Even if he won’t agree to the label, Tom Brady is widely considered the greatest quarterback of all time. Yet, he still can’t shake the stigma that he’s a poor deep passer.
While it was entirely fair to criticize Brady’s deep ball from 2009 to 2014, he actually was one of the most proficient passers last season on throws longer than 20 yards.
Brady completed 23 of 49 deep passes for 834 yards and eight touchdowns with one interception in 2016, according to Pro Football Focus. Taking drops into account, he had a 51 percent accuracy metric and 124.4 passer rating on passes longer than 20 yards.
Brady ranked second behind Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan in deep ball passer rating. He ranked seventh in deep accuracy percentage.
It certainly helped that the Patriots added Chris Hogan to their offense in 2016. Hogan caught 10 of 17 deep attempts for 397 yards with three touchdowns and no drops.
Brady should attempt even more passes of 20 yards or more in 2017 after the Patriots added Brandin Cooks. Cooks caught 11 of 24 deep balls last season for 544 yards with four touchdowns and no drops. He caught all 11 catchable deep balls from New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and finished second among receivers in deep ball yards, averaging an absurd 39.7 yards per catch.
Cooks is only 5-foot-10, 189 pounds, but he’s by far the fastest receiver on the Patriots. He ran a 4.33-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine in 2014 and topped out at 22.4 mph in Week 15 on a 45-yard touchdown catch. Hogan topped out at 20.78 mph last season.
Toss in tight end Rob Gronkowski, who caught 6 of 11 deep passes for 213 yards with two touchdowns, and the Patriots have a trio of pass-catchers who can stretch the field and torment defenses.
That’s why Brady should throw deep even more frequently in 2017. He averaged just over four deep passes per game in 2016. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to tack on another deep attempt per game to rank near the top of the league with five or more long passes per game. Only Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers and Kirk Cousins attempted five or more deep passes per game in 2016.
Brady should have more time in the pocket this season as long as his offensive line stays healthy. Guards Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason and center David Andrews should see their pass protection improve with another offseason under their belts.
If Brady can maintain his deep ball efficiency while increasing his attempts, his overall numbers will continue to improve as he solidifies his standing as the Benjamin Button of NFL quarterbacks. The Patriots’ offense also will be even more high-powered if Brady can up its number of big plays. And if opposing defenses begin to cheat back and respect the deep ball, then the Patriots’ rushing attack will be even more effective.
There are many reasons to be amazed by Brady. But the fact that he’s been able to flip the script on his deep ball narrative over the past three years is among the most impressive.
Thumbnail photo via Stew Milne/USA TODAY Sports Images