Fantasy Football: Should We Finally Doubt Tom Brady in 2022?
Following a QB8 finish in 2020, I was skeptical that Tom Brady could duplicate his 40 touchdowns the following year and cautioned that he might not be a great value as the ninth quarterback off the board last offseason.
Well, not only did he finish with 5,316 yards and 43 scores -- both improvements over his 2020 marks -- but he actually led the whole damn league in both categories. That was good for a QB3 finish behind only Josh Allen and Justin Herbert.
Welp, that's what I get for doubting Tom Brady.
So, here we are almost exactly a year later, and wouldn't you know it, Brady is being drafted at just about the same ADP. He's the QB8 in FanDuel best-ball drafts, and if we want a more recent sample size, he's the QB10 in August NFC drafts.
Am I dumb enough to doubt Brady a second time? Or is regression the right expectation entering his age-45 campaign?
The crux of last year's argument was built around the idea that passing touchdowns are unpredictable from year to year, making it more difficult for pure pocket passers to be elite fantasy producers on an annual basis compared to their dual-threat counterparts.
Based on a study JJ Zachariason did in 2021, he found that when quarterbacks with a minimum of 300 pass attempts posted a 7% touchdown rate or higher, it would always drop the following season. Likewise, if a quarterback logged a 3% touchdown rate or lower, it would improve the next year.
In other words, touchdown rate tends to regress to the mean.
On the other hand, Zachariason's work also showed that rushing yardage does correlate strongly from year to year. Obviously, Brady doesn't fall in that dual-threat camp, so he would need to accumulate nearly all of his points through the air.
In 2020, Brady had a 6.6% touchdown rate, putting it just a smidge below that 7% line. It was the third-highest mark of his career and over a full percentage point higher than his career average (5.5%).
Needless to say, a downtick in touchdown rate appeared quite likely.
How did things play out? Well, Brady did in fact see a drop in touchdown rate, as it dipped to 6.0%.
In fact, all eight players who recorded touchdown rates above 6% in 2020 and played in 2021 saw a decline in the metric.
So, regression did play out across the board in this group, and as you would expect, every single one of those quarterbacks averaged fewer passing scores per game last year -- except Brady.
Because he made up for it through sheer volume.
Brady attempted a whopping 119 more passes in 2021, leading to a league-high 719. Even when accounting for the added 17th game last year, we're talking about 42.3 attempts per game, which was 4.2 higher than his average in 2020.
It's easily the highest number of pass attempts he's logged in his career, and it's the second-most total attempts of all time. If we want to adjust for the extra game and look at this from a per-game perspective, Brady averaged the sixth-most passes per game ever.
Essentially, the future Hall of Famer needed a historic level of volume to log back-to-back seasons with 40 or more passing touchdowns -- something that's only happened once before in NFL history.
Ah Sh*t, Here We Go Again
It feels like we're right back where we were this time last year. Even with the longer regular season, we really can't expect Brady to toss 40-plus scores again -- right?
For one thing, it's unrealistic to assume that he will log over 700 pass attempts two years in a row. He should still be among the league leaders in pass attempts again, but last year's volume was an outlier among outliers.
Additionally, while Brady regressed in touchdown rate, his 6.0% was still the league's sixth-highest mark. Although another drop isn't quite as much of a sure thing as last year, he's bettered that mark just five times in his illustrious career.
There are also some personnel changes and concerns to account for. Pass-catchers Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown are no longer with the team, and while Chris Godwin will be back at some point, he's a huge question mark after suffering a torn ACL in Week 15 last season.
The always reliable Mike Evans is still around, and newcomers Russell Gage and Julio Jones will fill some of those vacated targets. Gage, in particular, is expected to fill a prominent role, but Jones isn't a sure thing at this stage in his career after missing good chunks of the last two seasons.
Overall, this could be a solid all-around group, but we aren't seeing the same continuity as the transition from 2020 to 2021.
And then there's Brady himself.
Yes, he's defied the odds over and over, and it's hard to doubt an uber-competitor like him not being all-in for what could be his final campaign.
But we're talking about a 45-year-old who's clearly thinking about life after football after briefly retiring in February, only to announce his return a little over a month later. He's also missing a fair amount of training camp for "personal reasons," which could ultimately be nothing -- but one can't help but find the timing to be curious.
Tom Brady 2022 Fantasy Football Projection
According to numberFire's model, Brady is projected to throw for 4,658.1 yards, 40.9 touchdowns, and 11.1 interceptions on 646.3 pass attempts, which would lock him in as the QB7. That pretty much boils down to him taking only a slight step back and matching his numbers from 2020.
On paper, that jives with his ADP, but based on everything I've highlighted, this feels closer to a best-case scenario projection rather than a median one.
For some added context surrounding his ADP, Dak Prescott and Russell Wilson are the two going around the same time or after Brady in drafts, and then Trey Lance is taken after all three. In FanDuel best-ball drafts, Brady is the 87th player off the board, Prescott's the 100th pick, and then the other two go outside the top 100.
In NFC August drafts, Brady, Prescott, and Wilson are all going around the same time, and then Lance is picked slightly after that.
In either case, of this group, Wilson and Lance are arguably the better upside bets over Brady.
Wilson isn't getting any younger at age 33, so it's hard to say how much he'll run after a career-low 183 rushing yards last season. But he did pile up 513 yards in 2020, so at least the possibility is there -- something we can't say about Brady.
Just as importantly, Wilson is moving to a much more fantasy-friendly situation in Denver after averaging just 28.6 pass attempts per game for Seattle last season. All indications are that the Broncos' offense will go through Wilson and that he'll be allowed to push the pace in 2022.
We all remember when "Let Russ Cook" was all the rage in the first half of 2020, and it's that potential that makes him an intriguing, high-upside pick.
Meanwhile, Lance's rushing ability makes his fantasy ceiling pretty straightforward. Our projections peg him for the sixth-most rushing yards at the position.
Given that Wilson and Lance are going far later than Brady in best-ball contests, they offer much better value at their draft-day costs.
But in formats where they're all being drafted closer together, once we get past those two, it's admittedly hard to nitpick taking Brady as a fairly "safe" QB10.
While Brady has some personnel concerns, we can find also find red flags for Prescott (lost Amari Cooper), Aaron Rodgers (lost Davante Adams), and Matthew Stafford (elbow issue). Derek Carr and Kirk Cousins are in promising situations under new coaching staffs but have obviously never reached Brady's heights in their respective careers.
At the end of the day, it's hard to see Brady matching his outputs from the last couple of seasons -- but it's also hard to see him completely flopping, either. While I like some others around his ADP better, he still looks like someone we can trust as a low-end QB1 in 2022.