Top 30 NFL players 30 and over: Tom Brady leads the list, Geno Atkins best non-QB

So long as the NFL remains the most violent and physically demanding contact sport, it'll be a young man's game. There are only so many hits a human body can withstand before it begins to deteriorate. The process of aging, when your livelihood depends on your physicality, sucks. Just ask Adrian Peterson, Brandon Marshall, Dez Bryant, Jamaal Charles, and even Peyton Manning, whose robotic brain eventually failed to overcome his noodle arm.

But that doesn't mean the NFL isn't populated or even dominated by superstars over the age of 30. Earlier this offseason, we brought you our list of the top 25 players under the age of 25. Earlier this week, we brought you our list of the top 100 players regardless of age. Today, we bring you our list of the top 30 players age 30 and over.

Before we begin, some rules guidelines and notes:

  • To qualify, a player must be at least 30 years old, which means players who are 30 are eligible. A day over 30 counts.
  • The formula was roughly: recent success + career resume + future projection. So, it's a combination of factors. In essence, we're trying to find the 30-year-old players who are good and will continue to be good in 2018 and beyond.
  • This is not a historical ranking, which means that future Hall of Famers like Peterson and Frank Gore did not qualify by riding their resume. Future projection and recent success matter. Kam Chancellor, for instance, barely missed the cut because a neck injury might prevent him from playing football again.
  • Three resources I relied on (besides my own brain) were: Pete Prisco's top 100 list, Pro Football Focus, Football Outsiders, and Pro Football Reference.
  • This isn't an easy list to make. Picking between Josh Norman, Brent Grimes, and Richard Sherman isn't easy. Leaving off Norman and Grimes isn't fun -- neither is leaving off a guy like Alex Smith, who is coming off a career-best season. There are more than just 30 good players 30 and over. There are closer to 50. Inevitably, some very good players are not going to make the cut. I don't like it as much as you don't like it. It sucks.

So, the first rule means that players like LeSean McCoy, A.J Green, Von Miller, Ezekiel Ansah, Golden Tate, Mike Daniels, J.J. Watt, Eric Berry, Kirk Cousins, Harrison Smith, Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown, Melvin Ingram, Doug Baldwin, Earl Thomas, Russell Wilson, Jason Pierre-PaulCam Newton, and so on all missed the cut because they are 29 years old. 

It should come as no surprise to discover that the list is dominated by quarterbacks. Quarterbacks are, perhaps, the biggest benefactors of aging. As players age and their bodies deteriorate, their minds sharpen and their increased intelligence can be enough to offset worsening arms and mobility. Heck, Peyton Manning once tore up the NFL even though he couldn't even feel the football in his fingertips. So, after only one quarterback placed on our top 25 under 25 list, seven quarterbacks made it onto the top 30 players 30 and over, including three in the top three and five in the top 10.

The team with the most players on the list? The reigning champions, the Philadelphia Eagles, with five. 

OK, enough stalling. Let's get to the list that everyone is going to agree with ...

T-30. Terrell Suggs (35), Cameron Wake (36), Julius Peppers (38)

Here's the thing about the rules: They're more what you'd call "guidelines" than actual rules. So, I'm going to bend the rules to start. 

For the longest time, I actually had another player, Alex Smith, listed at No. 30. But it pained me too much to see Ravens pass rusher Suggs, Dolphins pass rusher Wake, and Panthers pass rusher Peppers get snubbed on a list about old productive NFL players, because that's exactly what they have been for the past several years and continue to be today. Then, I decided that I would choose one of the three pass rushers listed above to replace Smith. Except, it ended up being way too difficult to distinguish between the three of them. So, all three get to tie for 30th. I don't like breaking the rules, but I like it better than leaving those players off the list entirely.

All three players rank highly on the all-time sack leaderboard, with Peppers holding down the fourth position (154.5), Suggs landing in a tie for 17th (125.5), and Wake finishing in 42nd (92). They're also all coming off production seasons. Peppers racked up 11 sacks, Suggs notched 11 of his own, and Wake recorded 10.5. That's why they're hard to differentiate. It is worth noting that Suggs placed the highest in Pro Football Focus' grading system. Suggs was the 17th best edge defender, Wake was 28th, and Peppers was 63rd.

Anyway, that'll be the last time I break the rules. Promise.

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29. Devin McCourty, S, Patriots (30)

The Patriots' defense might not have been good in 2017, but McCourty was. He collected a career-high 77 solo tackles to go along with an interception and a sack. According to PFF, he was the 23rd-best safety in football, one spot ahead of Eric Weddle, who you'll see a little later on this list. In 2016, he graded out as the third-best safety.

28. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals (34)

Despite flirting with retirement, Fitzgerald is still going strong in Arizona. He's coming off his third-consecutive 100-catch, 1,000-yard season. His yards-per-reception average has sunk in recent years (10.1 since 2016), but he remains a productive player at his age. Not to mention, he's caught 21 touchdowns over the past three seasons. He's a future Hall of Famer who ranks third all-time in receptionsthird in receiving yards, and eighth in touchdown catches.

27. Richard Sherman, CB, 49ers (30)

Sherman isn't the player he was once, but that doesn't mean he's not still capable. Sherman used to be the game's top cornerback. Now, he's merely a good cornerback. Before rupturing his Achilles in his final season with the Seahawks, Sherman notched two picks and seven passes defended in nine games while allowing a 75.5 passer rating in coverage, per PFF. It's not just about his coverage abilities. He's also strong against the run. According to PFF, he posted the sixth-highest run-stop percentage among cornerbacks. If he's able to recover from the injury, he'll be a force for the 49ers. But Sherman slumps to the back portion of this list because a torn Achilles can be a difficult injury to overcome.

26. Jason Peters, OT, Eagles (36)

Peters has experienced an incredible career to this point and his 2017 season was no exception. In a seven-game, injury-shortened year, the nine-time Pro Bowler allowed only one sack on 237 pass-blocking snaps, according to PFF. Peters, however, gets docked because he's coming off a torn ACL and MCL. Given his age, it might be difficult for him to get back to the level of play he's been operating at for the past decade-plus. That's why he falls to the bottom of the list. If he can fully recover, I expect he'll climb his way up this list.

25. Michael Bennett, DE, Eagles (32)

Bennett remains one of the league's most versatile defensive linemen. He's a capable pass rusher, evidenced by his 39 sacks over the past five years. And he's a strong run defender, evidenced by his 25 run stops in 2017, which ranked fourth among 4-3 defensive ends, per PFF. He'll be productive anywhere on the defensive line. That has immense value.

24. Andrew Whitworth, OT, Rams (36)

What a signing Whitworth proved to be for the Rams last year. Coming over from Cincinnati after an illustrious 11-year run with the Bengals, Whitworth solidified the left side of Rams' offensive line. According to PFF's grades, he was the ninth-best offensive tackle in terms of run blocking, which played a role in Todd Gurley's near-MVP season.

23. Malcolm Jenkins, S, Eagles (30)

In 2017, Jenkins graded out as PFF's 19th-best safety after a two-interception, 57-tackle effort on a defense that finished the regular season ranked fifth in DVOA. He's a two-time Pro Bowler. 

22. Glover Quin, S, Lions (32)

Let's stick with the safeties. Quin might be a tad underrated because he plays for the Lions, but he's damn good safety. His resume to this point includes 24 career interceptions, including 19 in the past five years, which is tied for the fourth-most in that span. The three players above him all have 20 interceptions. This past season, he graded out as PFF's fourth-best safety.

21. Sean Lee, LB, Cowboys (31)

Here's the thing about Lee: He's the quarterback of the Cowboys' defense in the sense that when he's out of the lineup, the Cowboys' defense usually collapses, but when he's in the lineup, the Cowboys' defense is competent. The problem is, of course, Lee is almost never fully healthy. He stayed on the field for 11 games last year and in that time, he managed to become PFF's seventh-highest graded linebacker. In 2016, when he appeared in 15 games, he was named First-Team All Pro. It's also worth noting that he's gotten healthier over the past three years, appearing in 40 of 48 possible games. Still, his injury woes prevent him from making the top half of this list.

20. Joe Staley, OT, 49ers (33)

Another aging offensive lineman, Staley remains as steady as ever. This past season, Staley surrendered only four sacks on 579 pass-blocking snap and was the sixth-most efficient pass-blocking tackle, according to PFF. That's why he was voted to his sixth Pro Bowl.

19. Eric Weddle, S, Ravens (33)

Weddle just keeps on chugging along. It turns out, that four-year deal the Ravens gave him in 2016 was well worth the money despite his age. Since arriving in Baltimore after a prolific career with the Chargers, Weddle has an incredible 10 interceptions to go along with 20 passes defended and 97 solo tackles over the past two seasons.

18. Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions (30)

At this point in his career, Stafford is likely going to continue to be the same quarterback he's been for the past couple seasons. But that's not a bad thing. He might not be one of the game's truly elite quarterback like those sitting at the top of this list, but he's in the tier below them. This past season, Stafford eclipsed the 4,000-yard mark once again, and tossed 29 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions. That'll work.

17. Delanie Walker, TE, Titans (33)

Walker created some headlines earlier this month when he declared himself the league's "best" tight end. That's not quite true -- some guy named Gronk in New England is arguably the greatest tight end of all time -- but what is true is that Walker is an awesome all-around talent. He can both block and catch. Since coming to Tennessee in 2013, he's averaged roughly 71 catches, 831 yards, and more than five touchdowns per season. This past season, he graded out as PFF's fourth-best tight end behind only Gronk, Hunter Henry, and Travis Kelce

16. Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons (33)

There's no doubt Ryan suffered from the loss of Kyle Shanahan. A year after his MVP 2016 season, during which he threw 38 touchdowns and seven interceptions for a 117.1 passer rating, Ryan's numbers dipped in 2017. He still threw for 4,095 yards, but he collected only 20 touchdown passes to go along with 12 interceptions. However, there are reasons (excuses, if you want to call them that) to explain his decline. He changed offensive coordinators for one, and Steve Sarkisian certainly didn't endear himself to Atlanta during his first season at the helm. He was also the unluckiest quarterback in terms of interceptions, as Football Outsiders explained:     

Matt Ryan threw five interceptions that should have been caught by his own teammates. That wasn't just the most in the league, it was the most for any quarterback in a single season since Eli Manning also had five in 2010. 

Remember, Ryan struggled during his first year with Shanahan. He could be better in Year Two with Sarkisian. He should also be a bit luckier. 

15. Alex Mack, C, Falcons (32)

Mack is one of the game's premier centers mainly because of his run blocking, though that doesn't mean he's bad at pass blocking. He's been remarkably durable, playing in all 16 games during every season of his nine-year career except for 2014. And he's been to five Pro Bowls.

14. Jason Kelce, C, Eagles (30)

Kelce finished the 2017 season as PFF's top-graded center and a First-Team All Pro member. While Kelce wasn't at his best as a pass blocker (23rd per PFF), he was dominant as run blocker (first). Prisco ranked him 72nd on his top 100 list, citing "his smarts and quickness" as being "imperative to the Eagles offense."

13. Aqib Talib, CB, Rams (32)

Talib was just one of the Rams' many amazing offseason additions. And what an addition he was. In his career, which began in 2008, he's racked up 34 interceptions. In that span, only Charles Woodson has more. He's still going strong. Over the past five seasons, he's got 15 interceptions. Last year in Denver, he graded out as PFF's 15th best cornerback. He's had the benefit of playing on some pretty stacked defenses, and this year won't be any exception, which should lead to even more success. That pass rush is going to help him.

12. Brandon Graham, DE, Eagles (30)

Graham flies under the radar a bit because he's on a stacked defense and because he's never notched double-digit sack season during his eight-year career. He is, however, coming off a career-best 9.5-sack campaign that also saw him finish as the ninth-most productive pass rusher at his position group, per PFF. What makes Graham such a great player, regardless of his single-digit sack totals (38.5 sacks in eight seasons), is his ability to stuff the run. He led his position group in run-stop percentage this past season by registering 25 run stops and only four missed tackles while defending the run, per PFF.

11. Everson Griffen, DE, Vikings (30)

The Vikings' defense is also stacked, so it seems like Griffen also goes a bit unnoticed. He shouldn't. He's coming off a 13-sack season and he's got 61 sacks since 2011, the latter of which ranks 10th in that span. Griffen might not be as good as pass rushers like Von Miller or Khalil Mack, but he's in that next tier. 

10. Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers (36)

Rivers finds himself in the same tier as Stafford and Ryan, but we'll give him the edge here due to better career numbers. Plus, by advanced metrics, Rivers was better in 2017. According to Football Outsiders' metrics, Rivers was the second-best quarterback last season with only Tom Brady finishing above him. He finished with 28 touchdowns and 10 picks.

He did not, however, win MVP. 

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9. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers (36)

For all of the talk about Roethlisberger's regression from a great to a mere good quarterback, he's been pretty damn good in recent years. Since 2014, he's averaged roughly 4,240 yards, 28 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions per season. Of course, it doesn't hurt that he's had the privilege of playing alongside Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell. His supporting cast is one reason why he might have the best chance to succeed again in 2018. His future projection and his career resume (two Super Bowls) barely pushes him above Rivers.

8. Marshal Yanda, G, Ravens (33)

There's no better guard in football than Yanda, who might just be the most underrated superstar in the NFL. He's been to six Pro Bowls since entering the NFL in 2007 and has been named First-Team All Pro twice. In 2016, he led all guards with the best pass-blocking percentage by allowing zero sacks and only six pressures, according to PFF. Then, he missed nearly the entire 2017 season with a fractured ankle. That injury wasn't enough to keep him out of the top 10. When healthy, he's an unmovable object. 

7. Gerald McCoy, DT, Buccaneers (30)

Let's begin a run on defensive tackles. We'll start with McCoy, who didn't get sucked into the maelstrom created by the god awful Buccaneers defense last season. In 2017, McCoy followed up his seven-sack season with six sacks, which continued his streak. Since 2012, he's racked up at least five sacks in every season for a grand total of 44.5 sacks in 90 games, which basically comes out to one sack every other game. For a defensive tackle, that's incredible production. 

6. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Rams (31)

Don't buy into the narrative that Suh's skills have declined. He's still one of the best players at his position and he's going to provide the Rams with a lift that could get them over the playoff hump and into the Super Bowl. He's still a force of nature. He's got 51.5 sacks in his career despite playing a position that doesn't exactly make it easy to bring down opposing quarterbacks. This past season, he graded out as PFF's fifth-best interior defender behind only Aaron Donald (his new teammate, which is both fun and scary), Geno Atkins (more on him in a second), Kawann Short, and Fletcher Cox.

5. Calais Campbell, DE, Jaguars (31)

What a steal Campbell ended up being for the Jaguars. Before arriving in Jacksonville, Campbell had enjoyed a productive career in Arizona, where he grabbed 56.5 sacks from 2008-16. But he never exploded with the Cardinals quite like he did with the Jaguars in 2017, when he brought down opposing quarterbacks 14.5 times -- a career high. As a result, he was named First-Team All Pro.

4. Geno Atkins, DT, Bengals (30)

Atkins is the best defensive tackle on this list. He's coming off his second straight nine-sack season, which brought his career sack total to 61. Among all players, that figure ranks 18th since 2010. Among defensive tackles, that figure ranks first. Defensive tackles shouldn't be able to attack the quarterback like that. But Atkins does. All the time.

3. Drew Brees, QB, Saints (39)

The final three spots belong to the game's best quarterbacks. Let's start with Brees. Historically, he's one of the best to have ever played the position. Entering the 2018 season, he ranks first all-time in completion percentagethird in passing yards, tied (with Tom Brady) for third in touchdown passes, and sixth in passer rating. Currently, he's one of the best to still play the position. In 2017, despite the Saints adopting a run-heavy approach, he still completed 72 percent of his passes for 4,334 yards, 23 touchdowns, eight picks, and a 103.9 passer rating. Per Football Outsiders' metrics, he was the third-best quarterback behind Rivers and Brady.

2. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers (34)

When Rodgers is healthy, he's the most-talented quarterback in football and he might be the most-talented quarterback of all-time. There's a reason why his player comparison is an actual dragon (h/t Robert Mays). He just finds a way to make plays that other quarterbacks -- yes, even Tom Brady -- couldn't dare try because they're not nearly as athletic or as strong-armed as he is. Again, he's a dragon:

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There's a reason why he boasts the highest career passer rating in NFL history.

So, why does Rodgers rank second and not first? Availability. He's coming off a seven-game season. Since he became the Packers' starter in 2008, he's appeared in 142 of 160 possible games. That's not a bad track record considering he plays a collision sport, but it's worse than the track record of Brady, who never misses game time. That's why Rodgers didn't make it to the top of the list. 

1. Tom Brady, QB, Patriots (40)

Brady remains the NFL's king at the age of 40. 

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He's the only athlete on the planet, outside of LeBron James and maybe even Bartolo Colon, who has defeated the process of aging. Like Brees, he's a historical marvel, ranking fourth all-time in passing yards, tied for third in passing touchdowns, and third in passer rating. Like Brees, he's coming off yet another stellar season. He threw for 4,577 yards, 32 touchdowns, eight picks, and a 102.8 passer rating. He won MVP at the age of 40 and led the Patriots back to the Super Bowl. He's the greatest to have ever done it. At this point, it's useless to predict when he'll finally decline. He's shown no signs of aging and should continue to pick apart the rest of the NFL at the age of 41.

Just missed: Chiefs QB Alex Smith, Buccaneers CB Brent Grimes, Redskins CB Josh Norman, Seahawks S Kam Chancellor, Patriots WR Julian Edelman, Packers TE Jimmy Graham, Colts K Adam Vinatieri, Falcons K Matt Bryant, Dolphins DE William Hayes, Panthers LB Thomas Davis, Panthers TE Greg Olsen, Broncos WR Emmanuel Sanders, Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas, Raiders LT Donald Penn, Bills LB Lorenzo Alexander, Dolphins G Josh Sitton, Raiders RB Marshawn Lynch, Ravens WR Michael Crabtree 

With special apologies to: Alex Smith, Brent Grimes, Josh Norman, Thomas Davis, and Greg Olsen, all of whom I desperately tried to squeeze onto the list, but failed to do so. 

CBS Sports Writer

Sean Wagner-McGough joined CBS Sports in 2015 after graduating from UC Berkeley. A native of Seattle, Sean now resides in the Bay Area. He spends his spare time defending Jay Cutler on Twitter. Full Bio

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