Tom Brady has gotten absolutely no love around here for fantasy football. In our official NCB fantasy football rankings, myself and three other rankers collectively placed Brady 14th at quarterback (I was lowest at 16). In our sleepers, busts, and breakouts piece, I listed him as a bust. Even the “expert” community is down on Brady, with a collective ranking of 10th according to Fantasy Pros. The biggest reason cited for being low on Brady is his reliance on the oft-injured tight end Rob Gronkowski. However, with Gronk being cleared by doctors, avoiding the PUP list (which would have cost him the first 6 games of 2014), and being on track to go week 1, shouldn’t we be re-evaluating our stance? Here are a few things to consider with regards to Tom Terrific:
Brady Has Historically Dominated with Gronk
Saying that Tom Brady has been reliant on Rob Gronkowski may be the biggest understatement of the year. Take a look at his splits the last three seasons with and without Gronk via the RotoViz Game Splits App:
It is clear that for three seasons, Gronk has been the difference between starter and elite starter for Brady. He averages over 5 fantasy points per game more with his big tight end on the field (5pt/TD scoring). His YPA, completion percentage, TD rate, and INT rate all are better with Gronkowski. That’s great, but the numbers include his dominant 2011 season and very strong 2012. Brady was horrible last season, right?
Brady Was Elite in 2013
Let’s face it, Tom Brady’s 2013 season stunk. He had his lowest number of touchdowns since 2006 (excluding his lost season due to injury), and his lowest number of yards since 2010. Most importantly, he failed to finish as a QB1 last season for fantasy owners. However, a deeper look at Brady’s seven games with Gronkowski paint a different picture:
That’s a tremendous difference in scoring. Brady scored over 6 fantasy points a game more with Gronk last year, and was on another 5,000 yard pace with him on the field. Do you know what Brady would have finished last year at QB if we extrapolated those numbers? Fifth. 5. Cinco. In other words, he was still an elite quarterback with Gronkowski healthy. Saying that Brady is reliant on Gronk gives it a negative connotation, but if Gronk is on the field then shouldn’t this be considered a GOOD thing for fantasy owners? Especially if we’re talking about a guy with top five upside given a full compliment of weapons. There’s one last thing I’d like to point to with regards to Brady.
When I was examining Brady’s seven game with Gronk, I was interested in who the Patriots played in those games. Did an easier schedule make Brady’s performance a mirage? Take a look at what I found:
Of the seven opponents the Patriots faced with Rob Gronkowski on the field, ALL of them were top 16 defenses against the pass. In fact, the average and median defenses were both about 11. So the tear Brady went on during that stretch was not a product of who they faced. Let’s take a look at the Patriots’ schedule for 2014:
Brady should expect a much easier schedule, with an average and median pass defense rank around 17. This includes 7 matchups against defenses ranked 20th or worse in 2013, and the 6th ranked Bills defense the Patriots face in the meaningless (if your league makes sense) week 17. Some of these defenses could certainly be better, but in the cases of KC, Buffalo, and the Jets, I could also see a few being worse. No matter how you slice it, it is reasonable to expect Brady’s competition level to be lower in 2014.
Right now I think the fantasy community is being too harsh on Tom Brady, myself included. What I see in him is a quarterback with top 5 upside given Gronkowski’s current health status. And should Gronk get injured again and the bottom completely drop out of Brady’s value, the position should be deep enough to find an adequate replacement. His price is probably still too high right now for me given his ADP (80 on Fantasy Football Calculator, 105.48 in MFL10’s), but that is more because of my feelings on drafting QB’s in general than on Brady in particular. Make no mistake about it, if he slips in a draft because people are down on him, I’ll gladly take him and his upside. You should too.