The New England Patriots’ current receiving corps is among the fastest in franchise history, and quarterback Tom Brady is taking full advantage of it by rearing back and chucking it deep.
Brady already has thrown 21 deep passes, which the NFL defines as an attempt over 15 yards, leading the NFL. That’s the most of his career through two games since the NFL started tracking short and deep passes in 2006. The closest he came to this mark came in 2014 when he completed just 2 of 19 deep passes for 65 yards in his first two games.
Brady is 8-of-21 for 256 yards with two touchdowns on deep passes so far. He’s on pace for a whopping 168 deep attempts on the season. Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston led the NFL with 129 deep attempts last season.
The most deep passes Brady has attempted in one season came in 2012, when he was just 39-of-119 for 1,149 yards with 11 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. The most precise he’s ever been on the deep ball came last season, when he was 37-of-75 for 1,177 yards with nine touchdowns and just one interception in 12 games.
Brady usually hovers around six deep attempts per game or 100 on the season.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski leads Patriots receivers in deep targets with five, but he has just one reception on those attempts for a 53-yard touchdown. Brady is 3-of-4 for 95 yards to wide receiver Brandin Cooks, 0-of-4 to wide receiver Chris Hogan, 1-of-2 to wide receiver Phillip Dorsett and running back Rex Burkhead (who has a touchdown), 0-of-2 to tight end Dwayne Allen and 1-of-1 to wide receiver Danny Amendola and running back James White.
Brady completed over 50 percent of his deep passes to Hogan and Gronkowski last season, so expect the Patriots quarterback to complete more of his attempts to those two targets moving forward. The quarterback did pick his spots more last season, however, which could mean completing a higher percentage of his passes.
Both Cooks and Dorsett ran 4.33-second 40-yard dashes at their respective NFL Scouting Combines in 2014 and 2015. If there’s a competition for fastest wide receiver on the Patriots, Cooks — who was running 19.9 MPH on a 54-yard completion in Week 1, according to NFL Next Gen Stats — is winning. Expect deep targets to continue going their way.
More fun with Next Gen stats? Brady is averaging 8.9 completed air yards this season. He averaged 6.9 completed air yards in 2016. Brady’s intended air yards has increased from 8.6 yards in 2016 to 12.3 yards in 2017. He’s already exceeded his longest completed air distance pass from 2016 (57 yards) in 2017 (59.7 yards). Because Brady is attempting deeper passes, his time to throw has increased from 2.57 seconds in 2016 to 2.69 seconds this season.
It seems unlikely Brady will continue attempting over 10 deep passes per game, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him attempt the most long bombs of his career this season. His arm strength clearly isn’t lacking at 40 years old, and he has four legitimate deep threats in Cooks, Dorsett, Hogan and Gronkowski.
So, if you’re a fan of a big-play offense, the 2017 Patriots should be fun to watch.
Thumbnail photo via Chuck Cook/USA TODAY Sports Images