A lot of fantasy football experts predicted a big fall for New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in 2013. He entered the season without over 70% of his targets from the previous season, thanks to free agency, injuries and murder charges (cough* Aaron Hernandez, cough*).
I was reluctant to write him off. I kept him inside my top-10 and hoped for the best. In my defense, I didn’t think Rob Gronkowski would miss the season’s first six games, Danny Amendola would struggle that much to stay healthy and Shane Vereen would be down and out after just one week.
I thought at the worst The Gronk would be ready to roar by week four, Amendola would be a poor man’s Wes Welker and Shane Vereen would be a poor man’s Darren Sproles.
I was flat out wrong about Gronkowski, but at least statistically speaking, I was 100% right about Amendola and Vereen. Both guys lived up to the hype with huge week one performances. Trouble is, both got hurt, too. Amendola had a groin issue that really never went away until late in the year, while Vereen left an awesome week one to die with wrist surgery that robbed him of half the year.
Without three huge pieces to his offense, Brady did in face experience a drop off, as is naturally to be expected. He not only had to cope with the loss of Wes Welker, Hernandez and Danny Woodhead, but also the very obvious lack of any other truly reliable play-makers with three more absentee slips as the classic cherry on top.
Truth be told, it was brutal.
Many will look to Brady’s age, a drop off in arm strength and accuracy, as well as a mindless sense of pressure that wasn’t even there at times (some referred to it as Brady seeing “ghosts” in the pocket). There is absolutely some truth to that, but is it really a coincidence that Brady played his best ball of 2013 when he had guys like Gronkowski, Vereen and Amendola on the field and some of his worst without them?
No, it’s not. Rather, that’s merely logical.
A quick break down of his numbers should reveal that Brady is simply human and when his talent around him saw a drop, so did his own production:
Danny Amendola played in 12 games in 2013. In the four games he missed, Brady had two games where he completed under 49% of his passes, while throwing five touchdowns to one pick. Not woeful numbers, but definitely not prolific. It’s worth noting that the first of those four games in a rainy duel with the New York Jets in week two, while the fourth was the second meeting with the Jets. New York was and is a pretty good defense, so it also should come as no shock that those are the two games where Brady dipped below 50% for his completion rate.
Rob Gronkowski played in just seven games in 2013, returning to the field in week seven and exiting in week 14 with a torn ACL. Gronkowski dominated from the get go, helping to make Brady into an elite fantasy option for a good stretch in the middle of the year.
During that span Brady put up 13 touchdowns to just four interceptions, while also averaging a whopping 2,205 passing yards. Those numbers accounted for almost half of his 2013 production in just seven games.
Shane Vereen played in just eight games in 2013. His absence doesn’t show a direct impact on Brady’s numbers over the course of the season, but not having Vereen was a huge loss in other ways. Stevan Ridley struggled immensely to take care of the football, which opened the door for Vereen to put up 159 total yards on 21 touches in week one. Had he stayed healthy, at the very worst Brady would have had an elite dump off option and a guy that could have helped offset Aaron Hernandez not being around for New England’s “move” position in the offense.
Extrapolated over a full season, Vereen’s role was quite clear. He finished with 47 receptions in eight games, putting him on a ridiculous projection of 94 catches. While many will brush off that projection, that’s actually a testament to Vereen’s talent, as well as the dire need of a play-maker. Had he been on the field, the Pats would have absolutely fed him the ball on a weekly basis. They wouldn’t have had any choice.
Brady’s worst performance of the 2013 regular season was probably an underwhelming showing against the Cincinnati Bengals. He completed just 47% of his passes and had his touchdown streak snap, while throwing a crucial pick. Not having Gronkowski or Vereen hurt him a lot in this game against a pretty stout Cincy squad.
Despite all of this horror, Brady was still a top-15 fantasy passer a year ago. He put up some monster yardage games and throughout the season dealt with peons like Kenbrell Thompkins, Zach Sudfeld, Aaron Dobson and others in an effort to keep his Patriots from the depths of hell. Brady didn’t put up magical numbers, but actually had over 4,300 passing yards and 25 touchdowns, while throwing just 11 picks. In fact, he never threw more than one pick in a single game in 2013, despite it getting pretty bad at times.
He got the job done, as New England somehow miraculously went 12-4 and won their division. They even advanced to the AFC title game, where Brady absolutely sucked but again, didn’t have Gronkowski. New England also randomly abandoned a very effective rushing attack and instead felt like throwing 38 times against a somewhat underrated Broncos defense.
In the end, Brady’s only reliable target from week one to the end of the playoffs was the tiny Julian Edelman, who hauled in over 100 passes. It was an odd pairing, as Edelman had previously been a health risk and moderate talent. It’s 100% plausible that Brady made Edelman into something he’s not, and both over achieved together to save their season. Either way, regardless of how good Edelman truly is, he was never a red-zone threat and he’s really all Brady had.
For the people that look at Brady’s 60.5% completion rate on the year (his worst since 2003), I say look to the lack of weapons plus the fact that the replacement options were awful. Brady’s new receivers were rookies or unproven talents, or guys who were simply over matched. Seriously, it was so bad that Austin Collie had to bring his concussed head into town to help clean up the mess.
There were horribly run routes, alligator arms, bad drops and a lack of awareness in terms of making plays, keeping feet in bounds, etc. Overall, it was one rough ticket for Tom Terrific.
But if this is as bad as it gets for Tom Brady and his fantasy owners, we should be counting our lucky stars. Nay, we should be marveling.
Granted, we can’t assume anything anymore. Brady is going to be 37 years old this year, understandably might be regressing a bit and a lot of his returning options remain injury liabilities. However, on paper he still has a system that works and a slew of weapons that (when healthy) help to form quite a formidable offensive attack.
Shane Vereen is still that Darren Sproles weapon, if not better. Rob Gronkowski is still an elite tight end when he gets back to full health. Julian Edelman has proven himself to be an ace in the slot. Danny Amendola can fill a role as a short an intermediate possession guy and the likes of Aaron Dobson and Brandon LaFell could rise up in this offense.
So, what does that mean for Brady in 2014? Does it mean a swift return to the top-five? It certainly could, but I won’t be so bold this time around to say that’s where he’ll land. The top-10 is much more realistic. After all, it’s hard to think he’s going anywhere but up after what he endured last year.
The quarterback position is without a doubt the deepest in fantasy football. How else can we exlain Andy Dalton of all people ascending into the top-five? Or Philip Rivers? We can’t, really. The position is just deep and it’s a passing league.
Don’t believe me? Andy Dalton was the 5th best passer a year ago with roughly 288 fantasy points (depending on your league). Tony Romo was 10th with 260, just 28 points behind him. And Romes didn’t even finish the season due to a bad back.
Brady was 14th, just nine points behind Romo. The gap isn’t that large.
If you’ve got the weapons, system, talent and protection, you can crush it. If you’ve only got some of that, you might struggle a bit. If you’ve got none of that, you’re probably Geno Smith.
But if Brady of 2013 was still a top-15 guy, this year’s Brady should be able to be top-10. Regardless of where he eventually lands, there’s no denying what he’s done in the past and what he’s still capable of doing. That makes him a legit rebound candidate to get back to the elite grouping.
Considering his insane Average Draft Position (ADP) of round six, Brady is looking better by the day.
*Photo Credit – Football Schedule