Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady enters the 2020 season with his best supporting cast in years. After trying to make it work with a broken down Julian Edelman and not much else in 2019, Brady now has arguably the NFL’s best wide receiver duo in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
Evans and Godwin are both ridiculously talented, but both players are at their best making plays downfield. Historically speaking, Brady prefers to win with precision in the short and intermediate parts of the field. However, that style of play is due more to his typical supporting cast than Brady himself. Contrary to popular perception, Brady is actually at his best when he has someone capable of beating a defense deep.
Tom Brady At His Best With A Deep Threat
Tom Brady has had a true deep threat during three of his 18 years starting in the NFL. In 2007 and 2009, he had an all-time great in Randy Moss. In 2017, Brady had the good-but-not-great Brandin Cooks. Seeing as this is the most recent season we have, let’s start by dissecting how Brady did with Cooks.
Adding Brandin Cooks wasn’t the only major change to the 2017 Patriots. During the third week of the preseason, the team lost Julian Edelman for the season with a torn ACL. With Edelman gone and Cooks in town, the Patriots completely revamped their passing offense overnight. New England took to the air, as Brady averaged 10.2 air yards per target en route to one of the best seasons of his career.
Brady won his third MVP that season, completing 66.3% of his passes for 4,577 yards, 32 touchdowns, eight interceptions, and a 102.8 passer rating. The advanced stats tell a similar story, as Brady ended the year ranked first in DYAR, second in DVOA, and fourth in ESPN’s QBR. Oh, and his highlight reel is absolutely absurd.
It’s worth noting that this season isn’t ancient history. Brady did this during his age-40 season, making him the oldest MVP in history by a wide margin. Now, Brady might not have another season like that in his tank, but the notion that he can’t operate in a deep passing offense is completely unfounded. Brandin Cooks is good, but he’s not a game-changing talent. Evans and Godwin are both better than Cooks, so their increased talent could offset any minor loss in Brady’s arm strength.
The 2007 Patriots were an (almost) unstoppable juggernaut captained by the deadly duo of Tom Brady and Randy Moss. While this team fell short of their ultimate goal, there’s no denying that this offense truly was something special.
Prior to the 2007 season, one of the big talking points around the NFL was trying to figure out just how Brady could be if he had elite weapons. The former sixth-round pick answered that question in a big way during that magical campaign. In what many consider to be his best season, Brady led the league in completion percentage (68.9%), passing yards (4,806), touchdowns (50), and passer rating (117.2). Unsurprisingly, Brady also led the league in DYAR, DVOA, and QBR.
This was a truly magical season, and obviously this type of success isn’t likely to repeat itself. One could argue that, from a statistical standpoint, Brady had the greatest season in the history of the NFL. 2020’s Tom Brady isn’t as good as 2007’s, and Godwin and Evans aren’t as good as peak Randy Moss. It’s fun to look back on that ridiculous campaign, but there’s not much to be learned from it.
Perhaps the most interesting season to look back on in Brady’s 2009 campaign. After all, it’s the only one that didn’t end with an MVP and a Super Bowl appearance. Fresh off of an ACL tear, Brady returned to the lineup and didn’t quite look like himself. The team went 10-6 and suffered a humiliating wild card loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
However, a deeper dive shows that Brady actually played pretty well. On the season, Brady completed 65.7% of his passes for 4,398 yards, 28 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, and a 96.2 passer rating. These numbers are all well above league average for the time, a feat made especially impressive since Moss clearly wasn’t himself and Brady took a while to knock off the rust from missing a full campaign.
The advanced numbers, however, show that Brady was truly special on a throw-for-throw basis. According to Football Outsiders, Brady finished the season ranked first in DYAR, second in DVOA, and fifth in QBR. DYAR and DVOA adjust for strength of opponent, and the 2009 Patriots faced an absolute gauntlet. Even though the season ended in disaster, 2009 was actually an underrated campaign for the six-time Super Bowl champion.
History Speaks on Tom Brady
Tom Brady might not win MVP in 2020, but the idea that he can’t fit in Bruce Arians’ aggressive scheme is ludicrous. Historically speaking, he plays his best football when he has someone capable of stretching the field and making chunk plays.
Brady’s downfield efficiency dropped in 2019, but most of that probably had to do with the atrocious supporting cast. From 2016 to 2018, Brady was among the best deep passers in the league. Look for that trend to continue now that he has the best receiver duo in football.
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