- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 15, 2013


Unless your significant other inexplicably has been spending the past few weeks in Foxborough, Mass., you have no reason to fear Tom Brady.

He will not hurt you or your fantasy team. You can trust him.

Trust me.

(On the subject of fear, I wrote this column days ago, so I was horrified for about two hours Wednesday afternoon once word got out that Brady left practice with an apparent leg injury. On Twitter, a frightening narrative began to develop. He got hit in the knee. He limped off the field. He briefly lost consciousness. He was read last rites. But then he miraculously survived and returned to the field for a few plays before ending his day early. I still have no idea which parts of that were true, but it doesn’t matter now because I do know his MRI was negative and life as we know it can continue.)

As I was saying …

A lot has been made in the offseason about what the Patriots quarterback no longer has:

• Wes Welker (now a Bronco)

• Danny Woodhead (now a Charger)

• Brandon Lloyd (now unemployed)

• Aaron Hernandez (now in jail)

And as you may have heard, if Rob Gronkowski, who’s undergone more operations since late last season than an electronic Milton Bradley game, is not ready by Sept. 8, Brady will start the season without his five top targets from 2012.

That’s unheard of, so I understand the trepidation. I get why Brady is dropping in drafts. People don’t trust him to adjust to his latest challenge. But if there’s one thing you should be confident of, it’s that Tom Brady will adjust. He may have lost a lot, but he retains an uncanny ability to adapt his game, an ability that has allowed him to enjoy one of the most amazing career arcs in NFL history.

For a little perspective, let’s take a quick look at Brady’s primary competitor for best quarterback of his generation: Peyton Manning. Manning came into the league as the No. 1 overall pick, a guy expected to throw a bunch of touchdowns for a lot of years. And he’s done just that.

But Brady is a self-made superstar. He entered the league as a sixth-round afterthought, a guy without pedigree or expectations. He was unexpectedly called upon early in his second season after an injury to then-Patriots starter Drew Bledsoe. An unknown commodity, he was tasked not with winning games, but not losing them. He played that role to perfection, all the way to the first of his three Super Bowl titles.

Once Brady got a taste of success, he never let go. In 2002, his first full season as a starter, the Patriots missed the playoffs (which somehow seems impossible), but Brady became more than a guy whose main goal was to limit mistakes and occasionally make a big play. He threw 28 TDs. You know who threw more TDs that year? No one. That’s right. In Brady’s first full season, he led the NFL in TD passes, a fact that seems to get lost amid proclamations such as “Brady hasn’t always been a great quarterback,” which I heard a well-known fantasy “expert” say just the other day on television.

There’s a corresponding perception that Randy Moss and Wes Welker “made” Brady. Well, in the five seasons before 2007, when Moss and Welker arrived, Brady averaged roughly 26 TDs while the Patriots made the playoffs four times and won two more Super Bowls. (Quick, name anyone not named Troy Brown that Brady was throwing to back then.) But there were still flaws. He averaged roughly 13 interceptions during that span. Then 2007 rolled around, and once Brady actually had receiving talent at his disposal, he proceeded to have arguably the greatest single season a QB has ever had. 50 TDs. 8 INTs. 16-0 in the regular season. Countless fantasy owners pleased more than they ever thought possible.

Those 50 TDs, as you know, broke the NFL record of 49 set by Manning the Golden Boy three seasons earlier. So in seven seasons, Brady went from “Be smart and don’t screw this up, kid” to “You’re our guy, win this for us” to “Man, you’re the greatest.”

Brady’s 2008 season ended in the first half of the opening game, but even in his first season back from a torn ACL, he threw 28 TDs (13 INTs). And as if to show that 2007 was not a fluke, his 2010 season might have been the most efficient 16 games a QB has ever produced. Brady threw 36 TDs and only 4 INTs. That 9:1 TD-INT ratio is ridiculous. It defies the laws of football. Again, he was making fantasy owners very, very happy.

The past two years, he’s gone 39/12 and 34/8. That’s a three-year average of roughly 36/8. Right when the NFL became more pass-heavy than ever, when TDs went up and INTs went down, Tom Brady was right there not only adapting to the changes, but leading the way.

Now, to this year. Yes, he’s lacking weapons. But WR Danny Amendola, TE Gronkowski (assuming he’s healthy) and pass-catching RB Shane Vereen are more explosive than any player Brady worked with through 2006. Even if you assume his numbers will be diminished by a lesser supporting cast or a greater emphasis on running the ball, Brady is much smarter and much more efficient than he was back when he was averaging 26 and 13.

Let’s use 2010 as a benchmark, since 2007 is unfair. He’s highly unlikely to throw 36 TDs, given the injury histories of Gronkowski and Amendola, which means more reliance on mediocre talent (although, as we’ve established, he’s plenty used to that). But he’s a veteran who understands offensive schemes about as well as they can be understood. So let’s split the difference. That would leave Brady with a projected 31/9 (rounding up to be fair) line.

Can you count on Tom Brady this year? Yes. Should he be the fourth QB selected overall (after Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Manning)? Yes. And if you don’t trust me, trust history.

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