Tampa Bay Buccaneers Have Built One of Tom Brady's Best Supporting Casts Ever

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterApril 30, 2020

FOXBOROUGH, MA - DECEMBER 29:   Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots looks on during a game against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on December 29, 2019 in Foxborough, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

We know what you thought immediately after reading that headline: Nuh-uh, nope, there's no way that Tom Brady's 2020 Buccaneers supporting cast can even come close to being in the same class as the 2007 Patriots. After all, the 2007 Patriots had Randy Moss! And Wes Welker! And... [strains memory] lots and lots of other awesome guys!

Yes, the 2007 Patriots indeed had Moss, Welker and other very good players, even if some of them don't leap to mind after 13 years. But the 2020 Buccaneers have Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard (as of now), Ronald Jones II and newcomers Tyler Johnson and Ke'Shawn Vaughn. That's two 1,000-yard receivers, a Hall of Fame tight end, a 2017 first-round pick as the No. 2 tight end and all sorts of intriguing talent elsewhere.

But before we match up the 2020 Buccaneers head-to-head against the 2007 Patriots, we should make sure that the 2007 Patriots really were Brady's best supporting cast. Let's look at some potential challengers from throughout Brady's career. We're focusing on the offensive skill positions only, not offensive lines, defenses or coaching staffs, so we don't get bogged down comparing Byron Leftwich to Bill O'Brien or Tristan Wirfs to Dan Koppen.

   

Front-Runner: 2007 Patriots

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Cast of characters: Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Benjamin Watson, Donte' Stallworth, Laurence Maroney, Kevin Faulk

This historic offense looks a tiny bit less impressive when you list all of its primary members. A lot of greatness was stored up in Moss (98 catches, 1,493 yards and—gulp23 touchdowns that year) and Welker (112-1,175-8). After that, there were quite a few role players who benefited from being on the Patriots at the start of the Peak Brady era.

   

Challenger: 2011 Patriots

Cast of characters: Gronk, Welker, Deion Branch, Aaron Hernandez, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Stevan Ridley, Danny Woodhead

Brady threw for a career-high 5,235 yards and 39 touchdowns to this bunch, with Gronk (90-1,327-17) and Welker (122-1,569-9) doing much of the damage. This group could clearly give the 2007 Patriots a run for their money talent-wise. But we'll stick with the 2007 team because a) there's a huge drop-off in 2011 receiver talent after Welker and the 32-year old Branch (Chad Johnson's 15 receptions don't amount to much); and b) we don't want to talk about Hernandez any more than we absolutely have to.

   

Challenger: 2017 Patriots

Cast of characters: Gronk, Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, Dion Lewis, James White, Rex Burkhead

Ever notice that the best Patriots offenses are the ones that go on to lose the Super Bowl? It's probably because their offenses put up better numbers in years when their defense is a little weaker, forcing Brady and Co. to do more. But we digress.

Brady threw to this crew for 4,577 yards and 32 touchdowns, and the Patriots led the NFL in yards and finished second in points in 2017. If Julian Edelman or Martellus Bennett were healthy and available, this supporting cast might be better than their 2007 counterparts. But Edelman, Gronk, Amendola and the Deep Threat of the Year were rarely healthy and productive at the same time during Brady's late run of Super Bowl appearances. 

Despite a few close calls, it looks like the 2007 Patriots truly were Brady's best supporting cast of offensive weapons. But the exercise above did lower their pedestal a bit. That should help us stack them up position by position against the 2020 Buccaneers and determine if Brady truly is entering the best situation (weapon-wise, anyway) of his storied career.

   

Tale of the Tape: 2007 Patriots vs. 2020 Buccaneers

Top receiver: Randy Moss vs. Mike Evans

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

This is a first-round knockout, of course, and there's little Evans can do about it. Moss is a Hall of Famer, and he even wins easily if we look for evidence beyond those 23 touchdowns. Football Outsiders credited Moss with 564 DYAR in 2007; Evans recorded 301 DYAR last year (and a career-high 420 DYAR in 2018). For comparison's sake, Michael Thomas led the NFL with 538 DYAR while setting the record for single-season receptions last year. And Moss was excellent in Minnesota, of course, so there is no risk of grading him on a curve because he was catching passes from Peak Brady instead of Wrong Way Winston. 

Winner: Moss

   

Second receiver: Wes Welker vs. Chris Godwin

It's the battle you were waiting for: Apples vs. Oranges! Welker and Godwin have little in common besides their position and the fact that 2007 Welker, like Godwin, was more of an up-and-comer than an established star. Welker caught more passes (145) in 2007 than Godwin did last year, but Godwin (86-1,333-9), produced more yards and touchdowns and was better according to DYAR (415 to 378). Still, we'll give the nod to Welker because of his remarkable later career. 

Winner: Welker

(Note: We listed Evans over Godwin as the "top" receiver because of his superior career accomplishments, even though Godwin had better 2019 numbers. If you flip them, Evans beats Welker, but Moss trounces a 23-year old coming off one great season).

   

Tight end: Benjamin Watson vs. Rob Gronkowski

Watson was a fine blocking tight end for the Patriots (and later the Browns, Saints and Ravens) for years, and he went 36-389-6 for the 2007 team. But Gronk is Gronk, even if he turns out to be a little rusty coming out of retirement. If Welker gets the benefit of the doubt for his career accomplishments, so does the reigning WWE 24/7 champion.

Winner: Gronk

   

Running back: Laurence Maroney vs. Ronald Jones II

Maroney, a 2006 first-round pick, rushed for 835 yards and six touchdowns. But he caught only four passes for 50 yards in 2007 and earned a reputation as a fumble-prone, tentative runner whom the Patriots quickly soured upon. Jones is a 2018 second-round pick who had one of the worst rookie seasons in NFL history (1.9 yards per rush), but he rushed for 724 yards and six touchdowns while catching 31 passes for 309 yards last year. Neither back will ever be mistaken for Barry Sanders, but Jones has a slight edge over Maroney due to his versatility, potential upside and relative reliability.

Winner: Jones

   

Third receiver: Donte' Stallworth vs. Tyler Johnson

Stallworth was the Brandin Cooks of the mid-2000s, bouncing from team to team each year. He went 46-697-3 for the 2007 Patriots, his last productive season before fading quickly, due in part to due in part to his conviction for DUI manslaughter after he struck and killed a pedestrian in Florida. Johnson is a collegiate route technician who went 164-2,487-25 in his final two seasons for the University of Minnesota. He's a fine prospect who will look great as the fourth-to-seventh option in a passing game, but we have to go with the veteran here. 

Winner: Stallworth

   

Second tight end: Kyle Brady vs. O.J. Howard

Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

Howard is really more of a match for Watson: first-round pick, steady blocker, low reception totals due in part to an offense with only so many balls to go around. Kyle Brady was a 35-year old blocking-only tight end by 2007.

Winner: Howard

       

Changeup running back: Kevin Faulk vs. Ke'Shawn Vaughn

Vaughn is an exciting all-purpose prospect, but Faulk was a stalwart for the 2000s Patriots. 

Winner: Faulk

           

Other guys 

Cameron Brate remains on the Buccaneers roster and presumably remains in their plans, perhaps as Gronk's sidekick if they trade Howard. Otherwise, the bottom of their depth chart (Justin Watson, Scotty Miller, Dare Ogunbowale) isn't all that impressive. Jabar Gaffney, Sammy Morris and Heath Evans gave the Patriots a fourth receiver, third running back and fullback who could all play meaningful roles in a record-setting offense. 

Winner: Patriots

   

The results

In the final tally, the 2007 Patriots won five categories, while the Buccaneers won three. That's closer than you might have expected, and it could have ended in a tie if we swapped Evans and Godwin. Ultimately, the Patriots won because they had proven veterans (Stallworth and Faulk) in positions where the Buccaneers have rookies (Johnson and Vaughn), not because there's all that vast of a difference between skill-position depth charts of the two teams. 

So, the 2007 Patriots remain undefeated in everything but the Super Bowl! But what ultimately matters for the 2020 Buccaneers is not whether Evans-Godwin can rival Moss-Welker or if Gronk-Howard-Brate can emulate the success of the great Patriots tight ends of past years. It's whether 2020 Brady can still do with a great supporting cast what 2007, 2011 or even 2017 Brady was able to do.

If he can, the 2020 Buccaneers will be both Super Bowl contenders and one of the greatest sports stories we've seen in a long time. If not, well, it won't be because of a lack of offensive weapons.

            

Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeTanier.

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