Old Guys: Four Players Who Aren’t Past Their Prime

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Sometimes I like to imagine the Peyton Manning’s of the NFL world wearing “Old Guys Rule” shirts around the locker room. Whether my imagination is true or not, some old guys (in NFL years) do actually rule and can help you win your fantasy league. Very often players are written off because of their age. The running back age of death (30) for instance is an example. In some cases, it’s absolutely true and the player is past their prime. In other cases, the player will be avoided in drafts and still prove all the doubters that they still have it.

Here are four guys that can still play at an elite level and should not be overlooked come draft day:

Drew Brees

Want to feel old? When Drew Brees was drafted in the 2nd Round in 2001, I was just seven years old. The future Hall of Famer has been nothing but consistent throughout his whole career and there’s no reason for him to stop now. Since 2008, he has thrown for at least 32 touchdowns and 4,300 yards every single season.

Year Yards Touchdowns Attempts Completion Percentage
2008 5,069 34 635 65.0
2009 4,388 34 514 70.6
2010 4,620 33 658 68.1
2011 5,476 46 657 71.2
2012 5,177 43 670 63.0
2013 5,162 39 650 68.6
2014 4,952 33 659 69.2
2015 4,878 32 627 68.4

Yes, his numbers have declined the last few years but there are reasons to believe he could put up great numbers once again. First, he’s healthy. Last season he dealt with a shoulder problem that forced him to miss a game and a foot issue toward the end of the season. Head coach Sean Payton said he hasn’t seen any drop in Brees’ play during camp and has looked like his old self in limited preseason action.

He also has upgraded weapons at almost every position. Mark Ingram, who caught 50 passes for 405 yards in 12 games, will return from a shoulder injury and retain his role as a pass catcher. The team went out and signed tight end Coby Fleener to replace Ben Watson who had career highs at age 35 last season. Brees has loved throwing to his tight end and although Fleener hasn’t had a great camp, he’s an upgrade from Watson. The Saints also have 3 blossoming receivers. Third-year Brandin Cooks is poised for his best season yet, averaging over 14 fantasy points per game from Weeks 8-16. Willie Snead, who came up just shy of 1,000 receiving yards last season, will grow after his stellar rookie year. Rookie Michael Thomas has turned heads so far in camp as well and will round out the receiving core.

The defense is also not going to be doing any favors for the team. They ranked close to the bottom in every defensive statistic last year. They at least got rid of Rob Ryan but have looked like the same type of unit in the preseason so far. Brees will have to play catchup in a lot of games this season and in turn, forced to throw a bunch.

The only downside to Brees this year is his schedule. The Saints have the toughest schedule for quarterbacks this season including matchups with the Panthers, Chiefs, Seahawks, Cardinals, and Broncos. The good news is that they get three of those games at home. Brees threw 23 of his 32 touchdowns at home last season and had a passer rating of 112.5. The Saints are a completely different team in the dome and luckily that’s where their toughest matchups are.

Brees will have to prove once again that he is still an elite talent in the NFL. If you can get him a great value, do not hesitate to take him.

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Darren Sproles

A former favorite target of Brees, Darren Sproles has found himself a new role with the Philadelphia Eagles and could be more involved in the offense than he has in years. Entering his 12th season in the league, I wouldn’t be surprised if Sproles led the Eagles in targets this season.

Eagles new offensive coordinator, Frank Reich, called the plays in San Diego last year where Danny Woodhead led the NFL in almost every receiving category possible. When Reich was asked about using Sproles in the same way as Woodhead, he said “Sproles in the original. He’s the prototype.”

Danny Woodhead Stat 2015 NFL RB Rank
Receptions 80 T-1
Yards 755 1
Yards Per Catch 9.4 6
Targets 106 1
Touchdowns 6 1
First Downs 39 1

Aside from wide receiver Jordan Matthews, the Eagles don’t have many playmakers on the receiving end. Sproles finished third on the team in targets and receptions last season, catching 55 passes on 84 targets. The other wide receivers, Josh Huff and Nelson Agholor, caught 50 passes on 71 targets combined. After trading for Dorial Green-Beckham, there’s a chance Sproles might lose some of the underneath red zone looks, but Green-Beckham won’t steal the volume away from Sproles.

There’s a reason the Eagles signed Sproles to an extension through 2017 and it’s because he’s still a playmaker despite being 33 years-old. Every report out of camp expects the team to use a healthy dose of the tight ends and Sproles. Starting running back Ryan Mathews also doesn’t have the best health track record. Mathews has played the full 16 games just once in his career, playing only 6 games in 2014. If Mathews misses any time, the team will rely even more on Sproles who has played at least 15 games in every season of his career but one.

Sproles isn’t going until the 11th Round in drafts which could be an absolute steal in PPR leagues. Still, a great value in standard but he has a chance to put up RB2 numbers in a PPR. The opportunity is there and Sproles will absolutely capitalize. Look for him late in drafts to sure up your running back situation.

Larry Fitzgerald

Larry Fitzgerald hadn’t caught 100 passes in a season since 2007. Last year, he caught 109 which was good enough for fifth in the league for wide receivers. Fitzgerald has found new life under head coach Bruce Arians and finished as the 10th wide receiver in standard scoring. He led the Cardinals in receptions, yards, and touchdowns and it wasn’t all that close.

Player Targets Yards Receptions Touchdowns
Larry Fitzgerald 145 1,215 109 9
John Brown 101 1,003 65 7
Michael Floyd 89 849 52 6

Another future Hall of Famer, Fitzgerald has a great chance to build on his great season last year. The Cardinals have one of the best offensives in football, if not the most complete. The team finished first in yards per game, and second in points last season. With everyone coming back healthy and the emergence of running back David Johnson, the team will find itself in the red zone quite a bit.

There’s also the murky situation of fellow wideout John Brown. Brown has been dealing with a concussion all preseason, but was finally cleared to play earlier this week. However, if Brown misses any time, that will lead to more volume for Fitzgerald. Brown finished second on the team last year with 65 catches and over 1,000 yards.

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In the Amazon original series All or Nothing: A Season with the Arizona Cardinals, Fitzgerald talks about his want to get to his tenth Pro Bowl. Take it for whatever it’s worth but for me, hearing something like that from someone who’s achieved all he has, means a lot. If he believes he can still perform at a high level, then I absolutely believe he can too.

There are a lot of mouths to feed in Arizona but even if he finished as the second-best receiver on the team, with that offense you’ll still be happy with the production. Target him especially in PPR. There is a good chance that the team can produce two top 20 wide receivers and Fitzgerald will be one of them.

Antonio Gates

Despite being suspended for the first four games of the season, Antonio Gates still finished as the 11th best tight end in standard leagues last year. The very familiar Rivers-to-Gates combo shined once again and will repeat it this season. Gates, who fought through some injuries toward the end of the year, will return to the field completely healthy with a goal in mind.

Rivers said that one goal the duo has for the 2016 season is for Gates to break Tony Gonzalez’s touchdown record. Being only 8 away, it’s safe to say he’ll break it. Before last season he was coming off two seasons with over 800 yards, catching a crazy 12 touchdowns in 2014. The Chargers offense will be significantly better than last year, beefing up their offensive line and getting Keenan Allen back. Since 2013, Rivers has finished in the top 8 in yards so there will be plenty to go around.

Gates is also an absolute steal in drafts, going in the ninth round as the tenth tight end off the board. I would much rather wait on Gates then pay the high price for Travis Kelce, Coby Fleener, and Tyler Eifert. Gates has averaged 63 receptions, 728 yards, and 7 touchdowns over the last five seasons and he’ll hit those numbers once again. Before missing time last year because of a suspension, Gates had played at least 15 games for the last 4 seasons.

Year Targets Receptions Yards Touchdowns
2011 88 64 778 7
2012 80 49 538 7
2013 116 77 872 4
2014 98 69 821 12
2015 85 56 639 5

Turning 36 over the summer, this is very likely the last year for Gates before he heads off to Canton. Another tight end to have a successful year at that age is Gonzalez who hauled in 83 catches for over 800 yards and 8 touchdowns at age 37. If Gonzo could do it at 37, there’s no reason Gates can’t at 36.

 

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