Football is a brutal sport. The amount of physical wear and tear a player puts on his body throughout an NFL season borders on abusive. Most players come into the NFL right out of college and only play a few years because their bodies cannot physically take it anymore. However, there are always a few players that never seem to age. Despite all the painful hits, long practices, and stress of competing at the highest level in front of thousands of people they never stop performing well.
The amount of physical abuse a player takes is very much dependent upon the position they play. Defensive players tend to break down faster than offensive players. Running backs tend to stop performing at a high level around the age of 29 because of all the hits they endure on a daily basis. Typically, quarterbacks and kickers can stay around for the longest time. However, eventually even they wear down. If a quarterback can stay in the league past 35 it is unreal. It’s not just the hits that tear these guys down, but also the constant strain they put on their throwing muscles.
Currently the oldest player in the NFL is Adam Vinateiri. The Colts’ placekicker is 41 years old. The oldest non-kicker to ever play was quarterback George Blanda. Blanda’s career spanned multiple decades before he finally called it quits in his fifties. Though it is highly unlikely to see another fifty-year-old in the NFL for a number of years, the fact remains that there are still a number of players in the game today that could have called it quits a number of years ago. They did not and they are still playing as well if not better than many players who are years younger.
10. Fred Jackson — Buffalo Bills — 33 Years Old
Fred Jackson is the 33-year-old team captain for the Buffalo Bills. He signed with the team in 2006 after making a name for himself as a star running back in the Canadian Football League. In 2009, Jackson became the first player in history to rush for 1,000 yards and compile an additional 1,000 as a kick returner. Injuries shortened his 2011 and 2012 seasons, but he came back and had a monster year in 2013. Jackson rushed for 896 yards and nine touchdowns despite only starting six games. The Bills will continue to use the veteran in tandem with C.J. Spiller this season.
9. Anquan Boldin — San Francisco 49ers — 33 Years Old
Wide receiver Anquan Boldin was a second round draft pick by the Arizona Cardinals in 2003. His stellar first season was rewarded with the Rookie of the Year Award. Since then Boldin has been to three Pro Bowls. In 2012, Boldin was the main target for Joe Flacco and helped the Ravens win their second Lombardi Trophy in franchise history. Last season as a member of the San Francisco 49ers, Boldin caught 85 passes for 1,179 yards and seven touchdowns. The 33-year-old possession wide receiver still plays with the same intensity he did as a rookie. He is known for using his strength to run over defenders much like a running back would.
8. Wes Welker — Denver Broncos — 33 Years Old
Wes Welker has had one of the finest careers of any undrafted free agent wide receiver. Since coming into the NFL in 2004, the 33-year-old pass catcher has made a career going over the middle of the field and taking some fierce hits. He is credited for being the NFL’s first true modern day slot receiver. The five-time Pro Bowler led the NFL in receptions three times as a New England Patriot. 2013 was his first season as a member of the Denver Broncos. Welker once again proved that there is no better slot receiver in the league by scoring eight touchdowns in the first ten games of the season. Unfortunately, his year was cut short in week eleven after a series of painful head hits. He was able to return in the playoffs and was an immediate contributor to the offense that allowed the Broncos to win the AFC Championship.
7. Frank Gore — San Francisco 49ers — 31 Years Old
It seems like every year somebody is saying this is going to be the year Frank Gore slows down. At 31 years old, Gore is definitely past the age where running backs tend to stop producing. Still, the 49ers’ all-time leading rusher continues to prove the doubters wrong. Since becoming the team’s third round pick in 2005, Gore has been to five Pro Bowls and has become the focal point of an offense that has competed in three straight NFC Championships. In 2013, Gore rushed for nine touchdowns which is the second highest single season total of his career.
6. Andre Johnson — Houston Texans — 33 Years Old
There is a reason Andre Johnson threatened to hold out for the 2014 season. Since being drafted third overall by the Houston Texans in 2003, Johnson has put together one of the most impressive careers of any wide receiver in NFL history. Unfortunately, he has spent the good majority of that career on a losing team. The Texans are about to begin yet another rebuilding phase and the 33-year-old wide out just wants to win a championship before he retires. After making seven Pro Bowls, including one in 2013, who could blame him for being a bit upset about the state of the franchise that he helped built.
5. Reggie Wayne — Indianapolis Colts — 35 Years Old
Reggie Wayne sure does not play football like a 35-year-old. After being drafted in the first round in 2001, the Colts wide receiver has been to six Pro Bowls and helped the team win Super Bowl XLI. Prior to week eight last year, he was once again on pace for another 1,000 yard season. His 2013 injury snapped his streak of playing 189 straight games. That is the third longest span by a wide receiver in NFL history. In 2012, Wayne broke Hall of Famer Cris Carter’s record of the longest streak with at least three catches in a game.
4. Justin Smith — San Francisco 49ers — 34 Years Old
Justin Smith’s career seems to have happened in reverse. Typically a player is good when he is young and declines as he gets older. Not Smith. Since joining the 49ers, the defensive end has been to five straight Pro Bowls. Prior to this he had never been to one. He is the defensive line’s anchor. Everything the 49ers do on defense revolves around Smith. Thanks to the 34-year-old, the 49ers have put together one of the best defenses in the NFL and have gone to the past three straight NFC Championships.
3. Tom Brady — New England Patriots — 37 Years Old
A lot of people would say Tom Brady had a down year in 2013. Keep in mind the 37-year-old quarterback threw for 4,343 yards with a group of no-name wide receivers. More importantly, he led the Patriots’ inexperienced roster to a 12-4 record and an appearance in the AFC Championship. Since being drafted in the sixth round in 2000, Brady has put together one of the most impressive careers in NFL history. He has been to nine Pro Bowls and five Super Bowls and is also a two-time Super and league MVP. After what he was able to accomplish in 2013, it is hard to say he is “slowing down.”
2. Charles Woodson — Oakland Raiders — 38 Years Old
At the end of the day, it’s always more impressive when a defensive player has a long career than when an offensive player does. The job of a defensive player is just much more brutal. Oakland Raiders’ defensive back Charles Woodson will turn 38 in October. He was selected fourth overall in 1998. Since then he has earned a Defensive Rookie of the Year Award, been to eight Pro Bowls, and won a Lombardi Trophy with the Green Bay Packers. Despite his long and decorated career, Woodson is still playing at a higher level than some ten years younger than he. Last season he compiled 97 tackles, two sacks, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, three pass deflections, and one interception. On October 6th, 2013 he tied Darren Sharper for the most touchdowns by a defensive player in NFL history. What makes the fact that he is still playing even more impressive is that he can still be on the field at all times. Last season he played 1,067 of the 1,074 possible snaps for the Raiders’ defense.
1. Peyton Manning — Denver Broncos — 38 Years Old
Was there any question? Peyton Manning just put up one of the most impressive seasons a quarterback has ever had and he did it at 38 years of age. Since being the first overall pick in the 1998 draft by the Indianapolis Colts, Manning has gone to 13 Pro Bowls and holds the record for the most MVP seasons of any player in NFL history. He added his fifth MVP Award last season. However, the amazing season in 2013 was not enough for Manning to call it quits. He is set to return in 2014 in hopes of adding another Super Bowl ring to his trophy case.