Tom Brady Can Still Play at an Elite Level

Former New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has turned to a new chapter in his illustrious career. At age 42 (he will turn 43 in August), Brady will look to further cement his already absurd legacy as the greatest ever. However, Brady and the Patriots struggled mightily in the second half of the 2019 season and a disappointing performance in the wild card game against the Tennessee Titans furthered some people’s opinion that Brady was washed up. Some people continue to believe that the legendary quarterback has nothing left to offer. However, there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. When looking at the underlying numbers, Tom Brady is still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.

Tom Brady Can Still Play at an Elite Level

Offensive Issues

The Patriots passing offense was not very good in 2019, but they weren’t horrible. Brady and company ranked 14th in DVOA and 18th in dropback EPA/play. That might be a far cry from the dominant Patriots offenses that fans are used to, but they still had their moments. While they did get considerably worse as the season wore on, there were a lot of factors that killed their offense that Brady had little to no control over.

Brady was not the root cause of the Patriots struggles last season. New England’s receivers ranked dead last in separation, and a lack of a legitimate tight end only worsened their already horrible spacing. Julian Edelman still had a very good season all things considered, but he was heavily beset by injuries. He was clearly not his normal explosive self for much of the season. His average yards after the catch was just 3.3 in 2019, as opposed to 4.7 in 2018, 5.0 in 2016, and 4.8 for his career.

No Real Threats for Brady

As a result of  the early season departure of some key pieces, many replacement level receivers were forced to bite off more than they could chew. Guys like Phillip Dorsett, Jakobi Meyers, and N’Keal Harry were forced into critical roles in the offense and the Patriots needed them to perform like legitimate starters. Unfortunately, they were simply unable to rise to the occasion. This resulted in a lot of moving parts and a lack of continuity in the passing offense. However, when things were going well, Brady looked as good as usual. That was especially true when examining the impact that receiver Josh Gordon had on the offense.

Gordon started the first six games of the season, and the Patriots offense looked relatively normal. Brady averaged 0.22 EPA/play, which over a full season would have ranked fourth in the entire NFL for quarterbacks with over 500 snaps. Defenses had to invest resources into stopping Gordon, and that opened up the rest of the passing game.  After Gordon’s departure, Brady’s EPA/play plummeted to a pathetic 0.04 the rest of the way. In comparison, Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield averaged 0.05 EPA/play in his incredibly disappointing 2019 campaign. Correlation doesn’t necessarily equal causation, but it is very likely that the lack of any legitimate “threats” damaged Brady’s numbers.

Still Among the Best

Throughout the year, Brady was still making incredibly tough throws that only the best can make. Per PFF’s quarterback annual, Brady was the single most accurate signal caller into ‘tight’ coverage in 2019.  His 45% accurate throw percentage into tight coverage ranks well ahead of guys like Patrick Mahomes and Drew Breeswho both hovered at around 38%. Furthermore, Brady was still one of the league’s best deep passers in 2019. On passes over 20 air yards, Brady ranked fourth in the league in terms of accuracy, just a tick behind Brees and Mahomes.  Deep passes and passes into tight coverage are probably the two most difficult types of throws that a quarterback has to make. With his success in those areas, Brady has proven that he can still be one of the best in some of the hardest facets of the game.

A Breath of Fresh Air

Not only is Brady still an elite quarterback, but he is now surrounded by one of the very best offensive rosters in the league. Mike Evans has been one of the very best deep receivers in the league for a long time, Chris Godwin was arguably the best receiver in football last year, and legendary tight end Rob Gronkowski is fresh and ready to rumble. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive line isn’t too bad either, as they ranked 10th in PFF’s pass blocking grade last season and they added standout tackle Tristan Wirfs with the 13th pick of this year’s draft.

The Buccaneers already had a historically good receiving corps in 2019. Then they went and added a future Hall of Fame tight end in Gronkowski and an elite offensive line prospect. Brady has not had this level of talent around him since his historic 2007 campaign. It is unlikely that Brady’s performance this season will come close to that of his glory days, but it is entirely possible that he is still one of the best quarterbacks in the league.

Last Word

Tom Brady is not as good as he used to be. At his age, it is basically impossible that he will replicate the dominant stretch of football that he put together from 2014-2017. But that does not mean he is done. While it is possible that father time finally overtakes Brady this season, the evidence available at the moment indicates that he still has plenty left in the tank. And if Brady has any greatness left to offer, the Buccaneers might just be the team to beat in 2020.

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