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Demario Davis, Tyrann Mathieu ranked among top 30 players over 30

It’s no secret that the New Orleans Saints have been competitive because of their experienced defense; having veterans who have been there, done that and continued to play at a Pro Bowl level past their athletic prime has made a real difference.

And they’re being acknowledged for it. Pro Football Focus ranked Saints linebacker Demario Davis and safety Tyrann Mathieu among the top 30 players over age 30. Here’s why PFF analyst John Kosko argues Davis is a top-15 player in the league, clocking in at No. 14:

Rarely do NFL players take their game to new heights deep into their 30s. That’s what Davis has done, though earning an 82.7 PFF grade or better in three of his five seasons past the 30-year mark and ranking as one of the best linebackers in the NFL.

Beyond PFF grades, Davis is the only linebacker in the NFL with 100-plus tackles, 10-plus tackles for loss, and 3 or more sacks in each the last five years. Roquan Smith is the only other defender to meet those numbers more than twice in this five-year span, but he’s done it just three times, and he came up short in 2023.

Davis was the fourth-best defender on PFF’s list, but his teammate Mathieu wasn’t far behind. Kosko ranked Mathieu at No. 22 in this top-30 list, which was ninth-best among defenders. Here’s why:

An active safety who flies around the field, Mathieu has been relatively inconsistent due to his play style. However, the past two seasons have been the most consistent we’ve seen from him, as he posted back-to-back 80.0-plus PFF grades for the first time in his career, resulting in an 86.9 two-year grade.

Again, look beyond the PFF grades. Mathieu tied the Saints for the team in interceptions last year (4) and he leads New Orleans in that stat since he signed his contract in 2022. He’s made an impact on both passing and running downs while suiting up for his hometown team, and they’re going to be leaning on him hard in 2024 after moving on from Marcus Maye.

But there’s the problem. The Saints are asking a lot of defenders on the wrong side of 30. They haven’t drafted and developed talent well enough on that side of the ball, forcing them to sign free agents to compete with young players who should have been playing well enough to lock in a starting job; think guys like Payton Turner (versus Chase Young), Pete Werner (against Willie Gay), and Jordan Howden (compared to Johnathan Abram). Even ironmen like Davis and Mathieu will start to show some rust sooner or later. If the Saints are smart, they’ll have worthy successors ready before it’s too late.

Story originally appeared on Saints Wire