Hackett: Ranking Tom Brady's all-time best receivers is no simple task

Jim Hackett
May 23, 2019 - 10:06 am
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A great topic was surfaced on NBC Sports Boston Tuesday night that was batted around all day Wednesday on-air. Once Julian Edelman secured his new contract the question of his standing all-time as one of Tom Brady’s premier pass-catchers was raised.

He’s most certainly at or near the top of the conversation and an easy guy to want to vote for. Who doesn’t love Edelman? Despite the endless amount of conversation we have had in these parts about the paltry state of the Patriots receiving corps, the top of the list during this multi-dynastic era is pretty impressive. 

I narrowed it down to five guys: Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Troy Brown. Honorable mention to Deion Branch but he doesn’t make the final cut of five despite earning a Super Bowl MVP. His tenure is just too short and the total resume just doesn’t stack up to the other five. 

First, I thought of this instinctively and naturally isolated those six guys mentioned above. Then, I considered the eye tests stored in my dwindling brain storage from the last 18 years and attempted to apply logic to memory. That got me right back to my initial gut reaction that came to mind as soon as the topic was raised…and the answer is Gronk. Or is it Moss? What about Wes Welker? Can’t forget him…and around the mulberry bush a few more times it went. So in an attempt to quantify this to some degree, I applied a simple point system to help lead me to a final conclusion. 

Here’s how it breaks down...

A point system with seven categories. Five points awarded to the top earner in a category and one point awarded for the least. Here are the categories:
•    Winning  
•    Statistics while on the Brady-quarterbacked Patriots teams
•    Reliability/Trust
•    Talent
•    Performance in the clutch
•    Ranking among pier positional group
•    Aggregation of their best three years 

Winning:

Both Julian Edelman and Troy Brown have won three Super Bowls. Each have had their great and memorable moments, but Edelman gets the tiebreaker with his MVP performance in Super Bowl LIII. He also made the greatest catch I’ve ever seen in any game, let alone the stage it was on, which was a must-make, nearly impossible catch in a Super Bowl LI championship victory. 
•    Edelman – 5 points
•    Brown – 4 points
•    Gronkowski – 3 points (He has three rings, but appeared in only two of those games.)
•    Moss – 2 points 
•    Welker - 1 point

Welker appeared in two Super Bowl losses to just one for Moss, but pooped his pants in a way that causes a full point demerit. When you drop a pass right in your hands to seal the game, no matter the degree of difficulty, that leaves a mark. Moss also scored the go-ahead touchdown in Super Bowl XLII so he gets the point edge in this category.

Statistics (while on Brady-quarterbacked Patriots teams):

This is closer than you might think. Welker gives Gronk a real push here. Welker owns receptions with 672 in six years! Gronk is second with 521 in his nine-year career. However, Gronk has the edge in yards with 7,860 to Welker’s 7,459. Gronk also has three years on him, but the real difference is in touchdowns. Gronk’s 79 touchdowns smokes them all.
•    Gronkowski – 5 points
•    Welker – 4 points
•    Moss – 3 points (50 touchdowns in 3-plus years)
•    Edelman – 2 points
•    Brown – 1 point 

Reliability/Trust:

At first thought I said to myself – Gronk. Then I thought of it differently. With the game on the line, if all five were on the field who would get open the quickest and who would Brady throw to? To me, it’s Edelman. When I refreshed and reflected on the brilliant work of Welker, who was the Bobby Orr of the slot receiver position, I was forced to put Gronkowski third. There’s a reason Welker caught 672 balls in his six seasons here.
•    Edelman – 5 points
•    Welker – 4 points
•    Gronkowski – 3 points
•    Brown – 2 points
•    Moss – 1 point (Moss may be the easiest to throw to, but my hunch is Brady would trust the other four guys with everything on the line just a bit more.) 

Talent:

We have one Hall of Famer, Randy Moss. We have another surefire, soon to be Hall of Famer in Gronk. Moss had freakish talent but so did Gronk, and he did a lot more on the field and did so while taking a beating like a Timex or Rocky Balboa. Slight edge – Gronk.
•    Gronkowski – 5 points
•    Moss – 4 points
•    Edelman – 3 points (You can split him outside and he’s a better returner than Welker too.)
•    Welker – 2 points
•    Brown – 1 point

Performance in the clutch:

It is here where the three Patriot born and drafted boys cash in the chips. I’m sure I don’t need to explain Edelman’s heroics again. When Brady needed to have it Gronk has proved it time and again too; look no further back than his full spread clutch catch in Super Bowl LIII. Before the Patriots became truly great like no other team in history, nobody was more clutch than Troy Brown and he did it in all three phases of the game.
•    Edelman – 5 points
•    Gronkowski – 4 points
•    Brown – 3 points
•    Moss – 2 points
•    Welker – 1 point 

Ranking among pier positional group:

Moss is the second best receiver of all time; only Jerry Rice is more accomplished. Too bad that Gronkowski is the best tight end of all time and it’s not close.
•    Gronkowski – 5 points
•    Moss – 4 points
•    Welker – 3 points
•    Edelman – 2 points
•    Brown –  1 point

Aggregation of the best three years:

This is where Randy Moss’s 47 touchdowns in three seasons really stands out. You set a record for touchdowns in a season and you win the tiebreaker. However, this was a closer call than you might think. In 2007, 2009 and 2011, Wes Welker compiled 357 receptions for 4,092 yards and 21 touchdowns! More yards and receptions than Moss or Gronk, but 47 touchdowns is 47 touchdowns and Gronk earned 40 of his own in his best three years (2011, 2014 and 2015).
•    Moss – 5 points
•    Welker – 4 points
•    Gronkowski – 3 points
•    Edelman – 2 points
•    Brown – 1 point

So here’s my final tally of the Patriots' all-time receivers in the Brady era. As I instinctually thought, Gronk is the best there is. 
1)    Rob Gronkowski – 28 points
2)    Julian Edelman – 24 points
3)    Randy Moss – 21 points
4)    Wes Welker – 19 points
5)    Troy Brown – 13 points (He’s still my favorite though...)

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