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Tom Brady to Buccaneers: Fantasy Impact

Well, it happened: Tom Brady -- arguably the greatest quarterback of all-time -- is leaving New England and signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. For the first time in his career, Brady is away from Bill Belichick and the Patriots.

This is going to be weird.

Brady's fit in a Bruce Arians offense that relied heavily on the deep ball is interesting, as is how he'll affect the various pieces that are on this Bucs team. Let's try to sort through all the various angles of this move from a fantasy football perspective.

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Can Tom Brady Still Be a Startable Fantasy QB?

Last year, Tom Brady finished as the QB12, his second consecutive finish outside of the top 10 at the quarterback position.

QB12 is technically still a fantasy QB1 in a 12-team league, but that overall finish hides the fact that Brady's per-game numbers put him at QB16. That's pretty mediocre, especially for a quarterback of Brady's stature.

There were plenty of reasons for this drop-off, and they don't all have to do with Brady's age. Yes, we can expect a 42-year-old quarterback to slip some, but Brady also dealt with a fairly weak supporting cast. PlayerProfiler rates Brady's 2019 supporting cast efficiency at 17th in the NFL, and it was clear that losing Rob Gronkowski and having a pretty weak group of receivers beyond Julian Edelman was a thing that hurt Brady.

But just as we can't blame it all on age, we also can't blame it all on the collection of spare parts that made up the Patriots offense. There are some really, really scary signs when you dig into Brady's advanced metrics.

Brady's completion percentages on various play types were pretty bad across the board:

Play Type Comp. % QB Rank
Play Action 63.0 28th
Red Zone 55.4 27th
Deep Ball 41.7 9th
Pressured 28.4 29th
Clean 68.4 32nd

The best mark was his deep ball number, but Brady also had the 12th-fewest intended air yards per pass, so he wasn't throwing deep too much, so we can't even take too much solace in that fact.

And that clean pocket number is just abysmal. Brady was 32nd in clean pocket completion percentage.

This is very clearly a guy who has lost a step, but does that mean we should consider him a complete non-factor next year?

Not quite. No, I'm not counting on Tom Brady to be a "set and forget" fantasy starter at this point in his career, but since we're talking supporting cast, Jameis Winston's supporting cast ranked sixth last year in the same metric that New England's ranked 17th. Brady has significantly more dangerous weapons around him now, and that should help keep him from bottoming out. This isn't 2019 Eli Manning; Brady is still a smart passer who mostly avoids turnovers, and he'll get a lot of help from Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.

I haven't done any rankings yet and likely won't until after the NFL Draft, but I was seeing Brady ranked outside the top 20 at QB before he signed in Tampa. I think the upside of the Bruce Arians offense is going to be important, and while Brady won't be slinging it all over the place like Winston was, he'll still pepper in a few shots while also working the intermediate game with arguably the best one-two punch in the league at wide receiver. A healthy Brady should finish closer to QB15, with the upside to do more. I'm not going to get wild and consider Brady a QB1 at this age, but I'd probably start him if he had the right matchup, which is a lot more than I could have said if he'd stayed in New England, in which case I wouldn't have gotten near him.

 

What Happens with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin?

More than any other question about this move, this one confounds me.

Tampa has two very, very good wide receivers who excelled because their quarterback was a deep-ball, gunslinging machine. Now, the Buccaneers are replacing him with a guy who was once great but is now a bit of a game manager type quarterback. What's going to happen to these two WR studs?

Godwin feels like the safer bet at this point. Tom Brady likes his slot receivers, and while Godwin's a few inches taller than Brady's usual slot guys, he should still serve as the main "move the chains" receiver for Brady. Godwin's 2019 breakout season was a surprise, but it wasn't a fluke; I'd expect Brady to lean heavily on Godwin all around the field.

Godwin was 23rd among receivers in deep targets last year. Evans was fourth. Godwin led the NFL in yards after the catch. Evans was 36th. Godwin was 18th in completed air yards. Evans was fifth.

You get the point.

If this turns into a dink-and-dunk offense, Godwin's going to be fine. Evans, though, is an air yards guy. He led the NFL in air yards in 2018 before Bruce Arians was in Tampa, so it's not even just a Bruce Arians thing -- it's that Evans is a big-bodied receiver who is at his best when he can make noise down the field. Again, Brady's accuracy on deep balls was fine last year, but he's another year older, didn't pass the "should this guy be throwing bombs" eye test at the end of the year, and his other completion percentages are trending down, so I don't know if I can trust him to take advantage of what Evans is best at.

The team will adjust. Evans will get more involved in other ways. But he won't be as consistent and we won't have the same number of highs, and he might look a lot more like a WR2 than a WR1 in 2020.

 

Is it Finally O.J. Howard SZN?

Something Tom Brady liked in New England: throwing the ball to a dynamic tight end named Rob Gronkowski. Does that mean he'll spend a lot of time in Tampa throwing to a dynamic tight end named O.J. Howard?

The answer is complicated, in large part because Tampa head coach Bruce Arians doesn't have a great track record when it comes to using his tight ends, especially O.J. Howard, whose 2019 season was a huge disappointment. Howard's measurables are great. He's 6'6'', he ran a 4.51 40, he's got an 89th percentile SPARQ-x score. But he just hasn't put it together into production. Among tight ends, he was 19th in production premium this past season and 32nd in fantasy points per target. He struggled to get separation and struggled to complete catches.

The Arians factor is tough to gauge too. Per Dynasty League Football's coaching history app, the TE1 in an Arians offense in his time as a coordinator and head coach has finished as a top-12 tight end twice, and both of those times were Heath Miller in Pittsburgh. The best finish by a non-Heath Miller player was a finish as the TE24 by Cameron Brate last year.

Howard, though, had the best-ever finish for the number-two tight end on an Arians team, so maybe that whole thing about Arians avoiding tight ends isn't so rigid after all? And if Howard winds up being the primary option and has Tom Brady throwing to him, maybe he sneaks up into the conversation for a finish as a fantasy TE1? I think there's enough upside here to draft Howard as something like the 10th or 11th tight end off the board, and while there's more volatility to picking him than there might be to picking someone like Jonnu Smith around there, I think Howard's upside is still higher than a lot of tight ends.

 

Should We Talk About the Bucs' Running Game?

An older quarterback like Tom Brady is going to need a run game to help take pressure off of him, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers do...not have a running game. Now, maybe that'll be fine, and maybe Bruce Arians will just keep airing it out as much as he did with Jameis Winston, but I'd kind of expect Brady to throw it a little less than Winston was, which means someone's got to run the football.

Is that someone Ronald Jones II? Based on his first two seasons, I'd kind of hope not if I was buying into the fantasy stock of this team. It's safe to assume this team brings in someone else at running back, so it's hard to really get a read on how to project stuff here. Players like Melvin Gordon, Devonta Freeman and now Todd Gurley (!!) are available. But if they go into 2020 with Jones as the lead back, he's probably a low-end RB2? This is still a pass-first team, even with the change to an older passer without the same throwing power.

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