No, the Patriots didn't draft a tight end for Tom Brady to play with, but it's quite possible Bill Belichick did one better. By drafting center Bryan Stork and right guard Jon Halapio, the Patriots have given Brady the gift of time and health, which is crucial at this stage in his career.
A quarterback is always impacted when they're pressured and Brady is no exception. The average quarterback's completion rate plummets from 63.0% to 37.8% when they're pressured (Brady fell 65.9% to 45.8% when pressured last season). You can give Brady all the receiving weapons in the world, but he won't be able to reach them if he's not provided any time to throw the ball.
So when the Patriots rank dead middle in the league at 16th with regards to protecting the quarterback, you know that's too low for an elite offense. And when Dan Connolly ranked 45th out of 59 guards and Ryan Wendell ranks dead last (30th out of 30 qualifying centers) in keeping Brady clean, they hold positions that are in clear need of an upgrade.
Enter Bryan Stork and Jon Halapio, who are expected to complete for starting time right out of the gate. While other offensive positions are generally given a season before becoming a fully integrated piece, linemen are generally able to be plugged in as rookies. If Stork and Halapio are able to supplant their predecessors and provide a cleaner pocket, we'll see immediate results on offense.
How much of an improvement? Pro Football Focus' Nate Jahnke has some extraordinary numbers to contribute to the discussion.
According to his numbers over the past six seasons, each additional time the quarterback is hit, their expected completion rate decreases by half a percentage point. So if a quarterback is sacked twice, their completion rate declines a full point. Brady being hit and sacked for the highest rate in his career absolutely had an effect on his completion rate.
So let's review Connolly and Wendell. From a raw perspective, Connolly's 15 combined sacks and hits ranked 4th worst in the league. On a per-snap basis, he ranked 8th. Wendell's raw count of 13 hits and sacks ranks 30th out of 30 (last!) and his per-snap rate is, surprise, ranked last as well.
For good measure, let's not ignore Logan Mankins, even though his position isn't in jeopardy. Mankins allowed 14 hits and sacks, which is one worse than Connolly- so he's ranked 5th worst in the league. His per-snap rate is 13th worst.
This means that all of Brady's interior protectors rank in (roughly) the bottom 20% of the league. Without any improvement, Wendell and Connolly would be fearing for their jobs on every roster in the league, not just the Patriots.
Adding competition with Stork and Halapio (and even Marcus Cannon) will help move this offensive line forward and beyond mediocrity, with great additional results for the offense as a whole. We can point out Connolly and Wendell combined for almost two QB hits per game, or a percentage point of accuracy.
Factor in the year of experience shared by the receivers on the roster, who were new in the system last season, with the improved expected completion rate by Brady and we should absolutely see the offense revert back to being the class of the league.
Bryan Stork Highlights:
Jon Halapio Highlights: