The world is awash with age-related rankings that glorify the young. You have your 30 under 30s. Your 40 under 40s. And, yes, your All-Under-25 teams.
But in the realm of pro sports, where players can fall into obsolescence well before they're eligible to run for president, the old deserve love, too. With the NFL getting younger in general, those who have accrued a solid chunk of pro-football mileage and continue to provide star-caliber production should be elevated. So we decided to flip the script by assembling the top 30 players in the NFL over 30.
Their legs might not be quite as fresh as they used to be. Some of them might be closer to the end of their careers than the beginning. But every player ranked below can be counted on to still bring it, as the kids say, with the best of them.
Before we dive in, a few notes:
1) To qualify, a player will have to be 30 or older as of Sept. 10, when the 2020 season is scheduled to kick off. The age next to each player's name is the age they will be on Sept. 10.
2) We made 30 -- and not 31 -- the cutoff, because anyone who has made it to that age has been alive for 30-plus years and, hence, is over 30.
3) Players who are out for 2020 (such as Brandon Brooks and Dont'a Hightower) or who missed significant time in 2019 (like Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger, A.J. Green and Trent Williams) were not included, for the sake of simplicity.
4) Players are ranked primarily according to their standing in the league hierarchy heading into the 2020 season -- in other words, who is the best right now.
TB: The day Peterson met the age qualification for this list (July 11) followed the worst professional season of his life, in which he served a six-game PED suspension and failed to earn either first-team All-Pro or Pro Bowl honors for the first time since being drafted fifth overall in 2011. But there is reason to believe this dud of a year was more of an anomaly than a sign of things to come. Among players targeted 20-plus times over the last four weeks of 2019, Peterson ranked eighth in passer rating allowed (57.5), fourth in completion percentage above expectation (-17.1%) and tied for fifth in passes defensed (five), per Next Gen Stats. He was also Pro Football Focus' second-highest graded corner (minimum of 200 snaps) in that span. When the 2021 edition of 30 over 30 crosses your web browser, Peterson will probably rank much higher.
AB: If DeAndre Hopkins was the trade steal of the offseason on offense, Casey takes the cake on the defensive side. A five-time Pro Bowler (including in 2019) under contract for the next three years but who carries no guaranteed money after this season, for the price of a seventh-rounder? Neil McCauley couldn't have executed a better heist. Now, it's worth noting the 30-year-old wasn't quite as disruptive last year as he's been in previous seasons, but he's still a tremendous plus along the interior. Operating between Bradley Chubb and Von Miller should bring out the best in Casey, which might give the Broncos a fighting chance at limiting Patrick Mahomes and Co. this season.
TB: Joe Burrow might be the Mr. Bengal of tomorrow, but you could argue that the Mr. Bengal of today is Atkins, who trails only Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz for the most Pro Bowl nods by a Cincinnati player. His QB pressure rate has dipped below 10 percent in each of the past two seasons, per NGS, and he managed just 4.5 sacks in 2019 after compiling 39 over the previous four years, but the Bengals were also what you would call less than competitive in that span. Burrow's selection with the first overall pick theoretically kicked off a new era of relevance, meaning Atkins could soon start winning again in Cincy.
AB: Graham has somehow been overlooked for Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors in each of his 10 pro seasons. In fact, we're probably guilty of having him too low on this list. The defensive end finished last season ranked No. 1 in stuff percentage (7.3%) and tied T.J. Watt for the eighth-highest disruption rate (13.4%) among all front seven players (min. 400 pass-rushing snaps, per Next Gen Stats). Don't be fooled by Graham's lack of splashy traditional stats from last year (just 8.5 sacks) or over his entire career (51), for that matter. Trust your eyes. They'll confirm that he's one of the best defensive linemen in football.
TB: Hayward is a bit removed from the gangbusters start to his Chargers tenure -- from 2016 to '17, the corner paced the NFL in passer rating allowed (53.8), per NGS (minimum of 100 targets). He also led the league in passes defensed (42) and tied Marcus Peters for the most picks (11) over that span. In the two seasons since then, Hayward has just two interceptions and 16 passes defensed, and he dropped to 35th in passer rating allowed (89.2). However, in 2019, Hayward still earned PFF's fourth-best defensive grade among corners (minimum of 600 snaps) and the fifth-best coverage grade. He and fellow grizzled veteran Chris Harris Jr. -- who nearly made this list himself -- will be the old hands in the secondary on a defense that ranked sixth overall and fifth against the pass last season.
TB: So maybe Tannehill is only truly able to be at his best when he's in the right situation, surrounded by the right people. Who among us can say otherwise? In 2019, he resurrected a faltering career and executed the Titans' play-action-heavy attack at well-above-replacement level; from Week 7 (when he stepped into the starting role) to Week 17, Tannehill ranked second in the NFL in passer rating (119.6) and completion percentage (69.6) and first in completion percentage above expectation (7.7), per NGS (minimum of 200 attempts). Now, it's true that the Titans pretty clearly turned to Derrick Henry instead of Tannehill -- the QB threw the ball just 20 times per game on average in their three playoff games -- when the chips were down. And there is the matter of Tannehill's lackluster record in Miami, where he went 42-46 in seven years. These factors are why he's not, say, in the top 10 on this list. But we shouldn't penalize Tannehill too much for merely stringing together a stunning stretch of extreme competence to save himself from Clipboard Purgatory without also singlehandedly delivering a Lombardi Trophy. It's not like anyone can simply step in and succeed with the Titans -- just ask Marcus Mariota. Tannehill is a prime-age quarterback capable of helping his team win for the foreseeable future, which puts him safely into the top 30 here.
AB: Less was certainly more for Cousins last season, as he completed 69 percent of his passes and boasted a career best 107.4 passer rating (destroying his previous PR by 6 points) while throwing the ball 130 fewer times than he averaged over the previous four seasons. So why after a career year doesn't he rank higher on our list? Because so much of his success depended on newly crowned Vikings captain Dalvin Cook. Thirty-eight percent of Cousins' total passing yards last season came off play-action, per PFF. That was third-most behind Ryan Tannehill and Jimmy Garoppolo (both at 42 percent) -- two guys also bolstered by elite rushing attacks. The Vikings passer (who turns 32 in August) was the only quarterback last season who threw more than 50 percent of his touchdown passes off play-action (14 to 12) even though his play-action attempts accounted for just 32 percent of his total passes. I'm not suggesting Cousins isn't a really good player -- obviously that's not the case because he's on this list -- but unlike the QBs ahead of him, he's yet to prove he can consistently be the primary reason his team wins.
AB: In his first year with Baltimore, Thomas accounted for the same number of pass-rushing snaps (62) as he had in his previous eight seasons combined in Seattle, per PFF. The shift to fewer coverage snaps -- and far fewer snaps overall -- than what we saw from the Pro Bowler earlier in his career seemed to lead to more efficiency, as he limited QBs to just 81 yards on 6-of-20 passing for a 4.4 overall passer rating when he was the nearest defender, according to Next Gen Stats. While the decision to play the three-time All-Pro more as a box safety might have stemmed from need (Ravens ranked 21st in disruption rate, per NGS) rather than a decline in his range, it'll be interesting to see the 31-year-old's snap breakdown in 2020 now that Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe have joined Baltimore's front.
UPDATE: Thomas was released by the Ravens for conduct detrimental to the team following a fight with teammate Chuck Clark during practice.
TB: If you fire up Madden NFL 21 and select the Raiders, the highest-rated player on your team will be … Hudson, who has received multiple boatloads (for a center, anyway) of money from a team that has hovered on the fringes of competitiveness. If you prefer real markers of performance over imaginary ones, know that Hudson received PFF's second-highest pass-blocking grade (and the top grade among centers) after surrendering zero sacks, one quarterback hit and two hurries last season. Whatever the opposite of buyer's remorse is, that's probably what the Raiders are feeling.
TB: Centers might have a limited ceiling in terms of star potential, but it helps if you have a personality. And a brother who is also an elite tight end. Oh, and if you're really good at playing center. Kelce is a three-time Pro Bowler coming off his third straight first-team All-Pro season, ranking as PFF's top-graded center, both overall and in run-blocking, in 2019. The Eagles' offensive line is going through some things, with Jason Peters trying to become the first guard 38 or older to start 16 games in the NFL since Ray Brown did it for Detroit in 2003, and second-year pro Andre Dillard seeking to validate his first-round pedigree at left tackle. Kelce, who has missed just four starts over the past seven seasons, will be the rock in the middle.
TB: Not everyone can be a superstar right out of the gate -- some folks take a bit longer to bloom than others. After five solid if relatively undistinguished years with the Jets (and one with the Browns), Davis landed with the Saints in 2018 and became an example of that relatively rare type in sports: the 30-year-old breakout player. Davis (who turned 31 in January) was PFF's second-best graded linebacker (and ninth-best defender overall) among those with 800-plus defensive snaps in 2019. But he's not just a PFF darling. As the only player in the NFL last season to post 100-plus tackles (111), 10-plus passes defensed (12) and 10-plus tackles for loss (11), he was a crucial element of the Saints' defense, snagging first-team All-Pro honors.
AB: The third-wheel in what might go down as the greatest three-down linebacker draft class of all time, David rarely receives the recognition he deserves. I already don't feel good about ranking him in the late teens. The ninth-year pro, who incredibly only has one Pro Bowl nod to his name (and that wasn't even during his All-Pro season), was a rock for an improved Bucs defense last year, lining up for 99.6 percent of the unit's snaps, according to Next Gen Stats. He finished the campaign with the second-best completion percentage allowed above expected (-11.9%) at the position, and as one of just two 'backers (Jayon Brown was the other) who didn't surrender a TD in coverage (min. 50 targets). But my favorite David stat of 2019 shows his maniacal relentlessness: He had 19 hustle stops -- defined by NGS as defensive stops where the player covers 20-plus yards of in-play distance from snap to tackle -- which was more than twice as many as All-Pro and fellow 2012 draft classmate Demario Davis. If only Luke Kuechly or Bobby Wagner had been drafted by AFC teams ...
AB: Although Brees no longer has the arm strength to match the two quarterbacks already unveiled on this list, he doesn't need to in Sean Payton's slice-and-dice offense. In a season marred by a thumb injury, the 41-year-old still managed to tie for the league lead in fewest giveaways per game (0.4) while winning his third consecutive completion percentage title (74.3%). With a top-notch O-line, and playmakers like Michael Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Jared Cook and Alvin Kamara, Brees just needs to do what he does best: Make smart football decisions and throw with unmatched precision.
AB: Tom (the G.O.A.T. editor) and I disagreed on where to rank Tom (the G.O.A.T. QB) probably more than any other player on this list, but my venerable colleague finally compromised (he might say "capitulated") by at least letting Brady into the top 20. Why am I so high on a 43-year-old passer who will need to adjust to a new environment, coaching staff, playbook and supporting cast in the midst of a global pandemic? That's a good question … Like Brees (but unlike Brady's predecessor in Tampa), Brady still makes sound decisions and takes extremely good care of the football. Unlike Brees, however, Brady has plenty of juice remaining in his right arm. There's no question the six-time Super Bowl champ was more uncomfortable and out of sorts in 2019 than we've seen him look in a long, long time, but I think that had more to do with the drop-off in talent around him than it did a significant decline in his overall ability. I know, I know, excuses. But if the Bucs' O-line can hold up, I truly think Brady -- aided by the best group of pass catchers in the league -- can still be a top-five quarterback. If Tom thought my incessant Brady stanning was bad now, he's gonna be in for a real treat when No. 12 is vying for his fourth MVP.
TB: Did you think Richard Sherman was donezo following his injury-shortened final season in Seattle and lackluster first year in San Francisco? Shame on you. Shame on me. Shame on us all. Sherman was the top-graded cornerback by PFF in both overall and coverage grades (minimum of 800 snaps) -- yes, over Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore. He also ranked 11th in passer rating allowed (59.6) among DBs with 40-plus targets, per NGS, helping the top-ranked passing defense push San Francisco to Super Bowl LIV. Sure, he gave up a big play in The Big Game, but he's not worrying about it, so why should you? After a little wobbliness, Sherman put himself on track to close his career as the elder statesman on a top contender.
AB: One half of the NFL's best safety duo, Smith helped clean up a lot of the Vikings' sloppy coverage miscues last year. While offseason departures Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes were too often game-wrecking liabilities, Smith continued to be the consistent, reliable safety net in Mike Zimmer's defense. The five-time Pro Bowler ranked among the best at his position when he was the nearest defender in coverage, totaling 11 passes defended while limiting opposing passers to a 50.3 rating. With Minnesota's CB group high on potential, but light on experience, Smith will need to conjure up another all-star effort in 2020 for the Vikes to make a legit run.
TB: Winning a Super Bowl must taste even sweeter when you broke into the NFL with the Browns. Here's guessing the former second-round pick by Cleveland does not regret signing with the Chiefs in 2016. PFF's fourth-best graded tackle (minimum of 800 snaps) was the only tackle who logged 600-plus pass-blocking snaps without allowing a single sack in 2019. Whether he earns another extension from the Chiefs remains to be seen, but for the next two years at least, Schwartz will continue to be a mainstay of one of the league's most prolific offenses.
AB: Wagner had a down year in 2019 by his perennial All-Pro standards, pressuring QBs at nearly half the rate year over year (11.5% from 20.4%) while allowing the fifth-highest yards per attempt (8.5) among linebackers when he was the nearest defender, per Next Gen Stats. Although he clearly wasn't as effective against the pass compared with the other linebackers on this list, the Seattle stalwart still led the league in tackles (159) and was the only Seahawk to play more than 94 percent (98.6) of the team's defensive snaps. The arrival of stud safety Jamal Adams should help bring out the best in Wagner in his age-30 season. @Prez certainly seems to think so.
TB: Here's an extremely relatable fact about Watt: Extensive time in quarantine had him thinking about The Before Times. Not as relatable: For Watt, The Before Times would be one of the best four-year stretches of defensive play in NFL history. Even less relatable: Watt said "the quarantine situation has given me literally nothing to do but work out every day." Very cool and well-adjusted of him. I guess he hasn't heard of such activities as trying to drown one's existential dread in junk food and bad TV. If quarantine really did help Watt, who has missed 32 starts over the past four seasons (including eight with a torn pectoral in 2019) regain his 2014-15 form as he suggested, he'll be poised to put a truly legendary stamp on the latter portion of his career. But even if he can't hit those heights again, Watt will go down as one of the most dominant defenders ever.
AB: Stafford's ranking is both a reflection of his stellar play in eight games last season and the fact that he could only play in eight games last season. When healthy, he's unquestionably a top-10 quarterback. In fact, if not for that caveat, he'd almost certainly rank in the top five here, just as he did in our QB Index back in the middle of last season. But as much as we want to celebrate the 32-year-old for his career-best passer rating (106.0), adjusted yards per attempt (9.1) and TD-to-INT ratio (19:5), we just don't know what to expect from him after consecutive seasons dealing with microfractures in his back.
TB: You have to feel good for Campbell, who will have perhaps his best shot at a ring since he was a rookie member of the Cardinals team that reached Super Bowl XLIII. It's nice when things fit together, and putting Campbell with the Ravens just feels right. Don't be distracted by his apparently low sack total in Jacksonville (6.5) last season; among those with 800-plus snaps, Campbell earned PFF's top grade in run defense, finishing with the third-best overall defensive grade among interior linemen and the sixth-best defensive mark among all players. He also finished 10th in stuff percentage (5.1%), per NGS. The 2019 Walter Payton Man of the Year is positioned to bring both veteran leadership and A-plus defensive production to one of 2020's most imposing contenders.
AB: We might get some flak for having Miller this high after he posted a measly eight sacks last season, but we don't care. The eight-time Pro Bowler, three-time All-Pro and Super Bowl MVP has been an absolute monster his entire career, combining speed, anticipation and technique to embarrass offensive tackles, tight ends and running backs assigned the unenviable task of trying to slow him down. So, we're not going to rush to judgment and sell prematurely on the greatest sack artist of the last decade because of one down year under a new defensive coach. I dare you to look this man in the windows of his soul and tell him he's lost a step.
TB: Only Chandler Jones and Aaron Donald have more sacks over the past three seasons than Jordan (40.5), who posted more sacks last season (15.5) than any player over 30 since Elvis Dumervil put up 17 in 2014. Brees, Payton, Thomas and Kamara are the offensive stars in New Orleans, but Jordan helps hold down a defense that has ranked in the top 15 in points allowed in each of the past three seasons. He also handled the pass rush mostly by himself, with no other Saint even getting close to double digits in sacks. A healthy Marcus Davenport could make life a bit easier for Jordan -- and a lot harder for quarterbacks like, oh, the man ranked just above him on this list.
AB: Had one half of football gone differently for Ryan, he'd be viewed as a no-brainer first-ballot Hall of Famer. But it didn't. And now, three seasons removed from an overall team collapse in Super Bowl LI (Ryan was absolutely lights out during that run, by the way), the former MVP still can't quite shake the stink of 28-3. Where football pundits used to willingly write off Ryan's infrequent but inevitable head-scratching throws/decisions pre-SB collapse, his small and big errors alike are now considered clear evidence of the 35-year-old's decline. We are still incredibly high on the four-time Pro Bowler, however, valuing his prolific production -- one of just six QBs last year with 25 TD passes and 4,000-plus yards but fewer than 20 giveaways -- in the face of constant duress, no less, (third-highest pressure rate, per Next Gen Stats) as proof that Ryan can still air it out with the best of 'em.
TB: Is there a better way for a tight end to forge into his 30s than as a favorite target of one of the most electrifying quarterbacks the game has ever seen? Let everyone go (understandably) gaga over hot young name George Kittle; Kelce is a key piece of an all-world offense on a team where the coach and once-in-a-lifetime-signal-caller are preternaturally aligned. Consider Kelce's numbers with Mahomes so far: Over the past two seasons, Kelce ranks seventh in the NFL targets (286), seventh in catches (200), fifth in receiving yards (2,565) and fourth in receiving first downs (133). He was already 23 when he entered the NFL, so Kelce got a bit of a late start compared to luminaries like Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez (who entered the NFL as a 21-year-old) and Jason Witten (drafted at 20), but even so, if he manages to produce at this rate with Mahomes for the duration of his career, Kelce should be able to challenge the current all-time career receiving marks for tight ends. That presumes, of course, Kelce stays healthy -- and that he and the Chiefs are able to agree on a new deal after his current one runs out after 2021.
AB: As dominant an interior lineman as there is in the AFC, Heyward has only improved with age: All three of his Pro Bowl nods and both of his All-Pro selections have come during the past three seasons. The 6-foot-5, 295-pounder capped his underrated 2019 campaign ranked No. 1 in stops (55) among defensive linemen and with a new career high in tackles (83, from 59 in 2013). Even with the team's bumbling offense and inept QB play last year, the Steelers only narrowly missed the playoffs -- in large part thanks to Heyward's profound impact on the defense. Pittsburgh allowed the third-fewest yards per rush (3.8) in the league despite deploying a light box (six or fewer defenders) on the highest percentage of run plays (59.6%), per NGS. In simple terms: Heyward dominated the line of scrimmage with such impunity that the Steelers rarely had to overcommit resources to stop opposing backs. And that was with Stephon Tuitt sidelined for more than half the year.
TB: I really don't want to accept the parallels between Rodgers and Brett Favre. For the Packers to draft Jordan Love as Rodgers' presumed future replacement 15 years after they drafted Rodgers as Favre's presumed future replacement is a contrived, hacky plot turn, too neat and too easy; the real world isn't supposed to fit our tidy little narrative boxes. But then Rodgers himself suggested he'll end up finishing his career elsewhere, which means it would actually be contrived of me to not accept those parallels. So, OK, let's acknowledge that Rodgers is in a bit of a weird place as the second consecutive Hall of Fame-caliber QB marked by the Packers with a public sell-by date. And, yeah, he's coming off what qualifies as a statistical down year for him, with first-year coach Matt LaFleur emphasizing the run game. But he still ranked in the top 15 in the league in passing yards, touchdowns and passer rating, while NGS credits him with the fifth-best passer rating on tight-window throws (among those with 50-plus such attempts) and the third-most deep touchdowns (10). He's also carrying relatively few miles on his odometer, only having been a full-time starter for the past 12 seasons. The two-time MVP should continue to play at a high level for the Packers in 2020 -- and for some team into his 40s.
AB: Jones had the fourth-most snaps of any front seven player last season and nearly 90 more than the next closest pass rusher, per Next Gen Stats. Obviously, those extra opportunities led to his 19 sacks and league-leading eight forced fumbles, right? His stats must be bloated due to sheer volume. Actually, I'd argue the opposite. Imagine if the three-time Pro Bowler didn't have to play all those snaps, if he had the luxury of catching his breath every once in a while like T.J. Watt or Aaron Donald or Danielle Hunter (all played fewer than 890 snaps). How much more efficient would he be with a supporting cast that, you know, actually offered him some support? The NFL's sack leader since 2012 (96) was the only legitimate QB threat on the Cardinals' defense last year (Terrell Suggs, Rodney Gunter, Cassius Marsh and Corey Peters combined for 13.5 sacks) and he still racked up All-Pro production.
TB: It feels like Jones has never really had the receiver spotlight to himself, sharing it for much of his career with other A-listers like Calvin Johnson, Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr. and Michael Thomas. Now, though, he's the pass catcher of his generation zeroing in on all-timer status, racking up catches and yards at a prolific clip (averaging 104 receptions and 1,559 yards over the past five years) while the Falcons' status as contenders has toggled on and off. It's reasonable to expect a slight downturn as Jones and Matt Ryan age and Calvin Ridley potentially assumes the mantle of No. 1 receiver in Atlanta. But even if you assume Jones averages a Larry Fitzgerald-esque 90 catches and 1,000 yards per season as he ages deeper into his 30s, Jones should sit in the top five in all-time receptions and at No. 2 in all-time receiving yards by the time he turns 37.
AB: We asked several analysts back in July to pick one player other than Patrick Mahomes to sign for the next 12 years. Not one chose Russ. Shame on them. At just 31 years old, Wilson already is one of just three quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era to post at least three seasons with 30-plus TDs and 8 or fewer INTs. Tom Brady's done it five times, but not since 2017. Aaron Rodgers can count six of those campaigns on his Hall of Fame resume, but none since '16. Wilson? He's hit that mark in back-to-back seasons. The Super Bowl champ is clutch, fearless, a proven winner and throws the prettiest deep ball in the NFL. Oh, and he hasn't missed a start in his eight seasons despite being sacked 59 times more than any other passer during that span. As a Bears fan, I'd put pen to paper right now on a 15-year deal for Mr. Unlimited (a.k.a. Mike Lowrey) -- happily agreeing to those age-40 seasons -- if it meant not having to endure the sure-to-be riveting QB battle brewing in Chicago.