Last year, coming off of season-ending knee surgery the year prior, no one was sure what we would see from Tom Brady. The last year he had participated in fully, 2007, Brady threw for an unprecedented 4806 yards, 50 TD's, and a 117.2 passer rating.
Yet serious injury was something Brady had never before experienced; he was able to maintain a relatively clean bill of health throughout his career.
It was clear from the get-go that the knee injury was impacting Brady's comfort and pocket presence early on in the season.
During the 2009 campaign, Brady struggled to spread the ball out. He essentially had only two receivers, Randy Moss and Wes Welker. Veteran Joey Galloway, who was expected to be the third wide receiver, was cut after three games and just seven receptions for 67 yards. He had failed to get comfortable with Brady and the Pats offense.
The Patriots offensive line experienced a fair amount of injury. RG Steven Neal, RT Nick Kaczur, and LT Matt Light all missed time during the year.
Brady was on the ground a bit too much last season, and rumors of shoulder and rib injuries, among others, were speculated widely upon.
The Pats also struggled to run the ball consistently. Injuries to Fred Taylor and fumbling problems for Laurence Maroney led to a fairly average rushing output of 1921 yards, 12th overall.
Because of the inability to run, the Pats were unable to set up the long ball on a consistent basis.
This, combined with no legitimate third or fourth receiving options, led to Brady hooking up with Moss only eight times for more than 20 yards last season.
Yet, despite all of this, Brady threw for 4,398, 28 TD's, a 65.7 completion percentage, and a 96.2 passer rating. All in all, this was Brady's second best statistical season of his career, behind only the record shattering 2007.
In 2010, the Patriots have set Brady up to significantly improve on his 2009 output. WR's Julain Edelman and Brandon Tate are expected to fill in at the third and fourth receiving spots. Both have New England personnel and fans alike raving about their ability, and, most importantly, their timing with Brady.
Already this preseason, Edelman has caught seven receptions for 98 yards; Tate five receptions for 62 yards.
To make matters even better (for fantasy, at least) the Pats secondary has major questions. Their best CB last year Leigh Bodden has been placed on season-ending IR. Combined with the fact that the Pats have the sixth toughest schedule in football, this can only lead to one thing: the New England offense is going to be on the field a lot this season.
But perhaps the biggest additions for the Patriots passing game were the selections of TE's Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in the 2010 draft, as well as the addition of veteran Alge Crumpler.
All three TE's can contribute greatly to the blocking game, huge for a team who's offensive line struggled to stay healthy last season.
Most importantly, the addition of the physical specimen that is Gronkowski (6-6, 265) gives Brady a weapons he's never had in his tenure in New England; a big, nasty, and athletically gifted tight end who can dominate the middle of the field and outwork defenders for balls.
Gronkowski has caught seven balls for for 104 yards and three TD's this preseason. His three scores lead the team.
Hernandez has also caught seven balls, for 72 yards and one score. He's expected to be a viable receiving option during the season.
Brady is traditionally drafted behind fantasy QB studs Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Peyton Manning, and for good reason.
If you examine the 2009 campaign, you can see why:
Brees: 4,388 Yards, 34 TD's, 11 INT's, 109.6 Rating
Rodgers: 4,434 Yards, 30 TD's, 7 INT's, 103.2 Rating
Manning: 4,500 Yards, 33 TD's, 16 INT's, 99.9 Rating
Brady: 4,398 Yards, 28 TD's, 13 INT's, 96.2 Rating
But, if you examine the ADP (average draft position) of Brady, you will see why Brady might produce more for where you pick him then if you draft Brees, Rodgers, or Manning.
Here is the ADP of Tom Brady on four of the biggest fantasy sports sites: ESPN, 17.9, CBS, 19.18, NFL.com, 19.56, and Yahoo 31.7.
In all scenarios, Rodgers, Brees, and Manning are going ahead of Brady, sometimes more than a round before. Also, unless you're in a league full of NE fans, don't be surprised if you see some combination of Tony Romo, Matt Schaub, and Philip Rivers go off the board before Brady.
There will be some situations, depending on the competitiveness and depth of your league, where Brady is still available in the third, fourth, and occasionally fifth rounds of drafts.
Especially in auction formats, you have the opportunity to get a QB who might finish the season in the top three at his position after three to five other QB's have gone off the board.
The biggest factor in why Brady will be such a steal simply boils down to the talent surrounding him. Brady has the most options he's ever had in his time in New England, even 2007.
Brady is in a contract year, and so is his best WR Randy Moss. The running game was the No. 1 focus in camp, which will set up the long ball much better than last year. The Pats offense is going to have to put points on the board to beat teams like the Bengals, Ravens, Chargers, Vikings, Steelers (Big Ben will be back), Colts, Bears, and Packers, all of which are on the Patriots 2010 schedule.
2010 Prediction: 4,600 Yards, 35 TD's.