Tom Brady has made a Hall of Fame career out of blowing away people's expectations. He entered the league as an unheralded sixth round draft pick, and he will exit it as (at least) a three-time Super Bowl champion. When he was considered something of a game manager early on in his career, he only responded by putting up the first fifty touchdown season in league history. After a knee injury knocked him out for an entire season and had people questioning how well he'd return, all he has done since then is average 34 touchdowns and 4,590 yards per season over the last four years. In other words, Tom Brady doesn't give a crap about expectations. For the most part, he shatters them anyway. Which brings us to the 2013 season.
To say that this offseason has been tumultuous to the New England offense is quite an understatement. When your all-world superstar tight end undergoing nearly a half dozen surgeries is only the THIRD-worst thing that happens to your team, you know something is very wrong. Rob Gronkowski, who has firmly established himself as one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the league, has been in and out of danger to miss the start of the season pretty much since last season ended. His arm has required multiple surgeries, and he recently underwent back surgery as well. As the biggest play-maker on the New England offense, his value to the team cannot be overstated. The free agent departure of Brady's favorite target, wide receiver Wes Welker, to the Broncos has left a question mark as to who is going to replace all of that production. Even the disappointing Brandon Lloyd was not retained by the club. And of course by now everyone has heard the tale of the team's other star tight end, Aaron Hernandez. Hernandez sits in a jail cell awaiting trial for a murder charge, and was released by the team literally moments after his arrest. Brady is one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game, but can he (or anyone) withstand the loss of so much talent all at once?
It's not all doom and gloom for New England. Free agent wide receiver Danny Amendola was brought in from Saint Louis to replace the departed Welker. Amendola has a similar skill set to Welker in that he's very quick off the line of scrimmage, knows how to get open, and is excellent after the catch. In fact, several observers believe from a pure talent perspective that Amendola is actually a superior player to Welker. How well he fits the Patriots remains to be seen, but he should at least adequately replace Welker. The other wide receiver spot is somewhat up for grabs. There are several candidates being considered, none of whom have the pedigree to strike much fear into the hearts of defensive coordinators, but there is some upside within the group. And at tight end, despite the definitive loss of Aaron Hernandez and the possible late start of Gronkowski, the Patriots have brought in a number of players to compete early on to help fill the void. Of course, head coach Bill Belichick has done a masterful job of building his roster and then exploiting every single mismatch and advantage he can get his hands on. If he needs to tailor his offense to suit this new personnel, well let's just say he's got a good enough track record to assume that is a possibility.
It may be obvious by now, but we've spent the vast majority of this article looking at the other people around Brady, rather than Brady himself. It's probably because we've just grown accustomed to the superstar putting up big stats almost at will. Ho-hum, another 300 yards and two touchdowns for Brady this week. But we must remember that he is another year older, and will turn 36 just before the start of the 2013 season. And despite his seemingly high floor, we have seen other top-flight talent like Drew Brees and Philip Rivers falter at times in recent seasons when they didn't have enough of a supporting cast around them.
- Brady has an extensive track record of excellence. This isn't some second tier quarterback who has lost his weapons; it's one of the greatest players of his era
- Welker and Gronkowski are listed as "losses", but Amendola could easily be even better or just as good as Welker, and Gronkowski has not been ruled out of any regular season time at this point
- New England head coach Bill Belichick is one of the best in the business at getting the most out of his players. Brady and Belichick combined to produce excellent offensive stats a decade ago with far less offensive skill talent than there is now
- The release of Aaron Hernandez and the injury status of Rob Gronkowski are looming huge for New England. The passing offense revolved around those two exploiting mismatches over the past two seasons
- Brady is close to the age where most quarterbacks begin a significant decline, even if they don't lose half of their offense. Consider that his completion percentage of 62.8% in 2012 represented the first time it was under 65% since 2006, and his 7.6 YPA was also the lowest since that same season.
- Unlike some of the younger and faster generation of quarterbacks, Brady is not going to make plays happen with his legs. Some players would be able to salvage a poor regular season by having a solid fantasy year on the ground. But if Brady's passing stats suffer, his owners are in trouble.
Brady is going off the board as the number five quarterback and the number forty player overall. This feels about right. He's got far too good a track record to fall too much further down a draft board than the middle of the fourth round in standard 12-team leagues. The problem I have with Brady is that he he hasn't quite got the upside he has possessed in recent seasons that would push him up into the second round. I just find a lot more excitement from the guys going a few picks later (guys like Matt Ryan, Robert Griffin, Matthew Stafford).
Based on track record, Brady has the highest floor of that group. And he may boringly put up 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns again. But regardless of track record, he certainly has the lowest ceiling. Consider that the Pats will be hard-pressed to post the kind of offensive seasons we've grown accustomed to now that they are undoubtedly down one big weapon (Hernandez), and I'm having a tough time seeing how Brady improves or maintains those huge stats. Will he fall flat on his face? Not likely at all. As mentioned earlier in this piece, he has made a career out of blowing away low expectations. And a fourth round pick is not crazy high where you're breaking the bank for the guy. But with that fourth round pick, you're still looking for upside. And in my opinion, Brady doesn't have it this time around. And hey - if you want "safe", Matt Ryan is going even later and is nearly as safe (and with far more upside). Tony Romo is going 32 picks later and consistently puts up excellent fantasy stats. Eli Manning? Fifty picks later. Point is, someone is going to take Brady in the fourth round and in all likelihood, his performance will be somewhat in the vicinity of that ADP. I just feel like it doesn't make much sense to commit yourself to a quarterback at that point in the draft who isn't a realistic candidate to be the top-ranked quarterback by season's end. The QB depth is excellent once again this year, and it makes more sense than ever to wait on a signal-caller if you miss out on one of the elites.
- 360 completions
- 575 attempts
- 4312 yards
- 28 TDs
- 10 INTs
- 25 rushes
- 30 yards
- 1 TD
Dennis Tresca of Bleacher Report says this regarding the weapons around him
"Brady just does not have the receiving weapons he is accustomed to having...it is still freakin' Tom Brady...he is definitely still a top-ten fantasy quarterback, just maybe not top five anymore."
Christopher Harris of ESPN still believes Brady is rock-solid
"I actually have Tom Brady above Brees in my personal ranks...I prefer Brady's steadiness"