Despite the fact that the New England Patriots won six Super Bowls with Tom Brady at the helm, head coach/general manager Bill Belichick was constantly criticized for not putting good enough weapons around his quarterback.
Maybe that’s true. Or maybe the Patriots spread their money around to build better, more consistent teams.
Ammunition is definitely not a problem for Brady in his first season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with whom he finds himself in Super Bowl LV against the Kansas City Chiefs. The only team in the NFL that might have better receiving options than the Buccaneers are their Super Bowl opponents.
But which team has better pass-catchers? On the surface, it’s almost impossible to decide.
Here are their running back, wide receiver and tight end depth charts:
Ronald Jones II
FB Anthony Sherman
O.J. Howard (IR)
Deon Yelder (IR)
It’s close at every position. The Chiefs probably have the two best overall weapons in Hill and Kelce, but the Buccaneers do have better depth with Evans, Godwin, Brown and Gronkowski. Neither team had an overly productive pass-catching running back in 2020.
Let’s go a little deeper and extract each player’s receiving DYAR, or Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement, a Football Outsiders metric.
Ronald Jones II – -88
Leonard Fournette – -9
Ke’Shawn Vaughn – -25
Total: 122 yards below replacement
Clyde Edwards-Helaire – 0
Darrel Williams – 8
Le’Veon Bell – 14
Darwin Thompson – 3
Total: 19 yards above replacement
Mike Evans – 354
Chris Godwin – 267
Antonio Brown – 116
Scotty Miller – 113
Tyler Johnson – 44
Justin Watson – 19
Jaydon Mickens – 15
Total: 928 yards above replacement
Tyreek Hill – 329
Sammy Watkins – 56
Mecole Hardman – 90
Demarcus Robinson – 81
Byron Pringle – 47
Total: 603 yards above replacement
Rob Gronkowski – 79
Cameron Brate – 66
O.J. Howard (IR) – 25
Total: 170 yards above replacement
Travis Kelce – 406
Deon Yelder (IR) – -30
Total: 376 yards above replacement
Buccaneers: 976 receiving yards above replacement
Chiefs: 998 receiving yards above replacement
It’s actually pretty incredible how close both teams are talent-wise on offense. The Chiefs probably do have the better weapons, especially when you add in the fact that Watkins was limited to just 10 games, and his numbers were hindered as such.
Then again, Brown also only played eight games. So, his numbers would be much higher in a full 16-game season, as well. The Buccaneers have the best passing weapon on IR in Howard.
Final answer: Chiefs.
Brady obviously played very well in 2020, but he really missed having a consistent pass-catching back in the mold of Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen or James White. The Bucs’ running backs combining for 122 receiving yards below replacement is a lot. Brady probably wishes he could sneak White onto the field in Fournette’s No. 28 jersey for Super Bowl LV.
The Buccaneers do have the advantage when it comes to defense-adjusted rushing yards above replacement. Bucs running backs combine for 223 yards above replacement while Chiefs running backs combine for just 98 yards above replacement.
Just to put these numbers into Brady-centric perspective, the 2007 Patriots combined for 1,479 (!) receiving yards above replacement with Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Donte Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney at wide receiver, Ben Watson at tight end and Faulk and Laurence Maroney at running back.
So, while the 2020 Buccaneers and Chiefs are loaded, they didn’t quite match the 2007 Patriots.
The 2020 Patriots combined for 143 receiving yards above replacement. They were partially dragged down by wide receiver N’Keal Harry’s 74 receiving yards below replacement.