New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had a down year in 2013, tossing just 25 touchdowns against 11 interceptions. It didn't have much of an impact on the team's success—the Bill Belichick-coached team went 12-4 on the year—but it has clearly diminished Brady's value among fantasy football owners.
ESPN.com has Brady as the 12th-ranked fantasy quarterback for 2014, with projected stats of 4,287 yards, 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Yahoo Sports' composite rating pegs him as the No. 7 QB, although a couple of experts had him as low as No. 10.
He won't put up numbers like he did in the Randy Moss years, but Brady should still exceed the expectations set for him by many fantasy football experts.
The majority of concerns appear to stem from Brady's supporting cast. Here is ESPN's fantasy outlook on Brady from their rankings page:
No Rob Gronkowski? A group of receivers that featured three rookies in the mix? OK, maybe Brady's terrible start last season wasn't all that surprising. He racked up only 11.5 points per game in the first eight weeks (ranked 34th among QBs). That ice melted quickly once Gronk returned from his multiple injuries and Brady and his young wideouts got on the same page, which led to a scoring turnaround in Weeks 9-17 (18.6 fantasy points per game, ranked fourth). But even with his hot play down the stretch, you shouldn't consider Brady a QB1 in standard leagues as long as Gronk's status remains uncertain.
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel's Omar Kelly echoed those concerns:
I'm honestly kind of amazed at how poorly the Patriots have done finding better weapons for Tom Brady. His weapons are mediocre now.— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) August 20, 2014
The wide receiver corps features the likes of Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins backing up veterans Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman.
Some fantasy football owners appear to be more bullish on Brady's bona fides. FantasyFootballCalculator.com has Brady as the 63rd player picked, with an average round of 5.12. The wisdom of the crowds appears to have Brady's value headed in the right direction, but he could still surpass even these expectations.
It's also telling that Brady improved as the year went on in 2013. He threw for 300 or more yards five times after Week 8, including two 400-yard performances, per Pro-Football-Reference.com.
However, Brady is no stranger to working without elite talent at his disposal. Deion Branch was his top threat for a couple of years in the mid-2000s, and in 2013 the veteran QB helped turn Edelman into a 105-reception wide receiver, an 84-catch improvement over the previous year.
Brady is a star-maker, and he should be able to work wonders with his unimposing wideouts. The extra year of working with Dobson, Thompkins, Amendola and Edelman as a unit should translate into an upgraded performance for 2014.
Fantasy football owners should also take a look at Brady's preseason numbers as a sign of his comfort with his cohorts.
|Week||Pass Completions||Pass Attempts||Yards||Avg.||Touchdowns||Interceptions|
Exhibition stats can definitely be a mirage, but there are no red flags in Brady's performances so far. Brady should be able to exhibit the same rapport with his receivers in the regular season.
It's also readily apparent that Brady will do whatever it takes to gain an edge on the competition. According to the Boston Herald's Karen Guregian, Brady has been utilizing "state-of-the-art brain training to sharpen his decision-making skills." The work has focused on identifying deficient areas in his brain, per Guregian:
So after the deficient areas in Brady’s brain were identified, the nine-time Pro Bowler began doing the appropriate exercises to get back into what is considered the median range. That’s helped the Patriots quarterback become even more adept at reacting and making the necessary split-second decisions.
He's never had to rely on elite athleticism to make plays, so as long as he can keep his synapses firing faster than the opposing secondaries, there should be no issue with his ability to read defenses correctly and make big-time throws when they count.
Peyton Manning is a fine example on how to continue to master the art of reading defenses while the body begins to slow down. Brady's cerebral training could very well be the perfect strategy to mimic Manning's mid-to-late 30s excellence.
There is perhaps one person that can ensure Brady has another sterling, productive season behind center. Tight end Rob Gronkowski is one of the most dynamic players in the game when healthy—which is a huge caveat for the fifth-year pro.
He played in just seven games in 2013, but still managed to rack up 39 catches for 592 yards and four touchdowns. The oft-sidelined tight end has also made substantial progress in his ACL injury recovery.
"I’ve been working with Tom since I’ve been out here, but we haven’t been doing it against the defense or anything. So it was good to be out there and boom, just like we never missed before. He hit me — I think we had a couple of passes thrown to me for catches in 11-on-11, so that was good," said Gronkowski, via Young.
With or without Gronk, Brady will surprise some people this season. It just gets much, much easier with the former Arizona Wildcat standout in the fold for 16 weeks. It takes the pressure off the developing wide receiver corps and gives Brady an extra safety valve in addition to Edelman.
The defense could help Brady get a few extra possessions this season. Cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner could be instrumental in creating the turnovers that Brady and the Patriots offense can turn into instant points.
All things considered, the Patriots are a team set to continue their winning ways in 2014. The Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills are still works in progress, while the New York Jets will need Geno Smith (or perhaps Michael Vick) to step up big time if Rex Ryan's defensive-minded squad is to take the AFC East crown.
Belichick is still one of the shrewdest coaches of all time and his impact on the team and its culture appears to be as strong as ever.
It may be tough for the Patriots to snatch another Super Bowl ring as Brady ages and teams catch up to the hooded mastermind's methods, but it should still be another productive season for the future Hall-of-Fame quarterback.