Kirk Cousins, Harrison Smith Ranked Among 30 Best Players Over 30

Will Ragatz

They say the NFL is a young man's game, but there's also something to be said about the leadership, experience, and talent that players age 30 or older bring to their teams. Despite theoretically being past their athletic primes, there are plenty of aging stars in the NFL, especially at certain positions.

NFL.com recently ranked the top 30 players who are 30 or older. They considered all players who will be 30 by September 10th, ranking them based not on career accomplishments, but how good they are right now, heading into the 2020 season.

Two Vikings made the cut. Here's what the writers had to say about each of them:

No. 24: Kirk Cousins

Less was certainly more for Cousins last season, as he completed 69 percent of his passes and boasted a career best 107.4 passer rating (destroying his previous PR by 6 points) while throwing the ball 130 fewer times than he averaged over the previous four seasons. So why after a career year doesn't he rank higher on our list? Because so much of his success depended on newly crowned Vikings captain Dalvin Cook. Thirty-eight percent of Cousins' total passing yards last season came off play-action, per PFF. That was third-most behind Ryan Tannehill and Jimmy Garoppolo (both at 42 percent) – two guys also bolstered by elite rushing attacks. The Vikings passer (who turns 32 in August) was the only quarterback last season who threw more than 50 percent of his touchdown passes off play-action (14 to 12) even though his play-action attempts accounted for just 32 percent of his total passes. I'm not suggesting Cousins isn't a really good player – obviously that's not the case because he's on this list – but unlike the QBs ahead of him, he's yet to prove he can consistently be the primary reason his team wins.

Cousins is the seventh-highest QB on the list, trailing Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees. In a Zoom call with the media on Friday, he commented on his ability to stay healthy throughout his career and be productive into his 30s.

"Knock on wood about what I have had and haven’t had happen (injury-wise)," Cousins said. "It’s something I do take seriously. I spend a lot of time in season, offseason, doing a lot of different work to try to feel good and stay healthy. And some of it is also good fortune. You’re just sometimes fortunate to go for a stretch without having that freak incident. And then some of it is you just kind of have to know your limitations and play smart, throw the ball away when you need to, step out of bounds when you need to, try to slide when you need to and avoid those hits that could end your season. So I try to be aware of all those factors, and then you pray about it and then you go forward and just go play. But I do want to play this game for a long time, and I know that you can’t just wake up at 37 or 38 and start to have good habits. You have to start much younger. So I’ve tried to do that and try to take pride in it and hopefully it means I can play a lot of snaps this season and for several years to come.”

No. 15: Harrison Smith

One half of the NFL's best safety duo, Smith helped clean up a lot of the Vikings' sloppy coverage miscues last year. While offseason departures Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes were too often game-wrecking liabilities, Smith continued to be the consistent, reliable safety net in Mike Zimmer's defense. The five-time Pro Bowler ranked among the best at his position when he was the nearest defender in coverage, totaling 11 passes defended while limiting opposing passers to a 50.3 rating. With Minnesota's CB group high on potential, but light on experience, Smith will need to conjure up another all-star effort in 2020 for the Vikes to make a legit run.

Smith is one of two safeties to crack the list, with Earl Thomas checking in at No. 23.

Here's the full list of Vikings players who will be 30 or older when this season starts, in descending order from oldest to youngest:

  • P Britton Colquitt (35 years old)
  • K Dan Bailey (32)
  • QB Kirk Cousins (32)
  • S Harrison Smith (31)
  • LT Riley Reiff (31)
  • TE Kyle Rudolph (30)
  • WR Adam Thielen (30)
  • Just missed the cut: S Anthony Harris (turns 30 on October 9)

The only other player in that group with an argument to crack the top 30 list is Thielen, whose milestone birthday is coming up on August 22nd. If he had stayed healthy all season last year, I bet he'd be in there. Thielen was a top-5 receiver in the league across 2017 and 2018, but the hamstring injury set him back last year. Look for him to bounce back with a big age-30 season as the Vikings' clear No. 1 target in the passing game.

Check out all of our Vikings 2020 season preview content right here.

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