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Tom Brady
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NFL Player Profile

Will Tom Brady be a fantasy stud in Tampa Bay?

by Ian Hartitz
Updated On: June 21, 2020, 1:02 am ET

We’re in the thick of the NFL offseason and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2020 season. Click here to read the series of questions answered so far.

The Tampa Bay hoopla has been the single-biggest storyline to follow throughout this hectic 2020 offseason. Tom Brady's decision to leave Bill Belichick's evil empire to go be a dude with Bruce Arians and the Buccaneers has altered the landscape of the entire league.

Here's the potential issue: Brady just put together his worst statistical season in 2019 since at least 2013 (and maybe 2006) by most statistical measures.

Note that:

  • QBR is ESPN's Total Quarterback Rating that has been calculated since 2006.
  • Adjusted net yards per attempt differs from yards per attempt by adding sacks, touchdowns and interceptions to the equation.
  • Completion rate is completions per pass attempt.
  • Touchdown rate is touchdowns per pass attempt.
  • Interception rate is interceptions per pass attempt.
Brady

Of course, this wasn't all Brady's fault, and the Buccaneers' group of talented pass-catchers is anyone's idea of an upgrade over what New England had to offer. What follows is a breakdown on what to expect from Brady's fantasy football production in 2020.

Brady's 2019 season wasn't good, but he didn't get much help

The GOAT sure didn't receive much help from his teammates last season, as only Dak Prescott (36) had more dropped passes than Brady (34). Additionally, Brady didn't exactly fall off a cliff when it came to the ability to test defenses downfield, as he was one of 14 QBs to post a QB Rating over 100 on passes thrown at least 20 yards downfield (PFF).

Yes, Brady led the league in throwaways (40) and posted the third-highest rate of bad throws behind only Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford. One could argue that Brady is responsible for these bad throws, but the offense simply wasn't the same efficient machine we've grown used to seeing on a per-catch basis.

  • The Patriots' team-wide average of 3.42 yards after the catch per target ranked 22nd and was their lowest mark since 2013.
  • Brady's average release time of 2.58 seconds was his slowest mark since PFF began recording the statistic in 2011.
  • So was his average target depth of just eight yards.
  • Just 4.9% of Brady's end-zone targets were converted into six points, which marked just the second time since 2010 he finished under 5%.
  • Player Profiler measures a QB's supporting cast efficiency. The Patriots fourth in 2017, fourth in 2018 ... and 17th in 2019.
  • And yet, Brady's percentage of uncatchable passes in 2019 (24%) was nearly equal to his mark in 2018 (23%).
  • His 41% rate of catchable deep balls in 2019 was far from a problem considering his previous rates from 2018 (42%), 2017 (46%), 2016 (43%), 2015 (45%) and 2014 (33%).

Add it all together and it's clear receivers weren't breaking open as quickly in 2019, and there wasn't anyone to help make up for this in downfield or contested-catch situations. 

And why should we have expected otherwise? Each "bad" season we've seen from Brady has almost directly coincided with a period that the team struggled to surround him with healthy playmakers:

  • 2006: No. 1 receiver Deion Branch left town for Seattle
  • 2013: Just seven games from Rob Gronkowski, very young Julian Edelman, and Danny Amendola's first year with the Patriots.
  • 2019: No viable replacement for Gronk, incredibly-banged up Edelman *and* Mohamed Sanu down the stretch, as well as injury-riddled inconsistency from first-round rookie N'Keal Harry.

Brady left some yards on the field in 2019, but it's not like Patriots games were a consistent mess of off-target passes to wide-open receivers. Rather, there was an alarming lack of both separation and contested-catch ability from this offense's injured and underwhelming crop of pass catchers throughout the season.

Add in a brutal run game and good-not-great offensive line and you have the 2019 Patriots Offense.

This shouldn't be an excuse for TB12 in 2020.

This Bucs offense is loaded

Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are obviously the two leaders in the clubhouse when it comes to proven production in Tampa Bay. Still, they're just the icing on the cake of what's truly a loaded group of WRs, TEs and (kinda) RBs.

  • Evans joins Randy Moss as the only players in NFL history with at least 1,000 receiving yards in each of their first six seasons.
  • 38 players had at least 100 targets last season. None averaged more yards per target than Godwin (11).
  • Justin Watson is the favorite to work as the final man in three-WR sets after doing so down the stretch in 2019, the former fifth-round pick has a fun combination of size (6-foot-2 and 215-pounds) and speed (4.49-second 40-yard dash).
  • Scott Miller possesses plenty of speed (4.44-second 40-yard dash), not much size (5-foot-9 and 174-pounds) and a Tyler Lockett comp from Player Profiler.
  • Tyler Johnson posted 78-1,169-12 and 86-1,318-13 receiving lines during his final two seasons facing legit Big Ten competition at Minnesota.
  • Rob Gronkowski's average of 68 receiving yards per game is the highest career mark from any TE to ever play the position.
  • 37 TEs have at least 100 targets since 2017. Gronk (9.98 yards per target) ... and O.J. Howard (10.4) are the two-most efficient targets.
  • Cam Brate is one of just six TEs to score more than 15 TDs during this same three-year span.
  • Ronald Jones, still just 22 years old, improved across the board during his second season and wound up totaling 1,033 total yards and six scores.
  • The one question coach Bruce Arians had about RBs at the combine was, "Can they be a receiver? That separates guys from having to come off the field ... Edgerrin James never came off the Field ... Marshall Faulk never came off the field ... For me, I'm looking for that type of guy." Then the Buccaneers drafted Ke'Shawn Vaughn in the third round.

One issue could be the offensive line. Keeping Brady upright needs to be a priority, so finding a better replacement than ex-Colts backup OT Joe Haeg for RT Demar Dotson should be prioritized. Hopefully first-round tackle Tristan Wirfs will be that guy immediately, and ideally Brady's decisiveness will make up for his lack of mobility now that he has much better pass-game weapons at his disposal.

It remains to be seen exactly how Brady will mesh with these players, but it's certainly more than he had to work with in 2019.

Expectations might be a bit high for Brady in 2020 

Brady has worked as the QB9, QB2, QB15, QB3, QB14 and QB12 from 2014 to 2019, respectively. We can't expect three rushing scores like we saw in 2019, but there's certainly a chance for TB12 to resume his status as a fantasy QB1.

The problem is that he's already being drafted as the best version of himself since 2017. Best-ball average draft position pits him in the QB9-11 range.

Dual-threat talents Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes, Dak Prescott, Kyler Murray, Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson and Josh Allen are each superior options. From here, I'd still rather take my chances on the likes of Carson Wentz, Matthew Stafford, Daniel Jones, Baker Mayfield, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan before I take a spin with the soon to be 43-year-old QB.

Brady is the greatest ever, but it's not like Arians has routinely been the source of fantasy football goodness. Jameis Winston's 30/30 masterpiece in 2019 was good enough to help him finish as fantasy's QB5, but before that 2015 Carson Palmer (QB5) and 2012 Andrew Luck (QB11) were the only QB1s that Arians had enabled in the previous decade.

I'm selling the hype of TB12 and company at the current price.

Ian Hartitz

All things NFL. Great day to be great. You can follow Ian on Twitter @Ihartitz.