One NFL executive sounded a bit pessimistic about the version of Tom Brady the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are getting in 2020, calling the future Hall of Famer "cautious" and "a little more skittish in the pocket."
The Athletic's Mike Sando conducted a survey of 50 NFL coaches and talent evaluators to rank the best starting quarterbacks in the league. Brady came in at No. 6, just outside the top tier of passers.
"He doesn't want to take a hit," the executive said. "I think the arm is still there, but a lot of in-cutting routes, I think he has to be played to his strengths. Really really smart, knows where to go with it, but he just doesn't quite dominate."
The end of the New England Patriots dynasty—and by extension Brady's time as a premier passer—have long been forecast, only for New England to reel off another AFC East title and Brady to fend off Father Time for another year.
Much like Sando, ESPN's Jeremy Fowler reached out to people throughout the NFL to gauge the general perception around the top players at each position. One quarterback told Fowler he wouldn't have been very high on Brady if he had remained in New England but that he should benefit from an improved supporting cast.
The Buccaneers have two Pro Bowl receivers (Mike Evans and Chris Godwin) and acquired Rob Gronkowski to line up at tight end along with O.J. Howard. That leaves Brady with plenty of weapons in the passing game.
The running game is another matter and something a general manager highlighted to Sando:
"I think he can still be good, but he needs a run game. People don't realize, New England has had a good run game. They had a really good defense. They were so in sync for two decades in the same system offensively, and now all of a sudden Tom has to wait one more second because he is not 100 percent sure what Mike Evans is thinking. That opens him up to get hit."
The Patriots rarely relied on premier running backs to supplement Brady because his presence meant the position didn't need to be a priority. But New England usually had runners (Dion Lewis, Corey Dillon, Stevan Ridley, LeGarrette Blount, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, etc.) who could be trusted to move the chains.
Buccaneers players combined to gain 3.7 yards per carry, and Tampa Bay ranked 26th in run offense DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average), per Football Outsiders.
Leading rusher Ronald Jones II (724 yards, six touchdowns) is back, and the team selected Vanderbilt's Ke'Shawn Vaughn in the third round of the 2020 draft.
One way to set Brady up for success is having a consistent ground threat that keeps opposing defenses honest. If teams feel comfortable regularly dropping six or seven players in pass coverage on most downs, it could bode poorly for the Buccaneers' marquee signing.