For just about every position but quarterback, 30 is seemingly the new 40 in today’s NFL. Stardom is becoming more and more fleeting, as once a player’s demise begins, it’s often swift and unforgiving. And NFL teams are becoming less and less loyal to veterans who have performed in the past but begin to show initial signs of worsening.
It’s, without a doubt, a “what have you done for me lately” league, with the average career lasting a mere 3.3 years. But for Miami Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake, even at 32 years old, there’s every reason to believe the Penn State product turned undrafted free agent turned CFL star turned late-blooming NFL Pro Bowler could still legitimately have four or five seasons of high-quality play left in the tank.
Not even Wake’s chiseled frame, which often makes his peers’ physiques appear pedestrian by comparison, does his diligent effort to take care of his body justice. There’s discipline and then there’s unrelenting stringency. Wake’s mentality is the latter in regards to his eating habits.
According to Wake in an interview with the Miami Herald last season, he hasn’t had a sip of alcohol, a serving of fried food, a scoop of ice cream or a single piece of candy since leaving Penn State in 2005. For nearly a decade, Wake has practiced virtually perfect nutrition while sculpting his body with a rigorous training regimen. If that doesn’t breed longevity, not much will.
Healthy eating isn’t the only thing projecting Wake to have an abnormally long career (well, age-wise). He may be 32, but Wake has only played five NFL seasons. An unconventional path to the league, highlighted by two years out of football followed by two years of dominance as a member of the CFL’s BC Lions before taking his first NFL snap at 27 years old, has left Wake with considerably more tread on his metaphorical tires than most 32-year-old veterans.
Miami’s deep defensive end rotation should also benefit Wake’s long-term endurance. Olivier Vernon, a third-round choice in 2012, began blossoming last season with a team-high 11.5 sacks and Dion Jordan, the third-overall pick of the 2013 draft, has an elite ceiling. Throw Derrick Shelby, an effective run defender, into the mix, and the Dolphins can afford to keep Wake fresh throughout the season.
With superb maintenance to a body that doesn’t have much wear and tear to begin with, Wake shouldn’t be slowing down anytime soon. Of course, it’s impossible to predict Wake’s prospects of playing well into his mid-to-late 30s with any real accuracy. No player, not even Wake, is immune to injuries in a collision sport like football. And if there’s anything that can put an abrupt halt to a promising career, it’s a serious injury.
With good health, though, Wake should continue to be one of the NFL’s most dangerous and efficient pass rushers. Anyone who feels he wasn’t that in 2013 and is already on the decline given his mere — by his standards — 8.5 sack total, clearly wasn’t paying attention.
A knee injury left Wake something less than 100 percent for a quarter of the 2013 campaign. Thus, his 694 snaps were the fewest he’s played since 2009, his first year in the league. Yet, Wake finished fourth at his position in quarterback hits with 20 and ninth in additional hurries with 41, according to Pro Football Focus.
The respected scouting service also tabbed Wake as the league’s second-most proficient edge rusher among 4-3 defensive ends and 3-4 outside linebackers with a +27.7 grade in addition to giving him the second-highest pass-rushing productivity score among 4-3 defensive ends with an impressive 14.0.
That production coupled with Wake’s optimistic outlook for the future makes him a key asset to the Dolphins, regardless if they’re in win-now mode, a rebuilding phase or somewhere in between. Trading Wake, which CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora reported Miami was open to earlier this offseason, would be a wasteful move by GM Dennis Hickey. Wake is capable of playing at a high level for the duration of his contract, which expires in 2017, if not capable of earning another deal with the Dolphins.
Wake remains an elite pass rusher at 32 years old. His explosion off the snap, which is arguably second to none, is as as lethal as it’s ever been. Thanks to healthy habits and a low mileage count, don’t expect that to change for quite some time.
Cody Strahm is an NFL Senior Writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter.