Tom Brady: 5 Teammates He Made Better in His New England Patriots Career
One trend, however, illustrates Brady's skill as much as any of those: Since 2001, several receivers have seen the primes of their careers occur during their time in Foxboro and have been unable to repeat that success anywhere else.
A big reason for that is the man throwing them the ball. As AOL's Pat McManamon wrote, "Brady makes his receivers, rather than the other way around."
Here is a list of the most prominent examples. For this exercise, we're focusing on receivers whose careers were made while playing as one of Brady's targets. So Randy Moss, who was reborn in his first season in New England in 2007, doesn't make the list, as he was already a proven star before he was racing through the New York Jets secondary on opening day.
Let's look at the receivers who weren't the same before, or after, their membership in the Brady Bunch.
1. David Givens
With Brady: 53 games, 158 receptions, 12 touchdowns
Without Brady: Five games, eight receptions, no touchdowns
The jury never really came to a verdict with Givens, whose career was derailed by injury rather than failure. But Givens would have had a ways to go to match his production in the clutch from the 2003 and '04 postseasons.
Givens and Brady had a special rapport in the playoffs. Deion Branch (more on him later) was Brady's favorite target, but the Notre Dame product was his go-to guy in the red zone.
Givens was a throwaway seventh-round pick, but he looked like a first-rounder several times in January and February while catching passes from the two-time Super Bowl MVP.
2. David Patten
With Brady: 54 games, 165 receptions, 16 touchdowns
Without Brady: 93 games, 159 receptions, eight touchdowns
The 5'10" Patten and Brady were close friends in their time together between 2001 and 2004. Brady called the wideout "Chief," and their connection translated into success on the gridiron.
The stats show that Patten was at his best with Brady throwing him the ball, but Patten likely had a hand in grooming Brady into the quarterback he is today.
Patten was a reliable option for Brady, especially in big moments. He helped the quarterback complete his first playoff comeback by catching eight passes for 107 yards in miserable conditions against Oakland in 2001, and he was on the receiving end of Brady's first touchdown pass in a Super Bowl in the shocking victory over St. Louis.
According to Brady, that catch was an example of the chemistry between the two. When the America's Game series made its feature on the 2001 Patriots, Brady discussed recognizing that Rams cornerback Dexter McCleon was ready to jump an out route. Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis changed the call to an out-and-go, and Patten timed his fake perfectly so that his turn coincided with the arrival of Brady's pass, resulting in the easy score.
It was one play, but it was an example of the connection Patten had with Brady that his career suggests he didn't have with any other quarterback.
3. Jabar Gaffney
With Brady: 27 games, 47 receptions, six touchdowns
Without Brady (including 2008): 112 games, 328 receptions, 13 touchdowns
The statistics show that Gaffney belongs nowhere near this list. If anything, the stats show that Gaffney flourished elsewhere, and that his time as a Brady target held him back.
But stats, as is often the case, don't tell the story.
In 2006, Gaffney was unable to cling to a roster spot with the Texans and was unemployed as the season reached its halfway point. He got a second chance when the Patriots, desperate for receivers, came calling.
Forced to the top of a receiving corps that included Reche Caldwell (like I said, they were desperate) and Troy Brown, Gaffney flourished. He went off for eight catches and 104 yards in the Wild Card Round win over the Jets and repeated the January success with 10 catches, 103 yards and a touchdown in the upset win over San Diego and a touchdown catch in the devastating AFC Championship Game loss to Indianapolis.
Gaffney's improvement that season, in such a short amount of time, was remarkable and was a sign of Brady's influence. Brady took a punchless offense to the AFC Championship Game that year, and his making do with forgotten players like Gaffney was a big reason why.
When Josh McDaniels left New England to take over at Denver after the 2008 season, he took Gaffney with him. With what Brady had been able to do with him, it was understandable to see why.
4. Troy Brown
With Brady: 84 games, 337 receptions, 19 touchdowns
Without Brady: 108 games, 220 receptions, 12 touchdowns
Brown was productive without Brady. In 2000, Bledsoe's last full year as the starting quarterback in New England, Brown caught 83 passes for 944 yards. That's a good year.
But in 2001, Brady's first year at the helm, Brown became elite.
With Brady's pocket presence, accuracy and ability to find the open receiver, the quick, elusive Brown became a dangerous option on slants and in routes. In his first year catching passes from the two-time MVP, Brown broke a franchise record with 101 catches, and he nearly equaled it when he hauled in 97 a year later.
Brown will be forever respected and adored by Patriots fans for his willingness to play different roles (including, obviously, defense) to help the team, but that overshadows his value as a wideout. For a brief time, his smarts and reliable hands combined with Brady's talent to form one of the league's most repeated connections.
He was always good, but it took Brady's arrival for him to be great.
5. Deion Branch
With Brady: 64 games, 261 receptions, 19 touchdowns
Without Brady: 51 games, 190 receptions, 13 touchdowns
If anybody belongs on this list, it's Branch.
He and Brady have had a connection since their first year together in 2002. During Branch's four-and-a-quarter seasons in Seattle, he never equaled that production despite playing with a solid quarterback in Matt Hasselbeck.
Injuries were a major setback for Branch during his time in Seattle, but it's hard to argue the difference that playing with Brady has had on his career. With Brady, Branch was a No. 1 receiver who was at his most dangerous in the playoffs, where he passed 100 yards receiving four times. He was the MVP of Super Bowl XXXIX, catching 11 passes for 133 yards, and he was MVP Brady's top target in the Super Bowl a year earlier, catching 10 for 143.
Despite his stellar postseason résumé, perhaps no season best shows Brady's effect on Branch more than this past one. Branch was averaging 8.6 yards a catch when he was traded to New England after playing four games in Seattle. Reunited with the eventual MVP, Branch caught 48 passes for five touchdowns, averaging 14.7 yards a reception.
It was like old times. Sometimes you had to check the calendar to make sure it wasn't 2004.
But that's the way it is with a great quarterback. The average receivers play well, and the good receivers become great. Brady has already helped several receivers make that jump, and with any luck, he'll have an impact on several other receivers in the years to come.