Tom Brady took a major statistical jump from 2019 to 2020, and it’s largely because his offensive weapons, not his level of play, improved significantly.
With running backs Ronald Jones, Leonard Fournette, LeSean McCoy and rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn, wide receivers Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Scotty Miller, rookie Tyler Johnson, Jaydon Micken and Justin Watson and tight ends Rob Gronkowski, Cameron Brate, O.J. Howard (injured), Tanner Hudson and Antony Auclair, Brady is surrounded by an All-Star team of different eras. McCoy, Evans, Godwin, Brown and Gronkowski all have been named to All-Pro teams in their respective careers. Fournette has two 1,000-yard rushing seasons under his belt.
Brady must be in pigskin heaven after playing with the Patriots’ pass-catchers from a year ago.
But is Brady’s Bucs crew the best weapons he’s ever played with? Probably not, though it’s close. The 2020 Buccaneers are deeper, but there’s a pretty strong case to be made that Randy Moss and Wes Welker of the 2007 16-0 Patriots are better than any of the pass-catchers on Tampa Bay’s roster. Brady was also throwing to Jabar Gaffney, Donte Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney, Ben Watson, Kevin Faulk and Laurence Maroney that season. New England’s offense, in general, was much more high-powered than the 2020 Buccaneers, and it helped that he was throwing to one of the greatest wide receivers and one of the best slot receivers — both in the prime of their careers — in NFL history. Brady was playing under a better head coach, as well, of course. But it’s tough to argue with a top-two of Moss and Welker.
These Buccaneers are comparable to Brady’s 2010 squad when, at different points in the season, he was throwing to Moss, Gronkowski, Welker, Faulk, Julian Edelman, Aaron Hernandez, Deion Branch, Danny Woodhead, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Sammy Morris and Fred Taylor. Somehow, every era of the dynasty Patriots converged in that one season, and none of those pass-catchers had a 1,000-yard season due to injury (Welker), inexperience (Gronkowski, Hernandez and Edelman), age (Branch) or unhappiness (Moss). Evans, Godwin, Gronkowski and McCoy similarly all are at different points in their careers. If all four were in their prime, it would be a different story.
The 2020 Bucs rate up there with Brady’s weapons in 2011 (Welker, Gronkowski, Hernandez, Branch) and 2016 (Edelman, Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett, James White, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Danny Amendola, Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount).
There’s always the what-if season of 2017, as well, when Edelman tore his ACL in the preseason but otherwise could have joined Gronkowski, Amendola, Hogan, White, Lewis, Bennett, Brandin Cooks and Rex Burkhead.
Largely, throughout history, Brady doesn’t change; his weapons change. When he’s playing with a veritable cast of pass-catchers, Brady plays exceptionally well. And when the quality of his weapons suffer, so does his play.
There’s a very good reason why Brady ranked top 10 in passing yards, touchdowns, passer rating and QBR this season. Have you seen who he was throwing to?