One could argue a significant talent gap still exists between the New England Patriots and the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers despite Bill Belichick’s free agency spending spree this offseason.
And perhaps nothing highlights that discrepancy more than the quarterback position, where Cam Newton and Tom Brady reside on opposite ends of Pro Football Focus’ starting QB rankings ahead of the 2021 NFL season.
PFF on Tuesday ranked Brady No. 2 and Newton No. 27.
Here’s an excerpt from Bruce Gradkowski’s explanation on Brady:
He ranked second in passing yards on 20-plus-yard throws during the regular season while taking care of the ball better than any Bruce Arians quarterback since 2006. Not to mention, Tampa Bay has re-signed every significant player from last year. Brady will be more familiar and comfortable in the Arians passing attack with even more supporting cast continuity from last year.
Now, here’s what Gradkowski wrote about Newton:
Newton didn’t join the Patriots until late in the offseason, which meant he had to learn a new offense in a shorter amount of time with no on-field work. He has another opportunity in the same system that catered to his strengths early in the season, which led to a league-high 12 rushing touchdowns. Newton’s inconsistency as a passer ultimately held the offense back, as he posted sub-60.0 passing grades in eight of his 14 starts. The additions the Patriots made this offseason through free agency and the draft, coupled with another year in the system, offer Newton a good opportunity to prove he can still play. Rookie Mac Jones will be waiting in the wings for his opportunity if things sputter.
Only Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs ranks ahead of Brady. Only Sam Darnold of the Carolina Panthers, Tua Tagovailoa of the Miami Dolphins, Zach Wilson of the New York Jets, Jalen Hurts of the Philadelphia Eagles and Drew Lock of the Denver Broncos rank behind Newton.
It should be noted, too, that Darnold is entering his first season with a new team after three lackluster years with the Jets, Tagovailoa and Hurts both are coming off their rookie campaigns, and Wilson has yet to play a snap in the NFL. The jury still is out on Lock, a 24-year-old with just 18 NFL starts under his belt.
This highlights the level of uncertainty surrounding Newton, who re-signed with the Patriots on a one-year contract and currently remains atop the QB depth chart despite New England selecting Alabama quarterback Mac Jones with the 15th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. How much does the 32-year-old have left in the tank after battling several injuries in recent years?
PFF explained that its quarterback rankings are “based on grading every player on every play and tapping into multiple years of data to project future performance.” Perhaps more importantly as it relates to Newton, who operated within a talent-depleted New England offense last season, the grading works to isolate each QB’s performance from that of his supporting cast.