Brian Urlacher and Aging Vets Excelling Past Their Prime
If there's one sad and inexorable truth in the National Football League, it's that the ravages of age spare no player. Whether it's an end of the bench reserve or a Pro Bowl starter, as players get older their skills decline, and there's not a whole lot to be done about it.
However, some players must have done some poking around Florida like Johnny Depp in that God-awful fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, as although these pros should be well past their primes, they are still producing for their teams at a very high level.
Here's a look at a handful of NFL stars that apparently took Father Time's clock and smacked him with it.
Brian Urlacher, LB, Chicago Bears
34-year-old linebacker Brian Urlacher has been a mainstay in the middle of the Chicago Bears defense for well over a decade, racking up over 1,100 recorded tackles, 41.5 sacks and 21 interceptions en route to eight Pro Bowl appearances and the 2005 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.
Injuries wiped out the 13th-year pro's 2009 season, but in the two years since, Urlacher has returned to form, averaging over 113 total stops, two sacks, and two interceptions over that stretch.
Urlacher recently told ESPN that he thinks he still has "two or three years left" in the tank, and given the way that he's played over the last couple of seasons, there's little reason to doubt his assessment.
Charles Woodson, CB, Green Bay Packers
Like a fine wine, Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson seems to only get better with age.
The 35-year-old defensive back's stats haven't dropped off in any measurable way since his arrival in Wisconsin in 2006, and as recently as 2009 the 1997 Heisman Trophy winner was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Woodson was rock-solid again for the Packers last year, tallying 74 tackles, seven interceptions, two sacks and a forced fumble.
Granted, Woodson may have lost a step, and there has been speculation that a move to safety may be in Woodson's not-too-distant future.
However, the 14-year veteran is fine with that and has no plans to hang them up any time soon, recently telling the Associated Press via ESPN that "My main objective is to win games and win the Super Bowl, and that's really all I'm focused on."
London Fletcher, LB, Washington Redskins
I've said this before, and I'll say it again. There may well be no more underrated defensive player in the National Football League over the past decade than Washington Redskins linebacker London Fletcher.
Over the past 11 seasons with the St. Louis Rams, Buffalo Bills and Washington Redskins, all Fletcher has done is average over 140 total tackles a season (including the most in the NFL from 2001-2009) while missing a grand total of zero games.
Fletcher doesn't seem to be showing any signs of slowing down either, as the 37-year-old fireplug finished the 2011 season as the NFL's leading tackler, racking up a gaudy 166 stops a season ago.
Explain to me again how it took until 2009 for Fletcher to be named to his first Pro Bowl?
Tony Gonzalez, TE, Atlanta Falcons
According to Pro Football Talk, Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez indicated recently that the 2012 season will be his last, in which case we can start the countdown to his enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The 36 year old is arguably the greatest player to ever man his position, and the 12-time Pro-Bowler has rewritten the record books at the tight end spot, setting records for career catches, receiving yards, and touchdowns by a tight end.
The 16-year veteran has also been incredibly durable, missing all of two games over the course of his stellar career.
It's not like Gonzalez has dropped off as he's gotten older either. "Gonzo" reeled in 80 catches for 875 yards and eight scores in 2011, and he's failed to break the 800-yard mark only once since 2002.
Ray Lewis, LB, Baltimore Ravens
Granted, there are a number of other grizzled veterans who deserve inclusion on this list, and the play of veteran linebacker Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens fell off a bit in 2011 as the result of injuries, with his tackle numbers dropping below the century mark for the first time since 2005.
That said, in the five seasons preceding 2011 Lewis averaged over 120 stops a year, and over the course of the past 16 seasons there was no more feared defensive player in the NFL.
Lewis' Hall of Fame career includes a Super Bowl ring, nearly 1,300 recorded tackles, 40.5 sacks, 31 interceptions, 16 forced fumbles, 13 Pro Bowl nods and two awards as the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
At 37, Lewis may have shown more inclination last year than any player on this list that age may finally be catching up to him, but after a career like the one he's had, Lewis gets the benefit of the doubt for 2012.