Sure, the Antonio Brown drama with the Raiders was entertaining to watch. However, the biggest takeaway from all of the madness that went down in the week leading up to the start of the NFL regular season? Bill Belichick and the Patriots always benefit when Jon Gruden and the Raiders are on the wrong side of history.
Just like the “Tuck Rule” and its massive impact on the Raiders in the 2001 season, the Patriots were there to pick up the scraps, signing Antonio Brown to a one-year deal for the 2019 season just a day before their season opener against the receiver’s former team: the Steelers.
The end result in 2001? A Super Bowl win for the Patriots, which would become the first of six for quarterback Tom Brady.
The end result of this Brown signing? Football fans will just have to wait and see. But, based on the offensive talent Brady had to work with in some of his best seasons statistically, those cheering for the Patriots in New England have a lot to look forward to as the defending Super Bowl champions try to defend their crown in 2019.
Patriots historians love to look back at the years with Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and even guys like Deion Branch, Danny Amendola and a wide cast of other characters. But, has there ever been a group of talent around Brady like he’ll have this season? It’s time to find out.
Like a long ball from Brady to Moss in 2007, we went deep to fully evaluate the situation. We looked at the statistics for six of Brady’s best offensive seasons, factoring in his three MVP years, and some other seasons that featured some of his best touchdown totals, and sorted out the best receivers from each year to showcase the respective receiving corps.
Then, we looked at each of Brady’s options for the upcoming season, doing our best to picture what could happen in 2019 if all of the cards fall into the right places.
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Here are the stats for each year, ordered chronologically and subsequently sorted by each receiver’s targets that year to showcase Brady’s priorities:
Tom Brady in 2007: 50 touchdowns, 398-578 for 68.9 completion rate, 4,806 yards, 8 interceptions, 2 rushing TDs
- Randy Moss: 98 receptions on 160 targets, 1,493 yards, 23 touchdowns, 15.2 yards per reception
- Wes Welker: 112 receptions on 145 targets, 1,175 yards, 8 touchdowns, 10.5 yards per reception
- Donte Stallworth: 46 receptions on 75 targets, 697 yards, 3 touchdowns, 15.2 yards per reception
- Kevin Faulk: 47 receptions on 61 targets, 383 yards, 1 touchdown, 8.1 yards per reception
- Jabar Gaffney: 36 receptions on 50 targets, 449 yards, 5 touchdowns, 12.5 yards per receptions
- Ben Watson: 36 receptions on 49 targets, 389 yards, 6 touchdowns, 10.8 yards per reception
Tom Brady in 2010: 36 touchdowns, 324-492 for 65.9 completion rate, 3,900 yards, 4 interceptions, one rushing touchdown
- Wes Welker: 86 receptions on 123 targets, 848 yards, 7 touchdowns, 9.9 yards per reception
- Deion Branch: 48 receptions on 74 targets, 706 yards, 5 touchdowns, 14.7 yards per reception
- Aaron Hernandez: 45 receptions on 64 targets, 563 yards, 6 touchdowns, 12.5 yards per reception
- Rob Gronkowski: 42 receptions on 59 targets, 546 yards, 10 touchdowns, 13 yards per reception
- Brandon Tate: 24 receptions on 46 targets, 432 yards, 3 touchdowns, 18 yards per reception
- Danny Woodhead: 34 receptions on 44 targets, 379 yards, 1 touchdown, 11.1 yards per reception
Tom Brady in 2011: 39 touchdowns, 401-611 for 65.6 completion rate, 5,235 yards, 12 interceptions, three rushing touchdowns
- Wes Welker: 122 receptions on 173 targets, 1,569 yards, 9 touchdowns, 12.9 yards per reception
- Rob Gronkowski: 90 receptions on 124 targets, 1,327 yards, 17 touchdowns, 14.7 yards per reception
- Aaron Hernandez: 79 receptions on 113 targets, 910 yards, 7 touchdowns, 11.5 yards per reception
- Deion Branch: 51 receptions on 90 targets, 702 yards, 5 touchdowns, 13.8 yards per reception
- Chad Johnson: 15 receptions on 32 targets, 276 yards, 1 touchdown, 18.4 yards per reception
- Danny Woodhead: 18 receptions on 31 targets, 0 157 yards, 0 touchdowns, 8.7 yards per reception
Tom Brady in 2012: 34 touchdowns, 401-637 for 63.0 completion percentage, 4,827 yards, eight interceptions, four rushing touchdowns
- Wes Welker: 118 receptions on 174 targets, 1,354 yards, 6 touchdowns, 11.5 yards per reception
- Brandon Lloyd: 74 receptions on 131 targets, 911 yards, 4 touchdowns, 12.3 yards per reception
- Aaron Hernandez: 51 receptions on 83 targets, 483 yards, 5 touchdowns, 9.5 yards per reception
- Rob Gronkowski: 55 receptions on 79 targets, 790 yards 11 touchdowns, 14.4 yards per reception
- Danny Woodhead: 40 receptions on 55 targets, 446 yards, 3 touchdowns, 11.2 yards per reception
- Julian Edelman: 21 receptions on 32 targets, 235 yards, 3 touchdowns, 11.2 yards per reception
Tom Brady in 2015: 36 touchdowns, 402-624 for 64.4 completion percentage, 4,770 yards, seven interceptions, three rushing touchdowns
- Rob Gronkowski: 72 receptions on 120 targets, 1,176 yards, 11 touchdowns, 16.3 yards per reception
- Julian Edelman: 61 receptions on 88 targets, 692 yards, 7 touchdowns, 11.3 yards per reception
- Danny Amendola: 65 receptions on 87 targets, 648 yards, 3 touchdowns, 10.0 yards per reception
- Brandon LaFell: 37 receptions on 74 targets, 515 yards, 0 touchdowns, 13.9 yards per reception
- James White: 50 receptions on 54 targets, 410 yards, 4 touchdowns, 10.3 yards per reception
- Dion Lewis: 36 receptions on 50 targets, 388 yards, 2 touchdowns, 10.8 yards per reception
Tom Brady in 2017: 32 touchdowns, 385-581 for 66.3 completion rate, 4,577 yards, 8 interceptions
- Brandin Cooks: 65 receptions on 114 targets, 1082 yards, 7 touchdowns, 16.6 yards per reception
- Rob Gronkowski: 69 receptions on 105 targets, 1084 yards, 8 touchdowns, 15.7 yards per reception
- Danny Amendola: 61 receptions on 86 targets, 659 yards, 2 touchdowns, 10.8 yards per reception
- James White: 56 receptions on 72 targets, 429 yards, 3 touchdowns, 7.7 yards per reception
- Chris Hogan: 34 receptions on 59 targets, 439 yards, 5 touchdowns, 12.9 yards per reception
Now, let’s just take a quick glimpse at the different options Brady has to take advantage of:
- Julian Edelman: A familiar face for Brady and the Patriots offense, Edelman has been around for a few of TB12’s best seasons under center. In 2018, he caught 74 passes for 850 yards and six touchdowns. If a thumb injury doesn’t linger through 2019, he should benefit from the multitude of options across the Patriots offense that will help free up space in the middle of the field. He’d already be the equivalent of the top receiver in Brady’s MVP season in 2017, and can only go up from here.
- Antonio Brown: Who knows what will happen when Brown finally puts on a Patriots uniform, and if he even suits up for a game when he’s eligible to play. But, adding a guy who pulled in 104 catches in 15 games last season and logged 15 touchdowns seems like a decent move…
- Josh Gordon: It seems like Gordon’s in the right headspace for 2019 after his most recent statement on social media, and appears to be fully focused on football after his suspension from last season. In 11 games with the Patriots in 2018, he had 40 catches for 720 yards and three touchdowns, and looks like he’s in great shape after an offseason away from the team. With a ton of options around him to spread the ball around with and a potential full season of play on the way, he could be in for a breakout year in New England.
- Demaryius Thomas: His health is the biggest question mark heading into 2019, but if Demaryius Thomas can get back to his old self after a torn Achilles, he could be the secret weapon for Tom Brady and the Patriots offense. He looked great in his preseason debut as he grabbed seven catches for 87 yards and two touchdowns, and had 83 catches for 949 yards and five touchdowns in his last full season with the Broncos. Those stats are close to Wes Welker’s year in 2010, which is a great sign for Tom Brady after his MVP campaign that year. If Thomas can even come close to that with the Patriots, it’ll be worth the investment.
- James White: Running backs with good hands have been key pieces of Brady’s best seasons, whether it’s Kevin Faulk, Danny Woodhead, Dion Lewis, or White himself. He was a key piece in 2015 and 2017, and it looks like he should be in for another decent season in 2019, as well.
- Sony Michel: The word is that Michel has been improving greatly as a receiving back in 2019, which bodes well for his quarterback and the Patriots offense. He had an explosive rookie year, and the sky’s the limit for this second-year back if he can improve his ability to catch out of the backfield with his power and his ability to accelerate.
- N’Keal Harry: Who knows if he’ll even be on the field in 2019 after getting placed on the Injured Reserve before Antonio Brown’s signing? But, if he returns, his size and the talent around him to learn from could be a devastating equation for those squaring off against the Patriots later in the year.
- Ben Watson: Tight ends have become a pivotal part of Brady’s success in the last few years. Watson was around for some of Brady’s earlier dominance in 2007, and if he can utilize his size properly in the red zone when he’s back from his four-game suspension, he could be a big target for Brady to look for in the end zone.
Even without a potential return of tight end Rob Gronkowski, who may or may not be back to join in on a historic receiving corps in 2019, this lineup is stacked. Like, this is the type of thing you build in Madden NFL 20 when you start a franchise, make it so any trade goes through, and put the difficulty on Rookie.
Take even two or three of these options, and you probably outmatch most of those lineups, outside of the Moss and Welker combination that Brady loved so much. Could Brown become similar to Moss to go alongside the Welker twin that is Julian Edelman. Where does Josh Gordon fit in? What about Demaryius Thomas and the seemingly millions of other options on offense?
It’s almost unfair, and if all goes according to Bill Belichick’s plan, we could be in for a historic season from Tom Brady, which could end in a seventh Super Bowl ring for the future Hall of Fame quarterback.