NFL Nation: 2011 Oldie Goodie AFC

AFC West: Oldie but goodie

July, 15, 2011
7/15/11
1:00
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Projecting the best 30-and-over player in my division by the start of the 2014 season.

This was not a difficult decision for me.

It had to be Philip Rivers.

I think the San Diego Chargers' quarterback is the best player in the division now, and I think he will still be the best player in the AFC West in September, 2014.

Rivers will be 32 at the start of the 2014 season. He will still be in his prime, and he will still be an elite quarterback.

There really is no other choice. I can see Rivers as a dominant player for the next seven to 10 years. The No. 4 overall pick in the 2004 draft simply has the feel of a quarterback who will succeed in the league for 15 seasons.

His length of dominance will, of course, depend on his durability. Staying healthy has not been a problem -- he has never missed a game in the five seasons he has been the Chargers' starter. He healed famously fast from his lone major injury, an ACL he tore in the 2007 playoffs.

So, I don’t see injuries prematurely ruining Rivers’ career. Rivers and the Chargers will still be extremely relevant in the middle of this decade and beyond.

AFC South: Oldie but goodie

July, 15, 2011
7/15/11
1:00
PM ET
Projecting the best 30-and-over player in my division by the start of the 2014 season.

The Texans could have a different management and a different coach in 2014; they could be running a different scheme.

But quarterback Matt Schaub will be three years more experienced and as a 33-year old quarterback with 10 years in the league. I envision him right at the peak of his powers and the most dominant 30-or-over player in the AFC South when that season kicks off.

I think it’s fair to question his mental toughness or ability to produce at the toughest moments based on what he’s done so far. In the same vein, however, I can see him improving in those categories the way he’s improved in durability.

If he does, he could be at a stage where he still has most of his physical prowess when the mental side of things clicks all the way in.

Peyton Manning should be starting to wind down. And odds are reasonable that Jake Locker or Blaine Gabbert will have busted and the other won’t yet be peaking. Schaub could be the best of the division.

I picked him over Colts safety Antoine Bethea, Texans receiver Andre Johnson and Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis. I expect they could all still be quite good in 2014 after they’ve turned 30. Like Schaub, Johnson will actually be 33 at the start of the 2014 season.

AFC North: Oldie but goodie

July, 15, 2011
7/15/11
1:00
PM ET
Projecting the best 30-and-over player in my division by the start of the 2014 season.

The NFL is such a year-to-year league that it's hard to predict which veteran players will continue to thrive. Injuries can take a toll on any superstar in his 30s and that player may never be the same.

But the "oldie but goodie" player I predict will still be dominant in the AFC North three years from now is Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The 29-year-old will be 32 in 2014, and quarterback is one of the few positions NFL players can still dominate at an advanced age.

Other quarterbacks such as Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Brett Favre have recently put together some of their best seasons well into their 30s, and there's no indication Roethlisberger couldn't do the same. According to Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, Roethlisberger played the best football of his career in 2010, which is a sign the two-time Super Bowl champion is in his prime years.

Health is the only concern for Roethlisberger. Pittsburgh has never put a good offensive line in front of him, and Roethlisberger's been sacked an astounding 221 times the past five seasons. That’s an average of 44.2 sacks per season.

As a result, Roethlisberger has suffered a variety of injuries to his foot, ribs and shoulder. But he's been fortunate to avoid any season-ending ailments. As long as that continues, Roethlisberger should thrive in Pittsburgh for years to come.

AFC East: Oldie but goodie

July, 15, 2011
7/15/11
1:00
PM ET
Projecting the best 30-and-over player in the division by the start of the 2014 season.

The New York Jets’ Nick Mangold will turn 30 in January 2014. And he will be the best 30-and-older player in the AFC East at the start of the ’14 NFL season.

Tom Brady probably can’t be counted on to be the same elite signal-caller as he is now that far down the road. Jake Long and Darrelle Revis won’t yet be 30 when the 2014 season kicks off. There are a lot of great players in the AFC East, but going with Mangold, the best center in football right now, was an easy selection for me.

Mangold is a player without a weakness right now. He has excellent power and strength, and utilizes those qualities well due to the great leverage and pad level with which he plays. He is a natural knee bender who strikes his opponent on the rise. Mangold also is superb with his hand placement. He moves very well for a center and isn’t a liability in space or getting to the second level to block a smaller man. He shows quickness off the snap and is quick to set in his stance after snapping the football.

Mangold is a fantastic run-blocker and is one of the few centers in the game today who can handle true space-eating 3-4 nose tackles without much assistance. But Mangold also more than holds his own in pass protection against quicker, penetrating defensive tackles or blitzing linebackers. Mangold is tough, finishes his blocks and sets the tone for his entire line. He is smart and very adapt with the line calls and the nuances of the position, while also being very technically sound with his footwork, blocking angles and body position. Again, he really doesn’t have a flaw to his game.

Like any player, as Mangold ages, he is sure to lose some of his athletic gifts. He might not move his feet quite as well. He might not be quite as quick or be able to play quite as low as he does now. But because Mangold is a tenacious student of the game and a tremendous competitor, he will still be an exceptional pivot well into his 30s.

Along with D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Mangold will be an anchor for the Jets this season, in 2014 and maybe quite a while longer.

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