Tom Brady's decline is real, analyst concludes in compelling report using advanced NFL data

John Tomase
January 08, 2019 - 10:47 am
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Bleacher Report's Mike Tanier knows how to get under the skin of Patriots fans -- tell them their 41-year-old quarterback is showing his age.

Tanier tried this approach in November in a piece that was long on pejoratives -- "Tom Brady's arm looks like overcooked fettuccine" -- but short on compelling analysis. Simply stating, "Tom Brady looks like toast," because he bounced a few throws against the Titans may rile up the masses, but it doesn't tell us much.

Analysis is Tanier's stock in trade, however, and let's just say his latest effort is far more compelling as he digs into the NFL's version of Statcast to paint a sobering picture of TB12 at 41.

The NFL's Next-Gen stats use motion-capture GPS technology to track players all over the field in three dimensions. They also record a number of quarterback-related metrics, including:

  • Time to throw.
  • Completed air yards and intended air yards.
  • Air yards to the sticks.
  • Aggressiveness.

So what does all that gobbledygook mean? Time to throw is how quickly a quarterback gets rid of the ball. Brady has always been among the best in the world at this, and not much has changed. Completed and intended air yards measure how far downfield each attempt and completion travel. Air yards to the sticks tells us where throws land in relation to the first down marker. And aggressiveness tracks throws into tight windows.

The data only date back three years, but even that window provides a glimpse into Brady's decline, and the numbers suggest it's quite real. Per Tanier's research:

  • Brady's 2.6 seconds per throw ranks seventh in the NFL, which isn't quite as quick as past seasons, but is at least in the ballpark.
  • His average attempt of 7.6 yards ranks 24th in the NFL and his average completion of 5.6 yards ranks 23rd. As a means of comparison, those numbers were 9.0 and 6.6, respectively, just a year ago.
  • His average yards to the sticks is minus-1.1, which means he consistently throws short of the marker. That number ranks 21st.
  • His aggressiveness rate of just 13.9 percent ranks 27th.

Outside of his time to throw, his other numbers have dropped precipitously since 2016. Quarterbacks in Brady's statistical range include Case Keenum, Kirk Cousins, Joe Flacco, Eli Manning, and, gulp, Blake Bortles, all of whom would be mistaken for actual goats before acronymic ones.

Tanier also notes that Brady's completion rate of 50.5 percent and conversion rate of 34.3 on third downs of four yards or greater have fallen from his 2017 (55.9, 41.4) and 2016 (65.3, 43.2) numbers, as well as his lifetime numbers (57.6, 39.8) and 2018 league averages (58.9, 36.2). That's not a desirable trend in a league that has become more pass-happy than ever.

Tanier addresses some anticipated criticisms -- namely that Brady has always lived with short, quick passes -- and concludes that Brady's probably still the best there is in the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl, but this year he's going to need a lot of help to get there.

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