Football is a young man’s game. Most NFL teams have an average age 26 to 27 years old and the average career lasts less than 3½ years.
Adrian Peterson is 32 and is considered old. What else do you need to know?
Yet, some players beat the odds and not only keep playing into their 30s, but somehow continue to play well despite the wear and tear on their bodies. This season, it seems the geezers are out in force. A number of older players are making a significant impact for their teams. Call it “Grumpy Old Men,” NFL-style.
Here are five 35-or-older NFL players (plus an honorable mention) who are playing at a high level in 2017.
Julius Peppers (37): defensive end, Panthers
Peppers turns 38 in January and is no longer a starter, yet he remains productive as a pass rusher, having already matched last season’s sack total of 7.5.
Peppers’ days of visiting the Pro Bowl could be over (he has been there nine times), but he’s still a frightening presence opposing quarterbacks have to watch out for. He still gives the Panthers exactly what they need in obvious passing situations. If he hits double-digit sacks, he’ll join Reggie White, Kevin Greene and Bruce Smith, who were all able to accomplish that feat at age 37.
Terence Newman (39): cornerback, Vikings
The Vikings gave up 30 points in a win over the Redskins on Sunday, but that was an uncharacteristic occurrence for a Minnesota defense that is consistently among the stingiest in the NFL. Only the Jaguars, Steelers and Rams have allowed fewer points than the Vikings this season, and Newman is part of the reason why.
While he’s no longer a regular starter and has yet to log an interception this season, Newman is dependable whenever he’s needed, and ranks “above average” with a score of 80.9 according to Pro Football Focus. Not bad for a guy with more than 200 starts under his belt.
On top of his on-field skills, Newman is a leader – Teddy Bridgewater credited Newman with helping him stay positive during his rehab from a severe leg injury. Coach Mike Zimmer said “that’s just the kind of kid” Newman is.
Andrew Whitworth (35): offensive tackle, Rams
The Los Angeles Rams have the NFL’s top scoring offense and one of the most improved offensive lines this season. The acquisition of Whitworth as a free agent from Cincinnati is among the biggest reasons for both.
The 12-year veteran has done a great job protecting Jared Goff’s blind side and is on track to earn his fourth selection to the Pro Bowl. He also continues to be the picture of durability in his age-35 season, having not missed a start since 2013 and only 12 in his career.
Coach Sean McVay, who is three years younger than Whitworth, has lauded the veteran lineman for his play and leadership on a young team. It was a signing that has paid huge dividends.
Drew Brees (38): quarterback, Saints
The Saints scored 47 points in a rout of Buffalo on Sunday and Brees passed for only 184 yards. But make no mistake, this is still his offense. Brees ranks in the top six among NFL quarterbacks in completions, passing yards, yards per attempt and passer rating, and he leads the league in completion percentage at 71.7.
Remember when the Chargers thought Brees was finished when he injured his shoulder? That was 12 years ago, and Brees is now on pace to pass for more than 4,000 yards for the 12th straight season. He should pass Peyton Manning as the NFL’s most prolific passer sometime next season. The only question is whether he’ll do it in New Orleans or somewhere else.
Tom Brady (40): quarterback, Patriots
With the recent release of his “TB12 Nutrition Manual,” Brady is already on his way to cashing in on his unusual health and longevity as a football player. Whether it’s his no-gluten, no-sugar, no-nightshade diet, freakish genetics, the fact that he employs a “body coach,” or some kind of magic spell, something is working to keep Brady playing at his peak. And he’ll be eligible for AARP in under 10 years!
Not only is Brady still good, he’s arguably the MVP, and according to Pro Football Focus he’s the best quarterback in the NFL. It’s hard to argue with that. Brady leads the NFL with 311.9 passing yards per game and has thrown 19 touchdown passes to only two interceptions. That’s ridiculous.
Honorable mention: Adam Vinatieri, 44
It’s honorable mention for Vinatieri because he’s a kicker — not exactly the NFL’s most dangerous job. Still, the man who has made his name by making one huge postseason kick after another for the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts keeps on kicking as his 45th birthday approaches next month. Vinatieri was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week in Week 5 when he made four field goals, including a 51-yarder in overtime to beat the 49ers. It was the 17th time he has won the award, and Canton will be calling if he ever decides to hang up his boots.