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Ranking the 25 Best NFL Players Who Have Been in the League Since 2008

Who are the best of the vets?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

In football years, one decade might as well be a century. Ten years ago, the wildcat ripped the league in half, Aaron Rodgers made his first start for the Packers, Brett Favre played 16 games for the Jets, the Patriots missed the playoffs, and most shocking of all, Jeff Fisher coached a team that won—you’re really not gonna believe this—13 whole games. If you don’t know where you’ve come from, then you don’t know where you’re going. So, to better understand what’s ahead in 2018, we’re spending this week looking back on what happened 10 years before. Welcome to 2008 Week!

In the NFL, any career that lasts 10 years is worth celebrating. The average pro football career spans roughly three seasons, and even some of the league’s most talented players can flame out quickly. So any player who has made it for at least a full decade is a true veteran—an NFL Old, really.

So, let’s rank them. Here are the top 25 players who have played in the NFL since at least 2008. With apologies to players like Eli Manning, Frank Gore, and Greg Olsen, this list is in order of how good these players are right now.

1. Tom Brady, QB, Patriots

In 2008: Brady threw just 11 passes before a hit from Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard tore his ACL. The injury robbed Brady of a chance to follow up on his record-setting 2007 season.

In 2018: Two Super Bowl rings (and another two appearances) later, Brady enters his age-41 season as the GOAT. Warren Moon is the only quarterback to have what could be described as a “good” season at age 41 or older—so Brady is now in a battle only with Father Time. Brady is coming off an MVP, but the Patriots receiving corps is a huge question mark after losing Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks in the offseason and seeing Julian Edelman suspended for the first four games of the year. But if anyone can make this situation work, it’s Brady—even at 41.

One Random Highlight: There are a million moments you could pick, but it’s worth highlighting Brady’s game-winning drive from Super Bowl XXXVI. With 1:21 left in the game, Brady threw the ball six times—all out of the shotgun—completing five of those passes to move New England 53 yards and into range for the game-winning field goal. It was vintage Brady before we knew what vintage Brady was.

2. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers

In 2008: A decade ago, the only people who were certain Rodgers would be good worked in the Packers front office. Green Bay decided to move on from Brett Favre despite getting only one good look at Rodgers at the pro level. Rodgers played well in 2008, but the Packers went 6-10 as their defense struggled.

In 2018: In moving from Favre to Rodgers, the Packers completed one of the rarest things in sports: a successful transition from one Hall of Fame–level QB to another. Green Bay has a Lombardi Trophy to show for its decision, and Rodgers enters his age-35 season with the expectation that he is still the MVP-level player who has guided the franchise for the past decade.

One Random Highlight: It would be easy to pick something from Super Bowl XLV, but for some reason Rodgers is also the greatest Hail Mary thrower of all time. Let’s marvel at this one against the Lions.

3. Calais Campbell, DL, Jaguars

In 2008: Campbell was a rookie playing as part of a rotation along Arizona’s defensive line. He finally became a starter in 2009, and anchored the Cardinals defense until 2017.

In 2018: With the Jaguars last season, Campbell earned his first All-Pro nod and became a foundational part of a historically great defense. He had 14.5 sacks last year, his most ever. For the team to make a Super Bowl run, they’ll have to continue being the Sacksonville defense they were last season, and no one is a bigger part of that than Campbell.

One Random Highlight: Anything from Campbell’s Mic’d Up game against the Texans last year shows how he energizes the Jacksonville defensive line.

4. Drew Brees, QB, Saints

In 2008: Brees notched his first 5,000-yard season and his second Pro Bowl appearance in New Orleans (and his third overall). He was already a great quarterback entering the season, but 2008 represents his rise to statistical superstar status; it kicked off a run of seven straight Pro Bowl appearances.

In 2018: The Saints were a more run-heavy team last season, and the twilight of Brees’s career is coming into focus, but heading into 2018, he’s still an efficient, effective passer who gives New Orleans a shot at a Super Bowl.

One Random Highlight: Brees has so many highlights that they can all blend together, none standing out from the rest. So let’s admire a video reel the NFL made of Brees’s touchdowns of at least 70 yards. What other player could have a video like this?

5. Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons

In 2008: Ryan found immediate success as a rookie, throwing for 3,440 yards and leading the Falcons to an 11-5 record. His success put the Michael Vick era in Atlanta’s rearview mirror.

In 2018: One MVP trophy and a near Super Bowl win later, Ryan is every bit the franchise guy Atlanta envisioned a decade ago. The next step for his career would be getting that elusive ring, and while the world-beating offense of 2016 isn’t coming back, Atlanta has still put Ryan in an excellent spot to be successful: Entering the 2018 season, they may have the best receiving corps in the league.

One Random Highlight: As a rookie in 2008, Ryan made a wild throw to put the Falcons in field goal range with just one second left against the Bears. It isn’t necessarily his career highlight, but it’s the moment I knew he’d make it in the NFL.

6. Joe Staley, OT, 49ers

In 2008: As a sophomore in 2008, Staley moved from right tackle to left tackle and anchored the 49ers offensive line. He’s been there ever since.

In 2018: Staley’s been named to six Pro Bowls, including one last season, when he was the league’s top-graded tackle per Pro Football Focus. He’s an exceptionally reliable left tackle in a league that is in the midst of an offensive line crisis. Staley has been with San Francisco through bad years and good years, and with Jimmy Garoppolo and Kyle Shanahan, this year is looking like it may be a good one in S.F.

One Random Highlight: The pure delight an offensive lineman finds any time he gets the ball is always worth a watch.

7. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers

In 2008: Roethlisberger won his second Super Bowl, though his regular-season totals (3,301 yards, 17 touchdowns, 15 interceptions) were nothing to write home about.

In 2018: Pittsburgh’s franchise QB has made the Pro Bowl in the past four seasons, and with guys like Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, he’s playing with the most offensive talent of his career. The Steelers are a true contender in the AFC so long as they have that trio of Killer B’s.

One Random Highlight: As a rookie, Roethlisberger helmed the Steelers team that ended the Patriots’ 21-game winning streak. Those two teams have often been in competition for the top of the AFC ever since.

8. Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers

In 2008: Rivers led the NFL in passing touchdowns in 2008, but what his team accomplished was even more impressive: After Week 13, the 4-8 Chargers looked like toast in a division that included the 7-5 Broncos. But they weren’t mathematically eliminated yet, and went on to win four straight as Denver lost three straight, making the playoffs at 8-8 and knocking off Peyton Manning’s Colts in the wild-card round.

In 2018: Rivers is still in top form, having made the Pro Bowl in the past two seasons. And even with Hunter Henry’s unfortunate ACL tear, this may be one of the most stacked rosters he’s ever been a part of. Keenan Allen and Melvin Gordon are excellent skill-position players, and the Chargers defense features the most fearsome pass-rush duo in football.

One Random Highlight: It’s Rivers jawing with Jay Cutler in 2007. This could have been one of the NFL’s great rivalries had Cutler not been traded to the Bears in 2009.

9. Marshal Yanda, G, Ravens

In 2008: Yanda was promising as a rookie in 2007, but missed most of 2008 with a knee injury.

In 2018: Today, Yanda is a legend — but he broke his ankle last season, causing him to miss all but two games. If he can come back from that injury in his age-34 season, it will help solidify what kind of offense the Ravens can field this year.

One Random Highlight: There aren’t a lot of offensive guard highlights on the internet, and besides, no pancake block could be better than this Peter King story about how former Ravens linebacker Bart Scott once used a Taser on Yanda, only to see the guard turn around and say flatly, “Don’t do that again.”

10. Aqib Talib, CB, Rams

In 2008: Talib was a rookie in 2008, and started just two games for the Bucs (but snagged four interceptions in 15 total appearances).

In 2018: Talib’s career hit its stride once he went to New England in 2012 and Denver in 2014. He made the Pro Bowl in each of the past five seasons, and, now on the Rams, is part of what may be the best on-paper defense in the league. He won a Super Bowl with the Broncos, and could be on the hunt for another this season.

One Random Highlight: Talib will be remembered most for taking Michael Crabtree’s chain not once, but twice. It’s a shame the two are no longer in the same division.

11. Alex Smith, QB, Redskins

In 2008: Smith didn’t play in 2008, missing the year with a shoulder injury. After three mediocre seasons, it looked like he was on his way to becoming a bust.

In 2018: A decade later, Smith isn’t just still in the NFL, he’s coming off the best season of his career. With the Chiefs last year, he turned into a deep-ball savant, throwing for more than 4,000 yards and 26 touchdowns (both career highs). He was so good that Kansas City … traded him to Washington. Now Smith will be filling Kirk Cousins’s shoes.

One Random Highlight: It’s easy to forget how mobile Smith can be, as he shows on this 28-yard touchdown run from 2012.

12. Andrew Whitworth, OT, Rams

In 2008: In his second year, Whitworth played primarily on the interior of the Cincinnati offensive line. It wasn’t until 2009 that Marvin Lewis moved him to left tackle.

In 2018: Whitworth had one of the best seasons of his career in 2017, earning All-Pro honors and solidifying the Rams offensive line, which helped quarterback Jared Goff make a sophomore jump. In L.A. again for 2018, he has a great chance to win his first playoff game.

One Random Highlight: Whitworth caught a touchdown pass in 2010—that’s a no-brainer career highlight.

13. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals

In 2008: This was Fitzgerald’s lone All-Pro year (it’s hard to believe he’s had only one), and also the year he went on the greatest postseason run for a receiver ever, lighting the playoffs ablaze with 546 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.

In 2018: Fitz has shown few signs of slowing down, having missed just one Pro Bowl in the past 11 seasons and having racked up more than 3,300 yards over the past three. He’s nearing 35, but has said he isn’t yet contemplating retirement. Fitzgerald has caught passes from an incredible 17 different quarterbacks over his career, and he’ll likely add two more this year in Sam Bradford and Josh Rosen.

One Random Highlight: In Super Bowl XLIII, Fitzgerald made one mistake: He gave the Cardinals the lead too soon, allowing the Steelers too much time to engineer their own comeback.

14. Jason Peters, OT, Eagles

In 2008: By his fifth year in the league, Peters had two Pro Bowl appearances under his belt, but his future as a top left tackle was still in doubt. He allowed 11.5 sacks that season, and the Bills traded him for first-, fourth-, and sixth-round picks.

In 2018: Peters has made the Pro Bowl every healthy year since 2008, and has also notched two All-Pro appearances. He’s one of the best tackles in game, but now his health is in question: Peters tore his ACL and MCL seven games into the 2017 season, though he was participating in 11-on-11 drills in training camp.

One Random Highlight: Peters ran a 4.93-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine in 2004. For a 328-pound man, dude can move.

15. Eric Weddle, S, Ravens

In 2008: Weddle earned a starting job in his second year with the Chargers, and was immediately effective; the 105 tackles he registered that season is still his career high.

In 2018: Weddle has been to five Pro Bowls in the years since, including each of the past two in Baltimore. And he’s picked off 10 passes since joining the Ravens, which matches the high for any two-year stretch of his career.

One Random Highlight: It will never be clear how Weddle picked off this Peyton Manning pass, but it helped propel the Chargers past the Colts in the 2007 playoffs.

16. Delanie Walker, TE, Titans

In 2008: The first years of Walker’s career were incredibly quiet. By the end of 2008, Walker had amassed just 359 receiving yards across his first three seasons.

In 2018: Walker finally broke out when he went to Tennessee in 2013, and he has 2,695 yards in his past three years, each of which earned him a Pro Bowl nod. In an NFL that features shockingly few productive tight ends, Walker has been a reliable one.

One Random Highlight: Walker isn’t the “security blanket” type of player many tight ends are. Here he is hauling in a long pass with three defenders around him.

17. Terrell Suggs, OLB, Ravens

In 2008: Suggs played on the franchise tag in 2008, and he earned his ensuing contract, picking off two passes (and returning both for touchdowns) and recording eight sacks en route to his third Pro Bowl appearance.

In 2018: Four Pro Bowl appearances and one Defensive Player of the Year award later, Suggs is still at the top of his game. In 2017 he had 11 sacks as he quietly led one of the best defenses in the league. But he’s nearing 36, and after 15 seasons in the NFL, his days as the leader of the Ravens defense may be numbered.

One Random Highlight: In 2011 against the Steelers, Suggs forced a fumble that nearly every player, including Suggs, thought was an incomplete pass.

18. Donald Penn, LT, Raiders

In 2008: Penn was the starting left tackle for the Buccaneers in his second year, but he was still a ways away from being the Pro Bowl–level talent he would become.

In 2018: Penn has made the Pro Bowl in each of the past two seasons, and was the 12th-graded offensive tackle in football by Pro Football Focus last season. But foot surgery ended his 2017 season two games early, and he began training camp on the PUP list.

One Random Highlight: Again: There are few things in the NFL more fun than offensive linemen catching touchdowns.

19. Josh Sitton, G, Dolphins

In 2008: Sitton was a rookie with the Packers and part of a rotation along the offensive line that allowed him to see action in 11 games. He became a full-time starter the next year.

In 2018: Sitton started 13 games with the Bears last year, but Chicago declined his option in the offseason, and he signed a two-year contract with the Dolphins. Sitton was the seventh-ranked guard by Pro Football Focus last year, demonstrating that he can still play at a high level. He’s especially good as a pass blocker, which could help ease Ryan Tannehill’s transition back from injury.

One Random Highlight: There aren’t a lot of in-game highlights for the veteran guard, but Sitton saying “beer and pizza” are the keys to his success is pretty incredible.

20. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Raiders

In 2008: Does anyone outside of Erie County, New York, remember the time when Marshawn Lynch played for the Bills? Well, he actually made the Pro Bowl in 2008 season with the team, rushing for more than 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns. But Buffalo was mediocre, and a few seasons later the Bills shipped him off to Seattle for a 2011 fourth-round pick and a conditional pick that became a fifth-rounder.

In 2018: Now in Oakland, Lynch is 32 and in the twilight of his career, but his 891 yards, seven touchdowns, and 4.3 yards per carry during the 2017 season represented a solid season for the veteran. Lynch is also home—he grew up in Oakland, went to college at neighboring Berkeley, and is the perfect player to send the Raiders off before they move to Las Vegas.

One Random Highlight: No play could possibly sum up Marshawn Lynch’s combination of physicality, talent, and swagger quite like the Beast Quake.

21. Pierre Garcon, WR, 49ers

In 2008: As a rookie, Garcon caught four passes for 23 yards. It wasn’t until his sophomore season that he began to blossom under Peyton Manning in Indianapolis.

In 2018: Now on his third team, Garcon projects to be the top option through the air for Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers. Last year, Garcon racked up 500 receiving yards in eight games for a pre-Garoppolo Niners team before a neck injury ended his season. Now healthy, Garcon and Garoppolo are reportedly establishing a connection in training camp.

One Random Highlight: Most people probably forgot about it, but this sideline catch from Garcon in Week 3 was among the best in 2017. I’m still not sure how he kept those toes down.

22. Duane Brown, LT, Seahawks

In 2008: As a rookie, Brown started all 16 games at left tackle in Houston, a rare feat for any lineman in his debut season.

In 2018: The Texans shipped Brown to the Seahawks midway through last season for a handful of draft picks. Brown had missed half the season with a contract holdout, but Seattle gave him a new, three-year, $35 million deal this offseason. He ranked 27th among tackles by PFF last year, which isn’t jaw-dropping, but represents a huge improvement for the Seahawks’ porous line.

One Random Highlight: Here’s what Duane Brown can do to an elite pass rusher like Dwight Freeney.

23. Ted Ginn, WR, Saints

In 2008: The 790 receiving yards Ginn amassed in 2008 is still his career high, as the Dolphins lessened his return duties and gave him more time as a wideout.

In 2018: A decade later, Ginn has never broken out as the no. 1 receiver the Dolphins envisioned when they took him with the ninth pick in the 2007 draft. But he’s become reliable in his role, racking up more than 700 yards in each of his last three seasons with the Panthers and Saints, including 18 touchdowns combined. He still also occasionally contributes as a punt and kick returner.

One Random Highlight: A great kick return, like this one in a 2009 game against the Jets, is a thing of beauty. It’s too bad Ginn never utilized his game-breaking speed to, well, break the game as a receiver.

24. DeSean Jackson, WR, Buccaneers

In 2008: Jackson was an immediate success in Philly, collecting more than 100 receiving yards in each of his first two games as a rookie. He finished with more than 900 on the year, and went on to become a Pro Bowler in his next two seasons as he and Jeremy Maclin became the immediate focal points of the Eagles offense.

In 2018: Jackson appears to be slowing down; his 47.7 receiving yards per game last season were the lowest of his career. So, too, were his yards per reception (13.4). Jackson is no longer the burner he once was, though in training camp he said he still possesses “top-flight speed” and that his goal this season is to get on the same page with quarterback Jameis Winston.

One Random Highlight: It could be his game-winning punt return at the Meadowlands in 2010, but that would be doing Jackson too many favors. I’ll always remember the time he dropped a ball short of the end zone for no reason whatsoever. It’s the perfect mix of athletic brilliance and a lack of concentration — which makes it the perfect play to sum up Jackson.

25. Thomas Davis, OLB, Panthers

In 2008: Though he didn’t earn many accolades, Davis had one of the best years of his career, recording a career-best 92 tackles across 16 starts.

In 2018: Davis has made the Pro Bowl in each of the past three years (including an All-Pro nod in 2015) … but was suspended for four games in 2018 for a violation of the NFL’s PED policy in April.

One Random Highlight: Davis yelling “Ain’t nobody falling for that bullshit!” as Teddy Bridgewater tries to draw an offside call takes the cake.