Apparently, opinions wildly vary on the quality of weapons currently stashed on the 2018 New England Patriots roster.
While listening to Bill Simmons’ podcast Friday, The Ringer owner/host/writer argued this is quarterback Tom Brady’s worst set of receiving targets since 2006. A Patriots fan submitted a question in this week’s mailbag, asking if this year’s set of weapons actually is better than what Brady was working with in 2007.
Those takes are on far different ends of the spectrum. And I’d lean more towards the fan’s point of view.
When, or if, everyone gets healthy, Tom Brady will have James White, Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, Cordarrelle Patterson and Kenjon Barner at running back, Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett and Patterson at wide receiver, and Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen and Jacob Hollister at tight end.
That’s a freakin’ arsenal. And while no one on that list has the elite, top-end talent of 2007-era Wes Welker and Randy Moss, it’s much deeper than the group that went 16-0 in 2007. That team was trotting out Laurence Maroney, Kevin Faulk, Sammy Morris, Heath Evans and Kyle Eckel at running back, Donte Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney at wide receiver and Ben Watson and Kyle Brady at tight end.
White is the best pass-catching back Brady has ever had. (Faulk was better as a rusher; White is a better receiver.)
Michel already looks better than Maroney. Gordon is the Patriots’ best over 6-foot wide receiver since Moss, and he’s probably one of the five best receivers with those guidelines the Patriots have ever had (Moss, Stanley Morgan, Irving Fryar … who else?)
But it’s worth questioning if we’ll ever actually see the 2018 offense at full strength. Gronkowski reportedly is expected to sit out his third game in four weeks Sunday against the Tennessee Titans, even though he reportedly made the trip to Nashville.
The Patriots have a bye next week. Running back Rex Burkhead can’t return off injured reserve until Week 13, so it won’t be this week or Week 12 against the New York Jets.
If the Patriots can get through Week 10, a bye, and Week 12 without any further injuries, then we might finally know this offense’s full potential in Week 13 against the Minnesota Vikings.
What made 2007 so special was that Brady was able to basically go the entire season with his team at full strength. That clearly has not happened this season.
Edelman was suspended the first four weeks of the season. Gordon wasn’t acquired until Week 3 and didn’t play until Week 4. Burkhead played just three games before being placed on injured reserve. Michel has missed time on two different occasions with knee injuries. Gronkowski injured his ankle, and since hurt his back, just in time for Edelman’s return and Gordon’s ascension. That’s not even mentioning running back Jeremy Hill, who tore his ACL in Week 1. Hill could have got the Patriots through some tough stretches at running back.
Simmons was right early in the season when the Patriots’ offensive ranks were threadbare. And that early lack of depth is at least part of the reason why Brady is on pace to throw his fewest touchdowns in a 16-game season since 2013. It’s also a big part of why Brady is on pace to throw double-digit interceptions for the first time since 2013. Brady’s accuracy percentage, a Pro Football Focus metric that takes out dropped passes, throw aways, spiked balls, batted passes, and passes where the quarterback was hit while they threw the ball, is its lowest since 2013. Brady’s accuracy percentage unsurprisingly has returned to form since Edelman returned.
But Edelman’s return, the emergence of Michel and the acquisition of Gordon significantly improved this offense.
So, Week 13 could be fun. If everyone still is in one piece — and stays clean off the field in the case of Gordon, then maybe the Patriots’ offense really will be as high powered as 2007. And if everyone can stay healthy and out of trouble, this offense will be a force in the postseason.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports