30 over 30: NFL's Best Players Who Have Yet to Answer Father Time's Call

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystJune 30, 2018

30 over 30: NFL's Best Players Who Have Yet to Answer Father Time's Call

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    An NFL player turned 30 years old. 

    OH NO! *gasp* The horror. 

    The dreaded 30 plateau signals an individual's professional doom.

    In many cases, this remains true. Professional football is a young man's game. Advancements in training techniques, dietary needs and sleep studies have extended many careers. 

    Franchises may be looking for the next great thing, but they're not usually willing to let productive long-term performers go without a replacement plan in place.

    Quarterbacks, of course, dominate the above-30 crowd, but numerous position players are still executing at a high level despite their age. 

    Two rules apply to the NFL's best 30 players over 30 years old. First, the individual must have turned 30 last season and still proved they're up to the task. Second, each player must be signed by a team. 

    Also, those coming off of major injuries, like Jason Peters or Julian Edelman, are not included since their recovery could have a drastic effect on their play. 

    Younger isn't always better, and the following veterans prove experience and skill can still overcome. 


30. Patrick Robinson, New Orleans Saints

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    Patrick Robinson experienced a career revival with the Philadelphia Eagles before re-signing with the New Orleans Saints this offseason. 

    Robinson struggled early in his career after being the 32nd overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft. The cornerback played five seasons with the Saints before bouncing around the league with the Los Angeles Chargers, Indianapolis Colts and Eagles. 

    "Growing up, I was always very talented, one of the better skill players on the team," Robinson said, per ESPN.com's Mike Triplett. "And going through that whole stretch of ups and downs, getting injured, I think that was definitely something that I needed. And over these past years, I've learned a lot."

    The 30-year-old defensive back flourished once placed in the nickel role under Jim Schwartz's supervision. The veteran allowed a 64.96 quarterback rating when covering the slot last season, according to the New Orleans Advocate's Nick Underhill

29. DeSean Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Speed tends to fade as athletes age. DeSean Jackson isn't a typical athlete. His game is predicated on taking the top off of defenses, and he's still capable of doing so at 31 years old.

    The wide receiver must establish a comfort level in Dirk Koetter's system after failing to do so last season. Jackson managed 50 receptions for 668 yards during his first season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

    "I'll stay on course, stay on plan," he said during the campaign, per ESPN.com's Jenna Laine. "Eventually it will come together. We just gotta continue to go out there and keep beating, beating away and [doing] the things you need to do to get better."

    Jamies Winston's upcoming suspension complicates matters, but Jackson can lean on another veteran, Ryan Fitzpatrick, until Winston's return. In doing so, the three-time Pro Bowl performer can prove he's still counted among the league's most feared deep threats. 

28. Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    Clay Matthews isn't the same dominant force who earned 2010 NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors, yet he's still an effective linebackerwhether he's playing inside or outside. 

    "I think he can play just about everywhere," Packers defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery told ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky. "You can stand him on the edge, you can put him inside like we've done, you can put him off the ball. I think he's still a dynamic rusher."

    The last point is the most interesting since Matthews' pass-rush productivity declined in recent years. Although, his 7.5 sacks in 2017 became the most in a single season since the 2014 campaign.  

    Matthews' value is now derived from his constant activity, disruption, ability to defend the run and position flexibility. He may not beat tackles off the edge like he once did, but offenses must still account for him at all times. 

27. Glover Quin, Detroit Lions

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    Anytime the R-word is mentioned, a player knows he's been in the league for some time. 

    "Went from a fourth-round draft pick to 10 years in the NFL, started 132 straight games, and I've done things that I wouldn't have even imagined I would have been able to do just coming out," Detroit Lions safety Glover Quin said of retirement this offseason, per ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein. "So when it's time for me to walk away, I will peacefully and gracefully bow out and let the young guys have it."

    Quin is still at the top of his game. He tied for the league lead among defensive backs with four forced fumbles last season and was second on the Lions with three interceptions. 

    The 32-year-old is a complete performer who can stop the run as a strong safety or cover the deep third as a free safety. Detroit doesn't have a more reliable defender on its roster. 

26. Aqib Talib, Los Angeles Rams

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    A cornerback's shelf life tends to last longer if his game isn't predicated on elite athleticism. All corners must be top athletes, but longer and more physical defenders in the right system can have their careers extended. 

    Aqib Talib made five straight Pro Bowls, including this past season, for the Denver Broncos before being traded to the Los Angeles Rams in March. Talib is one of the game's most aggressive cornerbacks, but he knows when to pick his spots. 

    "I ain't really trying to do too much," the 32-year-old defensive back told SI.com's Andy Benoit. "So I figure out where my opportunities are, on what looks."

    Talib's career should be extended in Wade Phillips' defensive scheme. A comfort level already exists between the corner and coordinator after previously working together in Denver. 

    "Same old relationship with coach Phillips," the veteran defensive back said at OTAs, per the Los Angeles Times' Gary Klein. "We good together."

25. Cameron Wake, Miami Dolphins

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    The NFL didn't want Cameron Wake at first. Now, it's hard to imagine the league without him chasing quarterbacks. 

    After spending his first two professional seasons in the CFL, Wake received an opportunity with the Miami Dolphins in 2009 and never looked back. 

    "It's a lifestyle," Wake said, per the Palm Beach Post's Jason Lieser. "... To me, every week off that I'm taking is a week that some other guy is not, or a week that I'm stepping back or a sack that I'm going to miss or a play that I'm not going to get. It all comes down to what it's worth."

    The defensive end's stringent lifestyle allows him to be one of the league's best pass-rushers even at 36 years old. Wake registered 10.5 sacks in five of his nine seasons, including last year. Eight more will give Wake 100 career sacks and move him into the top 32 of all time. 

24. Malcolm Jenkins, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Malcolm Jenkins' versatility separates him from nearly every other NFL defender. Jenkins can play both safety spots, nickel linebacker, nickel corner and even bump out wide if necessary. 

    The 30-year-old defensive back can execute all of these roles above satisfactory level because he's usually the most prepared player on the field.

    Jenkins' value to the Philadelphia Eagles defense can't be measured by traditional means, though. Statistically, the safety didn't lead the Super Bowl champions in any category, yet his preparedness set him apart. Very few are as adept at reading blocking schemes and route combinations to disrupt an offense's rhythm. 

    The ultimate respect comes from opponents. 

    "I think Malcolm Jenkins is as good of a safety as there is in this league," Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay said last season, per NBC Philly's John Clark.

23. Sean Lee, Dallas Cowboys

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    Brandon Wade/Associated Press

    Sean Lee is more important to the Dallas Cowboys than ever before. 

    The 31-year-old Lee has always been a standout linebacker. He registered 99 or more tackles in each of the last four seasons, including a career-high 145 stops in 2016, and made it to two Pro Bowls. He is more comfortable working in space than most, can play any of the scheme's linebacker spots and serves as the voice of the defense. 

    He now needs to take the next step as a leader after Jason Witten's retirement. 

    "There is no question that I need to step up because he's gone," Lee said, per the Dallas Morning News' Jon Machota

    The linebacker's approach and performance have never been in question. Can Lee stay healthy, though? He's yet to play a full 16-game slate. As long as he's on the field, he's an instinctive and playmaking defender. 

22. Julius Peppers, Carolina Panthers

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    Mike McCarn/Associated Press

    Bruce Smith, the NFL's all-time sack leader, never accomplished what Julius Peppers did last season. At 37 years old, Peppers managed 11 sacks. Smith never eclipsed 10 sacks after turning 35 years old. 

    Peppers can become the league's third most prolific sack artist this year with six more to surpass Kevin Greene's 160. 

    The 2017 campaign didn't turn into a retirement tour for Peppers after re-signing with the Carolina Panthers. The organization's all-time leader in sacks looked right at home playing alongside Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei. 

    "The best thing about Julius is he can rush his left or his right hand and not lose a lot of coordination and power," defensive coordinator Eric Washington said last year, per ESPN.com's David Newton. "He gives us a lot of flexibility on game day."

    Peppers isn't an every-down player anymore, but the Panthers plan to maximize his effectiveness.

21. Jimmy Graham, Green Bay Packers

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    John Froschauer/Associated Press

    Jimmy Graham will give Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers something he's never really had: an elite mismatch in the red zone. Graham led all tight ends last season with 10 touchdown receptions. 

    Rodgers leaned on Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams in recent years. Now, he can just throw it up to the 6'7" target. Although, Graham's value extends beyond his performance in condensed spaces. 

    "Someone like Jimmy that has the versatility to split out and play the 1 position as a receiver, play the 2 and the 3, and do all the movement stuff, obviously it gives you the ability to take advantage of his ability to get down the middle of the field, create matchups," head coach Mike McCarthy said, per the team's official site (via the Packers Wire's Zach Kruse). 

    Injuries limited Graham in Seattle, but the 31-year-old target still presents problems for opposing defenses due to his size and athleticism.

20. Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    On the surface, Demaryius Thomas' career arc signals a declining athlete who is far removed from his peak years. After all, his statistics have declined in each of the past three seasons. 

    But none of this takes into account the Denver Broncos' quarterback issues. In 2015, a clearly diminished Peyton Manning threw to Thomas. The wide receiver then had to work with Trevor Siemien, Paxton Lynch and Brock Osweiler during the past two seasons. Thomas still managed 949 receiving yards and five touchdowns last year. 

    With Case Keenum now orchestrating the offense, Thomas should experience an uptick in production commensurate with his abilities. 

    "You don't have to worry about getting reps with multiple guys," Thomas said about working with his new quarterback, per the Denver Post's Ryan O'Halloran. "Your focus is on getting reps with Case and only Case and to help build that connection."

19. Josh Sitton, Miami Dolphins

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    The Miami Dolphins emphasized a culture change this offseason, and Josh Sitton's acquisition is a large part of the process. 

    "You can see he's a veteran player that has the type of swagger you want from an offensive lineman," head coach Adam Gase said, per the Palm Beach Post's Hal Habib. "He brings confidence with that group. He's got something about him that's probably different than a lot of guys that I've been around."

    Sitton can stabilize the left side of the Dolphins line, too. According to Pro Football Focus, the four-time Pro Bowl selection graded among the top four guards in pass-block efficiency from 2010-16. 

    Recent injuries caused the Chicago Bears to decline Sitton's contract option. When healthy, the 32-year-old remains quite effective.

    "He's just a really good guard," Dolphins offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn said, per Dolphins Wire's Antwan Staley. "He's really productive in what he does."

18. Eric Weddle, Baltimore Ravens

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    Gary Landers/Associated Press

    At 32 years old last season, Baltimore Ravens safety Eric Weddle tied for second overall with six interceptions as one of the league's smartest defenders and a natural playmaker along the back line. 

    For so long, the Seattle Seahawks' Earl Thomas has been considered the game's premier free safety, even though Weddle's play has been on par. The difference lies in Thomas' sideline-to-sideline speed, while Weddle is a more versatile performer. 

    The veteran defensive back shifted to strong safety upon his arrival in Baltimore. He switched between free and strong safety this past season after Tony Jefferson's acquisition. Yet his play remains top notch. 

    "I think I get more excited and enjoy the little things, where before, you'd drag on with more meetings, getting up early," the 11-year veteran said, per the Baltimore Sun's Edward Lee. "Now you relish that kind of stuff."

17. Alex Smith, Washington Redskins

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Alex Smith served as the poster boy of being a game manager at quarterback for so long some didn't realize he developed into something far more over the past three seasons, culminating in an MVP-caliber performance last year. 

    Three areas led to Smith's jump from mid-tier status to an elite starter. 

    First, the Kansas City Chiefs used his athleticism more upon Jamaal Charles' decline. Second, Smith started to threaten the entire field and even led the league in passer rating on deep passes last season, per Pro Football Focus. Finally, his understanding of the game is second to none. 

    "One thing about Alex, he is the smartest guy I have ever been around, without a doubt, and he is in great shape," Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said, per the Washington Times' Matthew Paras. "He can move around and he can handle a lot of different things."

16. Delanie Walker, Tennessee Titan

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Delanie Walker's name isn't usually mentioned with the game's best tight ends even though it should be. Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz and Graham draw far more attention. Yet Walker has more receptions (296) over the last four seasons than three of them and only trails Kelce by 11 catches. 

    "Honestly, I feel like I'm the best tight end in the league in all phases," Walker said, per the Tennessean's Jason Wolf. "Blocking, run blocking, catching the ball, breaking tackles, stuff like that. At the end of the day, if you don't feel like that you shouldn't be in the league."

    The Tennessee Titans' 33-year-old tight end might have a slightly inflated view of his worth, but it's not far from the truth.

    Walker creates flexibility in Tennessee's offense because he can line up next to an offensive tackle, wide or as an H-back. He's also a standout run blocker despite his size (6'2", 248 pounds).

15. Ndamukong Suh, Los Angeles Rams

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Ndamukong Suh's payday from the Dolphins blinded many to the fact he's still counted among the NFL's best defenders. 

    Suh may not have made the franchise-changing difference the Dolphins expected upon signing a six-year, $114 million contract, but his level of play didn't diminish. The defensive tackle provided 43 or more quarterback pressures in each of his three seasons, per Pro Football Focus.

    But Miami could no longer rationalize his pay as the team struggled, and it released the five-time Pro Bowl selection. The Los Angeles Rams gladly signed Suh to pair with Aaron Donald. 

    "You got Brock [Michael Brockers] on the other side. You got Suh, and then you got myself," Donald said on an episode of Behind the Grind (via Rams Wire's Cameron DaSilva). "... So I'm excited to work with him, play with him, build a brotherhood with him, so we're gonna see."

    Good luck trying to block that triumvirate.

14. Alex Mack, Atlanta Falcons

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    If a coach were to draw the perfect center, the picture would look an awful lot like the Atlanta Falcons' Alex Mack. 

    The 6'4", 311-pound blocker became the final piece to complete Atlanta's offense two seasons ago when he signed as a free agent and the team subsequently made a Super Bowl run. Mack has the size, strength, agility and intelligence to handle every aspect of playing the pivot. 

    As a true tone-setter along the interior, the 2009 first-round pick has the bulk and skill to uproot massive nose tackles on one play then reach the second level and block a scraping linebacker in space the very next snap. The Dallas Cowboys' Travis Frederick is the only other center to present the same all-around ability. 

    The 32-year-old Mack, meanwhile, earned three straight Pro Bowl nominations and five in total. The center is also a three-time second-team All-Pro, including both of his seasons in Atlanta.

13. Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    It's difficult to properly slot Philip Rivers among his contemporaries because he's experienced such a varied career. Early on, the then-San Diego Chargers appeared destined for great things yet disappointed in the postseason. Later in his career, the now-Los Angeles Chargers were competitive yet continually found ways to lose. 

    Rivers' outstanding play has been the one constant through 12 seasons by starting 192 straight contests and throwing for 4,000 or more yards in nine of those campaigns. The Chargers quarterback earned his seventh Pro Bowl bid last season after finishing second overall with 4,515 passing yards. 

    Considering the team's loaded wide receiver corps and improved offensive line, the 36-year-old Rivers has multiple productive years ahead of him. 

    "I feel like those guys ... they quit when they want to, man," running back Melvin Gordon told TMZ Sports when asked if Rivers can play until he's 40.

12. Terrell Suggs, Baltimore Ravens

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Terrell Suggs remains one of the NFL's most feared defenders, and nothing has changed just because he's 35 years old. 

    "To be totally honest with you, I don't see my peak in my near future," Suggs said, per Sarah Ellison of the Ravens' official site. 

    The 15-year veteran accumulated 41 sacks in his last four seasons—the edge defender missed 15 games during the 2015 campaign due to an Achilles injury. A decline doesn't appear imminent, either. 

    "Whatever he's doing has just been phenomenal," head coach John Harbaugh said, per the team's site. "He's inspiring people around him. The guy is in phenomenal shape. He is at another level of conditioning, and it's bolstered by the Catapult tracking that we do when you see the raw numbers on how fast he's moving out there."

    Suggs is chasing the Hall of Fame with the same tenacity he hunts quarterbacks.

11. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    The burly Ben Roethlisberger built his reputation on being able to extend plays as defenders bounced off the 2004 first-round pick. At 36 years old, the two-time Super Bowl champion isn't Teflon anymore and relies more on his talented supporting cast. 

    Yet his ability to distribute the ball to Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell is a valuable skill set, and the 6'5", 240-pound signal-caller can still make a play when needed. Roethlisberger averaged only three fewer passing yards per game than Tom Brady last season. 

    The organization ended on a down note by losing to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the playoffs, but Roethlisberger is one of the few quarterbacks still deemed a Super Bowl-quality starter. 

    "I don't know if he's ever been in better shape," former Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Joe Starkey. "... I mean, every year we usually play golf at this time, and I don't know if I've ever seen him more excited about getting ready to go."

10. Everson Griffen, Minnesota Vikings

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    The Minnesota Vikings' Everson Griffen tied for fourth overall last season with 13 sacks despite dealing with plantar fasciitis. 

    "It's part of the game and they pay me big money to play big time," the defensive end said, per ESPN.com's Courtney Cronin. "... I'm a workhorse." 

    Yes, he is. 

    Griffen registered 43.5 sacks over the last four seasons and serves as the focal point of the Minnesota Vikings' impressive front four. With the 30-year-old pass-rusher working off the edge, opponents can't scheme to stop others like Linval Joseph or Danielle Hunter. A decision must be made, and it creates one-on-one opportunities for defenders. 

    Even with the injury, Griffen provided more quarterback pressures (61) last season than any of his previous campaigns, per Pro Football Focus. The Vikings feature the game's best defense, and Griffen's abilities to collapse the pocket and defend the run help set the tone.

9. Jason Kelce, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Jason Kelce entered legendary status for his Super Bowl parade speech. He should have received far more recognition well before that point due to his play. Kelce is the league's most agile and best pulling center.

    The 6'3", 295-pound Kelce will never be mistaken for the biggest or most physical blocker, yet he excels with quickness, balance, proper angles, sound technique and a tenacious mentality. According to Pro Football Focus, the Philadelphia Eagles center received the highest run-blocking grade of any lineman last season. 

    Kelce earned first-team All-Pro honors after the 2017 campaign and deservedly so. The offensive line could have fallen apart after left tackle Jason Peters suffered a season-ending knee injury. Instead, Kelce and Co. didn't miss a beat with the veteran center leading the way. 

    The lineman will be forever remembered for his iconic takedown of detractors, but the rant also placed a spotlight on a top talent. 

8. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

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    Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    Matt Ryan is less than two years removed from an MVP campaign. He may not be held to the same standard as Roethlisberger, Drew Brees or Tom Brady because he doesn't have a Super Bowl victory on his resume, but the Atlanta Falcons signal-caller remains among the league's upper echelon even if he experienced a disappointing 2017 campaign. 

    It's all relative, though.

    Ryan still finished among the top eight signal-callers last season in completion percentage (64.7) and passing yards (4,095) despite absorbing a new system under Steve Sarkisian's supervision. Sarkisian's approach had been described as "disorganized" by two offensive players, according to SI.com's Robert Klemko

    Kyle Shanahan has one of the game's best offensive minds, and Ryan may never reach the heights he did in 2016, but it's reasonable to believe the second year in the scheme will create a comfort level between the current coordinator and Ryan. 

7. Joe Staley, San Francisco 49ers

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    San Francisco 49ers left tackle Joe Staley is in the right place at the right time. 

    Staley converted from tight end to left tackle at the collegiate level, and he's always been known for his exceptional athleticism. But his skill set is being highlighted as his career winds down. 

    "So [49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan], in my opinion, is getting ahead of the trend in the NFL," Brian Kelly, who coached Staley at Central Michigan, told The Athletic's David Lombardi. "And that is, you'd better be incredibly athletic on the offensive line or you're not going to be able to block these incredibly athletic defensive players."

    Shanahan's zone stretch requires blockers who can move laterally and execute reach blocks on a consistent basis. During his first year in the system, Staley flourished as the NFL's top-graded tackle in run blocking last season, per Pro Football Focus

6. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is like a fine wine: He only gets better with age. 

    No, the 2004 third overall pick isn't going to leap over defenders and win 50-50 balls on a consistent basis like he did entering the league. He's not even a true outside receiver anymore; most of Fitzgerald's production comes from the slot. 

    But very few targets can replicate his production over the last few seasons. 

    Since 2015, after Fitzgerald turned 32 years old, the future Hall of Fame inductee has amassed 325 receptions for 3,394 yards and 21 touchdowns. Only Jarvis Landry's 112 receptions were more than Fitzgerald's 109 last season. 

    Fitzgerald's hands are still the best in the business, and his route-running isn't far behind. Soon, he'll be the NFL's second all-time leading receiver; he only needs 390 yards to surpass Terrell Owens

5. Andrew Whitworth, Los Angeles Rams

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    With Joe Thomas' retirement, Andrew Whitworth is now the NFL's most consistent pass blocker. According to Pro Football Focus, the 36-year-old left tackle averages 28.2 pass blocks per pressure allowed since the start of the 2015 campaign, which leads the league. 

    Whitworth's addition to the Los Angeles Rams roster last year created a ripple effect that helped the offense go from the league's worst to its highest scoring. 

    Consistent repeatable technique is what offensive linemen strive to achieve. Perfection is unattainable, but Whitworth is as reliable as they come in today's game. 

    "He's been a great example of what it looks like to be a pro," head coach Sean McVay said last season, per NJ.com's James Kratch. "You can see what he's been so successful throughout the course of his career. He's also been a great resource for me to lean on as far as trusting the players, empowering them."

4. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Drew Brees threw for 44,187 yards since turning 30 years old before the 2009 campaign, and he's not slowing down. The 39-year-old signal-caller only needs 1,495 yards to eclipse Peyton Manning as the NFL's all-time leading passer, and he should easily surpass the goal this fall. 

    He'll do so as part of an evolving New Orleans Saints offense.

    Brees' overall production dipped dramatically last season. The 11-time Pro Bowl selection attempted only 536 passeswhich became his lowest total since the 2009 campaign. His 4,334 passing total was the lowest since 2005 and '03, respectively. 

    But the new approach has less to do with diminishing skills and far more to do with a loaded backfield featuring Mark Ingram and reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year Alvin Kamara. 

    Brees remains exceptionally efficient after setting an NFL record with a 72 completion percentage, and there's no reason to believe he won't be as effective this fall. 

3. Calais Campbell, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Organizations aren't supposed to sign non-quarterbacks to massive free-agent deals after they turn 30 years old. The Jacksonville Jaguars bucked the trend when they handed Calais Campbell a four-year, $60 million deal last offseason. Campbell earned his paycheck with an outstanding season after which the Pro Football Writers Association named him NFL Defensive Player of the Year. 

    The veteran provided a different attitude along with outstanding play. 

    "He reminds me a little bit of [former Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker] Derrick Brooks as a person," defensive coordinator Todd Wash told ESPN.com's Michael DiRocco in December. "A leader within our team, how he takes those younger guys under his wing. He's a tremendous leader and then when he gets on the grass he's a physical presence."

    Campbell creates flexibility with his ability to start at base end and defensive tackle. In doing so, he registered a career-high 14.5 sacks last season.

2. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    Placing Aaron Rodgers second on this list will be sacrilege to some. After all, a legitimate argument can be made he's the NFL's most naturally gifted passer. A rebuttal isn't necessary since Rodgers' bugaboo is his injury history.

    Rodgers' collarbone has broken twice in the last five seasons, including last year when the QB missed nine games because of it. 

    When he's on the field, though, no one presents the same combination of pinpoint accuracy, raw arm talent and pocket mobility. His presence alone makes the Packers offense nearly impossible to defend because he challenges every part of the field. 

    The 34-year-old gunslinger completed 64 percent of his passes for 12,640 yards, 109 touchdowns and 20 interceptions during the three seasons sandwiched between his injuries. 

    He's accomplished more with less than most quarterbacks. The Packers didn't make splashy moves during Ted Thompson's tenure. So, Graham's addition is key to maximizing Rodgers' immense potential.

1. Tom Brady, New England Patriots

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    You're the best around; nothing's ever gonna keep ya down. 

    Tom Brady is old enough to actually understand this reference. In fact, Brady turned seven years old in 1984 when The Karate Kid dominated the box office, yet he's still living the dream as the NFL's best player. 

    The reigning MVP's run defies logic. At 40 years old, Brady is as good as he's ever been. Last season, the 18-year veteran completed 66.3 percent of his passes for 4,577 yards, 32 touchdowns and only eight interceptions. According to Pro Football Focus, the New England Patriots quarterback led the league in both passer rating versus pressure and lowest interception rate from a clean pocket

    Defensive coordinators are always in a bind. Pressure Brady or don't, it doesn't matter, because he's seen everything, knows where to go with the football and consistently delivers the game's most accurate passes. 

    Brady is simply timeless as he furthers his reputation as the G.O.A.T. The five-time Super Bowl champion has yet to show any signs of regression and intimated he'll play until he's 45 years old

    History repeats itself. Try and you'll succeed. Never doubt that you're the one, and you can have your dreams. 


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