The decline of A.J. Green has been somewhat of a hot topic as of late. The seven-time Pro Bowl receiver will turn 31 as training camp starts, but does that mean we’re approaching the downfall of his play? What about the other Bengals on the north side of 30?
Let’s take a closer look.
1,000 receiving yards is a standard measure of a productive season for an NFL wide receiver. Green has hit that mark in every season in which he played at least 11 games. He even came within 36 yards of that mark in 2016 when he only played 10 games.
Wide receivers over the age of 30 struggle to hit this number. In recent years only a handful of receivers have hit that mark twice.
Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald will be 36 before the 2019 season starts. While he was unproductive last season in an overall bad offense, he had over a 100 receptions and 1,000 yards in each of the previous 3 seasons. He is still playing at a very high level and with a new offense and quarterback, and he could be heading back to the 1,000 yard club this year.
Why can’t Green continue to be productive well into his 30s? Why can’t Antonio Brown, who is 3 weeks older than Green or Julio Jones, who is a mere six months younger for that matter?
The trio have been among the league’s top receivers for years. Green has had season-ending injuries in two of the past three seasons, which is a concern, but he did bounce nicely after the last previous injury. With a new coaching staff that hopefully understands how to get the most out of their players, Green could shine. Jones has shown no signs of decline. In fact, nobody ever talks about his age. Brown has experienced a recent change of venue, and as a result change of quarterback. He is probably the most likely candidate for regression, but physically he still has it.
This could be an interesting period in the NFL, where multiple receivers in their 30s remain among the top in the NFL.
Green’s trigger man, Andy Dalton is 31, which concerns many but look at the longevity that quarterbacks have demonstrated in recent years. The obvious examples are Tom Brady and Drew Brees, but they are the NFL’s elite. Journeyman quarterbacks like Ryan Fitzpatrick and the recently retired Josh McCown have also played deep into their 30s.
It is notable that Dalton peaked statistically in 2015. He also ended his season early that year and last year due to injury. However, no man is an island. Dalton’s apparent downturn in recent years was at least in part due to turnover at wide receiver, offensive line, and on the coaching staff.
Dalton’s injuries have been to his thumb which is not something that would be heavily impacted by age. He is noted for his hard work off the field and adherence to a strict training regime.
There is no reason to think that 2015 was the absolute peak of Dalton’s career. With a new offensive-minded head coach and essentially three quarterbacks coaches in Zac Taylor, Brian Callahan, and Alex Van Pelt now on staff, Dalton could certainly see improvement in 2019.
The wear and tear on offensive players varies drastically compared to defensive players. The two staples of the Bengals’ defense in recent years have been Carlos Dunlap (30) and Geno Atkins (31). Dunlap‘s best season was 2015 when he posted 13.5 sacks, but that season was an anomaly. In the years prior and since, he has hovered right around eight. The most notable defensive end to perform at his peak well into his 30s is Julius Peppers. Peppers was regularly a double digit sack producer in his 20s and surpassed that threshold 4 times in his 30s, including an 11 sack season at age 37.
Dunlap hasn’t seemed to slow down yet and Atkins is going strong as well with 39 sacks in the last four seasons. Atkins has been one of the top defensive tackles in the league for years and is still at the top of his game. It is worth noting that when the pair got extensions a year ago, Atkins’ deal was for one year longer despite the fact that he is a year older.
The three oldest players on the Bengals roster are long snapper Clark Harris, punter Kevin Huber, and recently signed guard John Jerry. The trio turned 35, 34, and 33 respectively this summer. As specialist’s, Harris and Huber are not huge concerns. Former Raiders and Texans punter Shane Lechler played until he was 40. Miami Dolphins long snapper John Denney will turn 41 by the end of the season.
Jerry is a bit more of a concern, particularly after his hiatus from the NFL in 2018. Jerry may still have some good years in him, but carrying around 340 pounds at 33 has got to be difficult.
Even with one of the youngest rosters in the league, the Bengals are still long in the tooth at some critical areas on the team. Thankfully, the beginning of Zac Taylor’s tenure should see these players continue to play at their peak, for now at least.