Several NFL veterans have bounced back to have outstanding seasons in 2011. But because they have done well this year doesn't mean that success will last.
Here is a list of four guys who should see their production drop next season as age and the typical wear and tear sets in.
These guys are all having great seasons, but with the pounding they are taking, it will make it very difficult for them to repeat those results next year.
Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis has had a remarkable career. Since entering the league as the 26th overall pick in the 1996 NFL draft, the Miami product has been one of the best players in the league.
Lewis has reached a ridiculous 12 Pro Bowls, been named First-Team All-Pro seven times (and second team three times), and has been named the AP's Defensive Player of the Year twice (2000 and 2003).
He has been to more Pro Bowls than any other inside/middle linebacker and has been selected to more All-Pro teams than any linebacker other than Lawrence Taylor (who also had 10 selections). He is also the only player to record 40 sacks and 30 interceptions during his career.
There are more stats to show just how amazing he has been, but I figure you're sufficiently impressed.
The long-time leader of the Ravens defense will turn 37 in May and has struggled with a toe injury. While he has 78 tackles in 10 games this season, he has slowed down a touch. It's reasonable to expect that there will be more drop-off next season as he approaches what could be his final year in the league.
Lewis is easily one of the best linebackers in NFL history, but no one can play at that level forever. I expect 2012 to be the first time we see a significant drop in his game.
Denver Broncos running back Willis McGahee wasn't even supposed to be the starter for the team this season—that job was supposed to go to Knowshon Moreno. But thanks to another injury-plagued year from Moreno, McGahee got an opportunity for first-team carries and his game spiked once Denver shifted to its run-heavy, Tim Tebow-centric offense.
In 13 games this season, McGahee has rushed for 990 yards and four touchdowns on 206 carries. Considering he hadn't broken the 1,000-yard barrier since 2007, this has been a bit of an unexpected season from the 30-year-old back.
Frankly I think McGahee has benefited from the focus teams have put on Tebow this season. If McGahee returns as the primary back in Denver next season, don't be surprised if he suffers a huge drop off in production.
While Alex Smith has certainly benefited from new San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh's presence, no one on the team has been more impressive this season than running back Frank Gore.
Gore is having a great year after failing to live up to an exceptional 2006 season in which he rushed for 1,695 yards and eight touchdowns.
Through 14 games this season, Gore has 1,119 yards yards and seven touchdowns on 252 carries. He's fifth in the NFL in rushing yards and is averaging 4.4 yards per carry.
Gore is a two-time Pro Bowler and should reach the game for a third time this season. But he'll be 29 years old at the beginning of next season, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him drop off in production again. He's only 5'9" and 217 pounds, so he may not be built to take a huge pounding.
Expect next season to be a lot slower for Gore.
San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates is one of the best tight ends in NFL history, but like the other guys on this list, age and injuries have taken their toll on his career.
Gates is a seven-time Pro Bowler and a five-time All-Pro pick, but he will be 32 when next season kicks off and has battled a foot injury for the balance of two seasons.
This season, Gates has 55 catches for 632 yards and six touchdowns, but he has only played in 11 games after getting into just 10 last season.
It wouldn't be surprising if his foot injury continued to hamper him for the rest of his career and kept him from reaching the heights he has gotten to previously in his career.