Thursday, August 11, 2022

Top 30 NFL players 30 and over: Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers headline list of best veteran players for 2022

Football is a young man’s game, you might say, especially when you consider how many of the NFL’s premium talents are still playing on rookie contracts. But to overlook the true veterans would be to overlook just as many superstars. In fact, some of the best players at the most important position just happen to be old, by NFL standards.

So let’s celebrate the best of the eldest! We already ranked the top 25 NFL players 25 and under for 2022. Now we’re ranking the top 30 players 30 and over. Some clarifications:

  • What is the cutoff for a player turning 30? We’re counting a player as long as they are 30 or older when the 2022 season officially begins on Sept. 8. If they turn 30 later, such as in Week 2, they don’t count for this exercise.
  • What goes into the ranking? Both past performance, 2022 projection and, to a lesser degree, positional value. Basically, which of these players is most talented and most important this season?

Without further ado, the ranking:

Note: Player ages listed are as of Sept. 8, 2022.

30. Buccaneers C Ryan Jensen (31)

The quarterback of Tampa Bay’s championship-caliber line, he hasn’t missed a game in six years. He’s also coming off his first Pro Bowl season at age 30, settling in as one of Tom Brady’s steadiest protectors.

29. Dolphins OT Terron Armstead (31)

When he’s healthy, he’s a Grade-A left tackle, notably spending eight years as Drew Brees’ blind-side blocker. But can he stay healthy? The longtime Saint has missed at least six games in four of his last six seasons.

28. Rams LB Bobby Wagner (32)

He may be a declining breed as the big man in the middle, but he still stays around the ball, racking up a career-high 170 tackles in 2021. Now alongside more talent in L.A. after 10 years in Seattle, he’s poised to log his ninth straight All-Pro nod.

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27. Bills S Micah Hyde (31)

Buffalo has elite players at every level of its playoff defense, but Hyde is the glue that keeps the back half dominant, floating between secondary roles as a ballhawk. He was in peak form in 2021, pairing five picks with another 10 pass deflections.

26. Bills S Jordan Poyer (31)

If Hyde is the Bills’ defensive Swiss Army Knife, then Poyer is the prototypical star free safety, patrolling deep with killer ball skills. In five years with Buffalo, the ex-cornerback has averaged 3.6 picks and 7.2 pass breakups per year.

25. Eagles CB Darius Slay (31)

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Darius Slay USATSI

Like any corner, he’s not immune to surrendering the big play, or allowing a No. 1 receiver to win contested balls. But Slay’s confidence never wavers, and he’s almost always handsy at the right time. He was a true leader for the Eagles in 2021.

24. Patriots OLB Matthew Judon (30)

One of the NFL’s most underrated pass rushers, he might still be entering his prime. An emerging Ravens standout before relocating to New England, he’s totaled 28 sacks and a whopping 79 QB hits over his last three seasons.

23. Browns OG Joel Bitonio (30)

He hasn’t just modeled durability in Cleveland, starting every game for five straight seasons, but also served as a catalyst for the Browns’ relentless rushing attack, helping pave the way for Nick Chubb’s stardom.

22. Cardinals WR DeAndre Hopkins (30)

He’s got an asterisk, coming off an injury-riddled 2021 and anticipating a six-game suspension, but his resume speaks for itself. When he’s been active and healthy, he’s been one of the toughest, most reliable possession targets in the league.

21. Saints LB Demario Davis (33)

You worry about the wear and tear at linebacker, but Davis’ motor hasn’t slowed at the heart of New Orleans’ stingy defense. Like Wagner, he makes plays in every category, but even more so up the middle and off the edge as a QB disruptor.

20. Vikings QB Kirk Cousins (34)

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Kirk Cousins USATSI

No, he doesn’t have the big-game resume to match his price tag, but he doesn’t get nearly enough credit for his borderline top-10 production. Kevin O’Connell’s arrival in Minnesota could accentuate his efficiency and his eyes for explosive shots.

19. Raiders QB Derek Carr (31)

Like Cousins, his grit and efficiency have yet to translate to big-time wins. And yet you can do a lot worse at such a critical position. Besides offering resilient leadership that’s survived bad regimes, he’s got even better weapons in 2022.

18. Raiders DE Chandler Jones (32)

The former Cardinals star has been a bit boom-or-bust lately, missing all but five games in 2020 and logging nearly half his 2021 sack total (10.5) in a single game. But few players have been such a steady edge presence over the last decade.

17. Cowboys OT Tyron Smith (31)

Call him Terron Armstead 2.0, except better: a true force when healthy, but rarely fully healthy. At this point, you basically have to count on a multiple-game absence. The payoff: few left tackles are as polished or powerful when on the field.

16. Bills OLB Von Miller (33)

Technically his numbers the last two years have been rather tame compared to the game’s best, but the longtime Broncos star found a new gear during the Rams’ Super Bowl run. Now on Sean McDermott’s “D,” he’s poised for double-digit sacks again.

15. Eagles OT Lane Johnson (32)

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Lane Johnson, left USATSI

More of the same when it comes to the top tackles here: elite but frequently hurt. Johnson hasn’t played a full season since 2015, but he’s such a fluid mover for a blocker of his size. His presence alone helps fuel the Eagles’ rushing attack.

14. Eagles C Jason Kelce (34)

Speaking of run-game catalysts, Kelce is still the model when it comes to second-level blocking, sometimes outrunning his own skill-player teammates. More than that, he’s available, coming off his seventh straight full season of action.

13. Saints DE Cameron Jordan (33)

A lynchpin of New Orleans’ feisty defense, Jordan has missed exactly one game in 11 seasons. While he started slow in 2021, he’s always been an elite all-around defender, logging 10+ tackles for loss and 15+ QB hits in seven straight seasons.

12. Chargers WR Keenan Allen (30)

Teammate Mike Williams is the big-play, big-money receiver in L.A., but Allen has been Mr. Reliable for his entire nine-year career. A pure route runner who should remain Justin Herbert’s best friend, he’s looking for a fourth straight 100-catch season.

11. Chargers C Corey Linsley (31)

The former Packers All-Pro has been one of the biggest, most underrated reasons for Justin Herbert’s rapid ascent, keeping the QB upright as L.A.’s savviest lineman. His Chargers debut in 2021 may have been the finest turn of his career.

10. Chargers OLB Khalil Mack (31)

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Khalil Mack Getty Images

His final Bears season was a wash, but most 2021 Bears can say as much. Despite a lack of gaudy sack totals in recent years, Mack remains one of the most physically imposing players at any position. When he gets to QBs, he damages them.

9. Cowboys OG Zack Martin (31)

Tyron Smith has been doing it longer, and at a technically more important position, but Martin is the standard when it comes to interior blocking. Every time he’s on the field, he helps give Dallas one of the most formidable fronts in the game.

8. Rams QB Matthew Stafford (34)

Even after his title run, he’s probably a little closer to “good” than “great.” But you can’t teach the cannon arm he boasts, which fits so seamlessly in Sean McVay’s offense. Nothing says he shouldn’t remain a top-10 producer under center.

7. Steelers DE Cameron Heyward (33)

T.J. Watt makes all the splashy moves along Pittsburgh’s spicy front, but Heyward is the engine that makes the whole thing run. Capable of both plugging holes and disrupting pockets, his game has only escalated since his late 20s.

6. Chiefs TE Travis Kelce (32)

In the Chiefs’ backyard-style offense, with Patrick Mahomes slinging it off script, a safety valve is essential. Kelce has been that, and more, for eight years and counting. The big man still moves like a receiver, and he’s basically never not open.

5. 49ers OT Trent Williams (34)

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Trent Williams USATSI

Like the other tackles here, he’s good for a missed game or three every year. But there’s a reason he’s looking for a 10th straight Pro Bowl nod. Williams and his massive frame clear so much space for Kyle Shanahan’s run-heavy offense to function.

4. Broncos QB Russell Wilson (33)

His 2021 finger injury was seemingly a physical and mental hiccup, throwing the former Super Bowl champion out of sync. And his post-Seahawks scenery could have growing pains. Still, he’s done it so well for so long, bringing nearly unmatched poise, elusiveness and deep-ball touch to the table, that it would be foolish to count him out.

3. Rams DT Aaron Donald (31)

If you wanted to crown him No. 1 here, it wouldn’t be crazy. The resume is Hall of Fame-level: 98 sacks and 150 tackles for loss in eight seasons. But his mere hulking presence in the trenches is just as fearsome, forcing teams to scheme around him.

2. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (38)

No, his talent hasn’t always translated to recent postseason excellence. But Rodgers still throws the ball with more precision and confidence than everyone except maybe the elder counterpart who tops this list. If you need a last-minute win, call his name.

1. Buccaneers QB Tom Brady (45)

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Los Angeles Rams

Tom Brady USATSI

Father Time lies battered in his wake. Brady has seemingly gained arm strength since relocating from New England to Tampa Bay, and his preparation and unfazed vision remain elite. Everything about him — his clutch touch, his very aura — inspire title hopes, and with a still-stacked lineup, he’s bound to make a real run for an eighth ring.

Honorable mention

QB: Ryan Tannehill (34), Matt Ryan (37)

RB/WR: Cordarrelle Patterson (31)

WR: Robert Woods (30), Adam Thielen (32)

TE: Zach Ertz (31)

OL: David Bakhtiari (30), David Andrews (30), Laken Tomlinson (30), Mitch Morse (30), Brandon Scherff (30), Charles Leno Jr. (30), Garett Bolles (30), Billy Turner (30), Morgan Moses (31)

DL: Fletcher Cox (31), J.J. Watt (33)

EDGE: Za’Darius Smith (30), Brandon Graham (34), Robert Quinn (32), DeMarcus Lawrence (30), Justin Houston (33)

LB: Lavonte David (32), Eric Kendricks (30)

CB: Stephon Gilmore (31)

S: Harrison Smith (33), Tyrann Mathieu (30), Adrian Phillips (31)

K: Justin Tucker (32)

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