Fantasy Football: Should We Expect More of the Same From Tom Brady in 2021?
Tom Brady could've ridden off into the sunset long ago as one of the most accomplished quarterbacks of all time, but he seems hell-bent on sticking around as long as his body will allow it.
Any doubts of whether Brady had anything left in the tank were squashed yet again last season, as he finished as the QB8 in fantasy football, per FantasyPros, on his way to his seventh Super Bowl ring.
He may be entering his age-44 campaign, but drafters seem to be expecting more of the same in 2021. Since the beginning of August, his average draft position (ADP) in NFC drafts is at 80th overall as the QB9. His consensus ADP on FantasyPros is QB9, as well.
Could he be even better with a year under his belt in this Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense? Or should we temper expectations in 2021?
Considering Brady is pretty much a zero in the rushing department, it shows just how strong a season he had through the air to stay within striking distance of all the dual-threat quarterbacks who dominated the fantasy scene in 2020.
He finished the year tied for second in passing touchdowns (40) and ranked third in passing yards (4,633). In fact, it was the second-most touchdowns of his entire career behind the 50 he threw way back in 2007. The yardage was his fifth-highest mark and most since 2015.
Brady's efficiency numbers also checked out. He was 10th among qualified starters in adjusted yards per attempt, and he ranked 7th in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back (0.26) among signal-callers with at least 100 drop backs at a clip that was double the league average (0.13).
It's probably fair to say that he benefited from a vastly superior supporting cast compared to his final season in New England, and all of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, and Rob Gronkowski will be back in 2021. On paper, it sure looks like we should see more of the same from Brady.
However, despite Brady running it back with pretty much the exact same offense and personnel as last season, odds are against him repeating last year's numbers.
Earlier this summer, our JJ Zachariason highlighted just how unpredictable passing scores are from year to year and that we should typically expect touchdown rates to regress to the mean the following season. Specifically, JJ stated that among players with at least 300 pass attempts who posted a 7% touchdown rate or higher from 2011 onward, not a single one improved on that the following season.
Now, Brady didn't quite reach that threshold in 2020, but his 6.6% clip came awfully close and was the third-highest mark of his career. It's also more than a percentage point higher than his career average (5.5%). In other words, history would suggest that Brady is a poor bet to repeat the 40 passing scores he achieved last season.
In that same study, JJ also noted that quarterback rushing yardage is predictable from year to year, which is obviously something Brady can't fall back on if his touchdowns dip.
This means that Brady's essentially being drafted for his ceiling outcome and one that he's unlikely to repeat.
Even more telling is that his QB8 finish looks less exciting if we look at his fantasy points on a per-game basis. Per FantasyPros, Brady averaged 21.9 points per game, and if we include Dak Prescott, who made only five starts, that would place Brady just 11th at the position.
Now, it's worth noting that average score would rate quite favorably in some other seasons, but we're again talking about Brady's best-case scenario. Remember, last year was his second-highest touchdown total ever. And with the fantasy landscape shifting due to the influx of so many high-upside dual-threat quarterbacks, the bar is that much higher to post an elite fantasy quarterback score.
Tom Brady's 2021 Fantasy Football Projection
None of this is to say that Brady is going to be some bum in fantasy football this year. That's reflected in numberFire's projections, which rank him as the QB9 with 4,744.1 passing yards, 38.7 touchdowns, and 10.2 interceptions.
But with passing touchdowns being such a finicky stat, would it be really all that surprising to see Brady throw, say, 33 or 32 scores instead? That's what we're projecting for Matthew Stafford and Ryan Tannehill, who are both going after Brady in drafts. Tannehill also has the added bonus of an improved rushing element to his game over the last two seasons, with 11 scores on the ground during that span.
After those two, we see Jalen Hurts, who obviously carries more risk as an unknown but offers a tantalizing ceiling because of his legs. Only Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray, and Josh Allen are projected for more rushing yards at the position.
Even Joe Burrow, who's going just outside the top 100, may not be all that far off from Brady from a fantasy perspective, albeit with more question marks. Burrow is obviously short on experience and is coming off ACL surgery, but he's in an offense filled with pass-catching weapons, and only Prescott and Ben Roethlisberger averaged more pass attempts per game than Burrow in 2020 (40.4). Burrow can also run a little, with last year's 3.7 attempts per game putting him in the neighborhood of guys like Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert, though it remains to be seen if that will be scaled back due to the knee injury.
Is Brady the safest bet of this group? Sure. Even with some touchdown regression, it's hard to not envision another 30-plus scores while being among the league leaders in passing yardage. His ADP is also much more palatable than Aaron Rodgers' recent going rate in NFC drafts (QB7; 68th overall), and Rodgers is another candidate for touchdown regression after tossing a career-best 48 scores last year.
But at the same time, I'm not sure a whole lot separates Brady from other traditional passers like Stafford, Tannehill, and Burrow -- all of whom are surrounded by talented playmakers themselves -- and Brady lacks the "cheat code" upside of someone like Hurts.
If I miss out on the top seven quarterbacks in our projections, I'm willing to let someone else chase last year's stats when it comes to Brady (and Rodgers), and I'm perfectly content with waiting and landing on one of these guys in the next group instead.