Tom Brady’s fantasy prospects might be sunnier in Tampa Bay than New England, but, in decline at age 43, he’s not a player to get too excited about.
Downgrade New England’s receivers, obviously, though you probably weren’t drafting them anyway.
After 20 seasons, during nine of which he appeared in the Super Bowl, Tom Brady left the New England Patriots for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in what might have been the most shocking free agent signing in NFL history. As for how this happened and why, Seth Wickersham laid it out here in epic detail for ESPN. As for what this means for fantasy, probably not as much. This was unexpected, exciting, and it has a real impact on the NFL. New England’s Super Bowl odds fell from 12/1 to 30/1, while Tampa Bay’s rose from 60/1 to 14/1. For fantasy? Meh.
Brady is arguably the greatest player in the history of football. Sure. But he’s also turning 43 in August, is coming off of his worst season in 10 years (by PFF grade and adjusted yards per attempt), and last finished top-15 in fantasy points per game in 2017. Last season he ranked fifth-worst of 29 qualifying quarterbacks in fantasy points per attempt (0.41), his worst season in over a decade. Of 31 qualifying quarterbacks, he also ranked fifth-worst in depth-adjusted completion percentage, again his worst season in over a decade.
Through the first nine weeks of the season, Brady ranked sixth in PFF grade, while averaging 18.8 fantasy points per game and 7.1 yards per attempt. Throughout the remainder of the season, Brady ranked just 18th in PFF grade, while averaging only 14.7 fantasy points per game and 5.9 yards per attempt (worst). Perhaps this second-half dropoff is yet another obvious sign of an aging player in decline. Or, perhaps it’s just bad luck and the injury Brady suffered in his 10th game of the season lingered longer and was more serious than initially reported, as NFL Network’s Michael Giardi said in December.
That’s one excuse for Brady. The more obvious one is the one that is no longer a concern in Tampa Bay. Last season, New England sported what was probably the worst receiving corps of Brady’s career and possibly the worst receiving corps in football. After Julian Edelman and RB James White, no New England receiver reached even 400 yards on the season. Compare that to Tampa Bay, which boasted two 1,000-yard-wide receivers in Chris Godwin and Mike Evans.
Yes, Brady looked bad last year, but maybe we’re overstating it. As we just mentioned, he ranked sixth in PFF grade before his injury. And, over the prior four seasons, he ranked fifth, first, first, and second. Compare that to Jameis Winston, who has never ranked inside the top-15 and, even so, finished third in total fantasy points last year. That’s true, but Brady (at age 43) also isn’t likely to lead the league in pass attempts like Winston did 2019. Or lead in deep passes, interceptions, pick sixes, and sacks (off by one) like Winston. Instead, Brady is likely to play a far more conservative style of offense in 2020. At his advanced age, following a steady downward decline in efficiency, that makes him an unsexy low-upside pick in fantasy drafts, in spite of Tampa Bay’s receiving talent and Brady’s name-brand appeal. At best, he should be drafted as only a fringe-QB1.
Brady’s less aggressive brand of football is also bad news for Godwin and Evans, following a season that saw them finish second (19.7) and fourth (17.9), respectively, in fantasy points per game. The regression was bound to happen in any case, and might now be more exaggerated, but it’s unlikely to hit both receivers evenly. Brady’s arrival might only be a slight step back for Godwin but it projects to be far more damaging to Evans, who has been far more reliant on deep passes for fantasy production throughout his career. In 2019, Evans scored over a third of his fantasy points on deep passes (compared to only 20% for Godwin) and Winston threw deep nearly 50% more often than Brady last year. Godwin is also at an advantage operating predominantly out of the slot. That’s typically the focal point of a Bruce Arians offense and the focal point of a Tom Brady offense. In fact, in three full seasons together, Randy Moss only outscored Wes Welker in fantasy points per game once. Fellow receiver Edelman averages a ridiculous 17.7 fantasy points per game (high-end WR1 numbers) over his last 36 games (postseason included).
As for New England’s receivers? It’s hard to imagine a quarterback room that consists of only Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham to not be a major step back from Brady. That’s surely correct, but, as we already outlined, it’s not like Brady was playing like Brady last year. And, if Brady isn’t still Brady, Bill Belichick is still Bill Belichick. In 2008, with the Patriots, Matt Cassel started 15 games, winning 10 of them, and supporting two 1,000-yard-wide receivers (granted, those WRs were Welker and Moss). And Mohamed Sanu, Jakobi Meyers, and N’Keal Harry are not Randy Moss. You can bet on Belichick’s offense exceeding expectations again, and you might be right, but even so, there’d only be one receiver worth looking at – Edelman, who still retains value as a PPR cheat code.