What Does Rob Gronkowski's Injury Mean for Tom Brady?
The New England Patriots are the reigning Super Bowl champions, and they're playing even better than they did last year. With Tom Brady on his revenge tour this year, everyone already has forgotten about how he was left for dead a little over a year ago.
Brady is the GOAT, or at least to many, and his greatness deserves to be lauded. He helped turn former college quarterback Julian Edelman into one of the most consistent and feared wide receivers. He also was part of the career resurrection for Dion Lewis this season after stops in Cleveland and Philadelphia had teams believing he wouldn't make it as a profession running back.
The Patriots only have one loss on the year because Brady's greatness has helped the team withstand injuries to both Lewis and Edelman. But Rob Gronkowski is now out -- at least in the short term -- giving Brady a handful of backup weapons.
What will this offense look like?
While Brady's demise was wrongfully stated a year ago, it was actually the second time that he looked finished. In 2013, Brady completed 380 passes on 628 attempts for 4,343 yards, 25 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions on 628 attempts. On the surface, these numbers look good. But, for Brady, those are nothing -- something was missing.
Based on our Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics, Brady had a very ordinary season, posting his lowest Passing NEP (68.71), Passing NEP per play (0.10), and Success Rate (47.08%) since 2007. Of the 39 quarterbacks to drop back at least 200 times, Brady ranked 9th in Passing NEP, 10th in Passing NEP per play, and 12th in Passing Success Rate making him appear average.
Why the drop in numbers? Well, he played nine games without Gronkowski. In those contests, Brady's statistics plummeted, as he completed 198 passes on 344 attempts for 2,138 yards, 12 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions. These numbers extrapolate to 3,801 yards, 21 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions over a 16 game pace. Again, it's good, but it's not Tom Brady-good.
In his seven games, Gronkowski posted 39 receptions for 592 yards and 4 touchdowns on 67 targets, which extrapolates to 89 receptions for 1,353 yards and 9 touchdowns on 153 targets. In these games, Brady completed 182 passes on 284 attempts for 2,205 yards, 13 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions.
Again in 2014, Brady started the year poorly as Gronkowski was still recovering from his injuries in the previous playoffs.
Brady finished 2014 with 604 drop backs leading to 373 completions for 4,109 yards, 33 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions on 582 passing attempts. While this was improvement from 2013, he struggled early when Gronkowski was recovering.
Over the first 4 games of 2014, Brady dropped back 147 times, completing 81 passes for 791 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions on 137 attempts. Gronkowski was of little help then, as he only had 13 receptions for 147 yards and 3 touchdowns on 26 targets.
At the time, Brady ranked 33rd in Passing NEP (-12.15), 32nd in Passing NEP per play (-0.08), and 32nd in Success Rate (41.50) out of 36 quarterbacks to have at least 50 drop backs.
With Gronkowski fully healthy, Brady finished the year as the league's fifth best quarterback, per NEP, while Gronk ended the season as the best tight end within the same metric.
In essence, it's clear, and not surprising: When Gronkowski is healthy, we see the best Tom Brady. When he's not, Brady, of late, has simply been an above average starter.
The Patriots continue to plug and play different players everywhere on offense without seemingly missing a beat. It remains to be seen just how much an affect losing Gronkowski will have on the offense this year, but if history repeats itself, then it could be a pretty big issue.
While the Patriots have soft matchups with the Eagles this week and the Titans in two weeks, it's necessary to proceed with caution now more than ever in your fantasy league. Although Brady is our second-ranked quarterback for the rest of the year, not having Gronkowski makes him less of a plug-and-play passer in fantasy football.