120 tackles last season (depending on which source you use), plus 1.5 sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, and eight passes defensed. He’s always around the ball and he’s such a good player even at the age of 37 that the Washington Redskins felt he was worth a new five-year deal this offseason.
Antoine Winfield has missed 23 games due to injury over the past five seasons, including 11 last year when he first suffered a neck injury and then a broken collarbone. Otherwise he would be a top-five player on this list for sure.
Winfield rated as the sixth-best overall corner in the NFL in 2011, despite playing fewer than one-third of the team’s games. When he suited up for all 16 contests in ’10 and ‘08, Pro Football Focus rated Winfield as the game’s best overall corner. His best attribute is his phenomenal ability to rush the quarterback from the cornerback position and he hasn’t committed a single penalty since PFF was founded in 2008. That’s a remarkable achievement and it’s time people recognize how good of a player Winfield is.
Charles Woodson is an absolute stud cornerback playing out of the slot and he made his fourth straight Pro Bowl in 2011 and eighth overall, plus his third AP All-Pro team.
Woodson led the NFL with seven interceptions, while also recording two sacks, 17 passes defensed, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and 63 tackles. Woodson is at the point where he’s defying logic given the fact that he is 35 years old and entering his 15th NFL season.
I thought it might be the end when Brian Waters moved on from the Kansas City Chiefs to the New England Patriots, but he responded with another phenomenal season in year one with the Patriots in 2011.
Waters rated as the fourth-best guard in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus, and he’s a phenomenal pass-blocker and run-blocker.
I’m dead serious when I put Shane Lechler this high. He had one of the most amazing seasons by a punter in 2011 that the game has ever seen, averaging an unbelievable 50.8 yards per punt. How many people realize how good he was?
Lechler’s average was the second-best of his career after he put up a 51.1 mark back in 2009 and it was the fourth-best single-season total in the league’s history. Lechler topped out with an 80-yard punt in one game, his best ever and he made his fifth straight Pro Bowl and All-Pro team. Oh yeah, and he threw a 35-yard touchdown pass, the first completed pass of his career.
David Akers set the NFL’s single-season record for field goals made in his first year with the San Francisco 49ers, kicking 44 out of 52 attempts. Akers made 12 more field goals in 2011 than he had ever made in any other year before, also nailing all 34 extra point attempts.
He was 19-for-20 on field goals of 39 or fewer yards and added 13 more from 40 or more yards, including seven from above 50. Akers made his third straight Pro Bowl and his sixth overall in ’11.
Ray Lewis is the NFL’s last player (non-kicker) from the 1996 draft, now that Brian Dawkins has retired and he’s still a fearsome linebacker.
Lewis missed four games due to injury but he was still selected to his sixth-straight Pro Bowl in 2011, registering 107 tackles, two sacks, an interception, two forced fumbles, and seven passes defensed. Lewis didn’t give up a single touchdown pass in pass coverage all year and he’s still an elite run stopper who rated as the fifth-best overall inside linebacker in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.
I can’t believe how good of a football player Tony Gonzalez still is even at this age. Gonzalez made his 12th Pro Bowl, catching 80 passes for 875 yards and seven touchdowns in 2011.
He’s a tremendous football player no matter if he is on the Kansas City Chiefs or Atlanta Falcons and an unnoticed attribute of his last year was that he played nearly 1,000 snaps without committing a single penalty.
This rating is assuming that Peyton Manning is still the same quarterback he was for the last several seasons in Indianapolis—or at least close to it.
Manning didn’t take a snap in 2011 but the last time he did play, he threw for a then-NFL-record 450 completions plus 4,700 passing yards, 33 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, posting a 91.8 passer rating.
Some of Manning’s finest numbers weren’t the traditional statistics—he threw away only five passes all year. Compare that to Drew Brees (22), Philip Rivers (23) or Matt Ryan (20). Manning’s receivers dropped a league-high 46 passes, meaning he should have had nearly 500 completions. He also did all this on a 29th rated rushing offense and a 23rd rated scoring defense.