Many believe that he is a definite for Canton and, before his career is over, has the best chance to beat some of the NFL's all-time passing records.
He couldn't do this alone, however, and the Patriots have constantly given him reliable targets in the receiving corps, year after year. This is a list of the seven best receiving options to play with Tom Brady.
Some are on it based on statistics; some are here because of their contributions to the team as a whole.
Ignore the argument of whether receivers make the QB or the QB makes the receivers. Remember, not everything is based solely on astronomical numbers, but on the contributions the players have made to the team and the success they have experienced.
Years Played for New England: 2002 - 2006
Rank on All-Time New England Receivers List: 26
It's hard to discount David Givens' contributions to the New England Patriots after being drafted in 2002. He wasn't nearly as effective in the regular season as he was in the playoffs, but when it mattered most, David Givens performed. He was drafted by New England in the 2002 NFL Draft and played sparingly as a rookie, catching nine passes and one touchdown. He improved quickly, contributing on the back-to-back Super Bowl teams of 2003 and 2004.
Givens shined in the postseason when the team needed him to the most. He scored at least one touchdown in each playoff game starting in the 2003 AFC championship game against the Colts and including both Super Bowl 38 and 39. He finished his career with the Patriots with 158 receptions for 2,214 yards and 12 touchdowns.
He may be best remembered for his end-zone celebration in Super Bowl 39 against the Philadelphia Eagles. After scoring on a four-yard touchdown catch, he mocked Terrell Owens by flapping his arms as if they were wings, a celebration commonly used by the Eagles receiver. Givens finished his career with the Patriots in 2005, finishing as the second-leading receiver on the team for the second-straight season.
Years Played for New England: 2001 - 2004, 2010
Rank on All-Time New England Receivers List: 24
David Patten started his career in New England in 2001 as a free agent after a rough beginning to his NFL career. After going undrafted in 1996, he played with the Albany Firebirds of the Arena Football League before stints with the New York Giants and Cleveland Browns. He posted average numbers for a receiver, but made his mark as a return-man.
He signed on with New England as a free agent in the 2001 NFL season and started 14 games for them. He set his first career high in receiving that year with 51 catches for 749 yards. He also became the sixth player in NFL history that season to run, catch and throw for a touchdown in one game, against the Colts on October 21st. He was an integral part to the Patriots surprising Super Bowl winning team that year after having trouble breaking into the league five years prior.
After the 2001 season, Patten started 14 games in 2002, posting his new career high with 61 receptions, 824 yards and five touchdowns while leading Patriots receivers with 13.5 yards per catch. During their run to back-to-back titles in 2003, Patten found trouble staying healthy and was placed on the IR six games into the season. He returned in 2004 to start 11 games and posted decent numbers but, unfortunately, he failed to start a postseason game after being passed for a younger receiving corps, including Deion Branch.
Years Played for New England: 2002 - 2005, 2010 - Present
Rank on All-Time New England Receivers List: 10
Deion Branch has a shaky history with New England, but he is possibly one of the best and most explosive receivers in recent seasons.
He was drafted in the second round of the 2002 NFL Draft and drafted alongside fellow receiver David Givens. His rookie season, he started seven of 13 games, missing three with a leg injury, and finished third among receivers behind Troy Brown and David Patten. In Week 4 that season, Branch caught 13 passes, the second-highest single-game total by a rookie in NFL history.
Branch came into his own during the 2003 season, starting 11 of 15 games and led the team in receiving. His performance in Super Bowl 38 was superb, with 10 catches for 143 yards and a score. He also set-up Vinatieri's game-winning field goal with a 17-yard catch on the final drive of the game. He showed resolve in 2004 after injuring his leg in Week 2, which kept him out until Week 11, and finished the season strong. In the AFC Championship win against Pittsburgh, he caught a 60-yard touchdown pass and performed even better in Super Bowl 39.
Against the Philadelphia Eagles, Branch tied a Super Bowl record with 11 receptions for 133 yards, earning him MVP honors, the first time for a receiver since 1989. He came back in 2005 to play all 16 games (starting 15), the first time in his career, setting his career-high with 78 receptions for 998 yards and five touchdowns.
Unfortunately, Branch held out in 2006 and eventually was traded to the Seattle Seahawks for a first-round pick in 2007. After a relatively lackluster stint in Seattle, Branch was eventually traded back to the Patriots in 2010 after they ceremoniously traded Randy Moss back to the Minnesota Vikings. Branch sits 10th on the Patriots all-time receiving list and has a chance to move up before his career is over.
Years Played for New England: 1999 - Present
Rank on All-Time New England Receivers List: 5
Before anybody says, "Wait! He's a halfback", remember, the title of this article was about receiving options, not receivers, and Faulk has probably been one of the most consistent receiving options Brady has ever had. He currently sits fifth on the team's All-Time Receiving List with 424 receptions for 3,667 yards and 15 touchdowns. He has spent his entire career in New England and will most-likely retire here. It is almost certain he will be in New England's Hall of Fame someday and has won three Super Bowls, playing a significant part in the team's success. Not for nothing, Faulk still holds multiple collegiate records at LSU including All-Purpose Yards (6,833).
No team, arguably, plays the halfback screen better than the Patriots and no Patriots halfback receives the ball better than Kevin Faulk (Danny Woodhead is making a case against that though). For the first two seasons of his career, he shared starting duties but in the 2001 season, Faulk took on the role as a reserve behind Antowain Smith. He still played in 15 games that season as a third-down, receiving option that Brady took full advantage of.
As of last season, Kevin Faulk is the longest-tenured member of the New England Patriots and one of the few players remaining that has played in all three Super Bowl wins. He currently holds 7,217 all-purpose yards with the team.
Years Played for New England: 2007 - 2010
Rank on New England's All-Time Receivers List: 12
I couldn't find a proper photograph that truly encapsulated the greatness that was Randy Moss' athleticism and playing ability, so I found you that video. That video caused many a double-take with onlookers because nobody was sure if he even caught it but when they went to replay, he had caught it with one hand without even bringing it into his body.
Randy Moss, conceivably, had two of his best seasons ever in New England, playing with Brady. In his record-setting 2007 season, Moss recorded 1,493 yards on 98 receptions with 23 touchdowns. In his only Super Bowl appearance, with the Patriots, he scored the go-ahead touchdown with 2:42 left in the fourth quarter before the Giants' monumental comeback.
This post is probably going to catch a lot of heat because of Moss only being ranked third on this list. That and the fact that Moss is probably one of the best receivers to ever play the game of football. He was, for certain, one of the best and most explosive weapons ever put at Brady's disposal and he proved in 2007 that the team was on the verge of greatness but flubbed on a perfect season, losing the Super Bowl.
Heading into 2008, Moss and the Patriots, on paper, were a team that threatened to put up even bigger numbers than the year prior and head back to the Super Bowl again, ready to avenge their loss from the year prior. Of course, nobody saw Brady's torn ACL coming and systematically ended their hopes, even if Matt Cassel filled in admirably for him.
Randy Moss will forever be known as the best receiver the NFL has ever seen, behind the great Jerry Rice, and managed to finish 12th on the Patriot's All-Time Receiving List in only three and a quarter seasons.
Years Played for New England: 2007 - Present
Rank on New England's All-Time Receivers List: 4
At 5'9", 185 pounds, Wes Welker isn't your typical starting receiver in the NFL but what Welker has given to Tom Brady and the Patriots is beyond quantifiable. No receiver has been nearly as clutch as Welker. Whether it's a late game grab or a game-winning touchdown catch, he has been there to make the play. In his fifth season with New England, he already ranks fourth on their All-Time Receivers List with 432 receptions for 4,536 yards and 22 touchdowns.
After coming into the NFL undrafted, Welker posted the second-most all-purpose yards in his first three seasons, behind Gale Sayers, and still holds the Dolphins' all-time records for total kickoff returns, kickoff return yardage and total punt returns. However, it wasn't until he was signed by New England in 2007 that he really came into his own as a starting wide receiver.
In 2007, Welker led the league in receptions (tied with T.J. Houshmandzadeh) and again, in 2009. Welker holds the three highest single-season reception totals in Patriots history, as well as the franchise records for most receptions in a single game, most receiving yards in a single game and longest reception. He is the only receiver in NFL history with at least 110 receptions in any three seasons; keep in mind, he recorded that in three consecutive seasons. He also has been selected to the Pro Bowl and/or All-Pro Team in each of his four seasons with the Patriots.
Those are quite the credentials but it seems that he is only just getting started. In the Week 1 against Miami, Welker caught a 99-yard bomb late in the game. It tied the NFL record for longest play from scrimmage, only the 12th such play in NFL history. He ended that game with an eight-catch effort for 160 yards and two touchdowns. In Week 3 against the Buffalo Bills, Welker recorded a career day with 16 receptions for 217 yards and two touchdowns. This tied or broke multiple records in franchise history. Just another day at the office.
If Welker hasn't made his case for one of Brady's best weapons of his career, by the end of this season, nobody will be thinking twice about it.
Years Played for New England: 1993 - 2007
Rank on New England's All-Time Receivers List: 1
Troy Brown exemplifies the type of blue-collar, hard-working football player that left it all on the football field and was willing to do whatever was needed to help the team win. Brown retired in 2008 as the longest tenured New England Patriot after playing with the team for his entire 15-year career. He had played on five of the team's six Super Bowl appearances, winning three of them. He retired with the most receptions in team history and ranking first on the All-Time List. He recorded 557 receptions for 6,366 yards and 31 touchdowns. Even if Wes Welker finishes with all of New England's receiving records before his career is over, nobody can touch what Troy Brown meant to the franchise and their fanbase.
Troy Brown was drafted in 1993 out of Marshall University and nearly missed the team after being cut. He was re-signed on October 19th, 1993, however, and began on a long, tenuous journey working his way up the roster. It didn't help, in the beginning of his career, he played behind both Terry Glenn and Shawn Jefferson, and not to mention, Ben Coates at tight end.
Before I get flamed because he played a number of his seasons with Drew Bledsoe, he made his biggest contributions after Tom Brady became the starter. He has rings from all three Super Bowl wins, only David Patten can match that (and he was hurt for most of 2003 and benched in favor of younger receivers in 2004), and in 2001, he was a commodity in winning the franchise's first championship. He posted 101 receptions for 1,199 yards and five touchdowns.
Although he wasn't as miraculous as Moss or not as big as a tight end, Troy Brown shined in the organization regardless of statistics. He retired as the consummate New England Patriot. When he was called upon, Brown would do whatever was needed to help the team. In 2004, after younger receivers, like Deion Branch, were given the starting positions, he still found his way onto the field, as a defensive back, he even ranked second on the team with three interceptions.
It's expected that Troy Brown will eventually be surpassed, but as of right now, there hasn't been a more successful and reliable target in the decade Tom Brady has been playing as the starting QB of the New England Patriots.