FanPost

Doing More With Less: Tom Brady and Receiver Turnover

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Over two years ago Christopher Price wrote an article titled "WHY BREAKING IN RECEIVERS IS OLD HAT FOR TOM BRADY" in which he discussed how Tom Brady and the Patriots were "hitting the reset button at the wide receiver" after the departure of Wes Welker. Price made two statements that interested me:

1. By the time his career is done, no Hall of Fame quarterback of the modern era will have gone through more personnel changes in the passing game than Tom Brady.

2. Simply put, no quarterback of recent vintage has had to rely on a wider variety of targets than he has.

I have touched on statement #1 by Price in the past in previous fanposts. Those fanposts discussed quarterback personnel turnover in regards to touchdown receptions. That data was easily accessible from pro-football-reference.com which made it easy to do a historical analysis. Unfortunately, catches and yards data for receivers from individual quarterbacks is either non-existent or inaccessible. In order to get it, I had to go season-by-season, game-by-game, and sometimes even play-by-play to acquire it. Also, play-by-play data only goes back to the 1998 season, and even that is a rare find. Because of this, no quarterbacks could be studied that played part of their career prior to 1998. As a result, addressing statement #1 by Price would be inadequate. This study will address statement #2 by Price.

2. Simply put, no quarterback of recent vintage has had to rely on a wider variety of targets than he has.

I combined a couple of different sources to get my list of quarterbacks. First, I used every name Price listed in his original article except Brett Favre, because Brett Favre played prior to 1998. Second, I did not include quarterbacks that started their career later than 2008. Third, every quarterback that was not originally on Price's list had to have a career passer rating above 85.0. The reason for the passer rating qualification is that, at the time I began researching, the highest league-wide average passer rating season in history was 84.1 in 2013. That meant that any quarterback with a career passer rating above that mark would be above average, even if it was by the tiniest bit. This would have given me a working group of 21 quarterbacks, but as I mentioned before, play-by-play data is sparse for the 1998 season. Due to this, Trent Green had to be left off because there is not play-by-play data for all of his games. Below are the 20 quarterbacks chosen for this study. Accompanying this is the year they were drafted (if they were drafted), the year they became the primary starter for a team (defined as the first year they started 8 or more games), and their career passer rating.

Player Drafted 1st Year as Primary Starter Passer Rating
Peyton Manning 1998 1998 97.5
Kurt Warner 1999 93.7
Jeff Garcia 1999 87.5
Daunte Culpepper 1999 2000 87.8
Donovan McNabb 1999 2000 85.6
Tom Brady 2000 2001 95.9
Matt Hasselbeck 1998 2001 82.3
Drew Brees 2001 2002 95.4
Chad Pennington 2000 2002 90.1
Ben Roethlisberger 2004 2004 93.9
Carson Palmer 2003 2004 86.3
Eli Manning 2004 2004 82.4
Tony Romo 2006 97.6
Philip Rivers 2004 2006 95.7
David Garrard 2002 2006 85.8
Matt Schaub 2004 2007 89.5
Jay Cutler 2006 2007 85.2
Aaron Rodgers 2005 2008 106
Matt Ryan 2008 2008 91.1
Joe Flacco 2008 2008 84.8

To start, I found out how many different players caught a pass from each of the above quarterback's in their careers. That list is below. Highlighted names completed a pass to themselves at some point in their careers.

Player # of Receivers Teams
Matt Hasselbeck 97 4
Tom Brady 87 1
Peyton Manning 86 2
Donovan McNabb 82 3
Carson Palmer 82 3
Daunte Culpepper 80 4
Kurt Warner 78 3
Drew Brees 77 2
Jeff Garcia 75 5
Jay Cutler 63 2
Eli Manning 61 1
Ben Roethlisberger 58 1
Matt Schaub 57 3
Philip Rivers 49 1
Aaron Rodgers 48 1
Joe Flacco 47 1
Chad Pennington 46 2
David Garrard 42 1
Tony Romo 41 1
Matt Ryan 38 1

I'm sure many of you can see the limitations of the above list. Quarterbacks that have been in the league longer have had more opportunity to play with more players, thus increasing their likelihood of having a larger number of receivers. Also, quarterbacks that changed teams would, in most cases, gain an entirely new receiving group and thus increase their number of different receivers at a higher rate. Regardless, Tom Brady is the only quarterback in the top ten that only played with one team.

I made a chart that shows the increase of each quarterback's number of receivers over their career. For each quarterback, "Year 1" represents the first year of their career in which they completed an NFL pass, not their first year in the league. This will serve a greater purpose later, but for ease of read I included the first year they completed an NFL pass in the chart. After that, every year is included, even the seasons that a quarterback missed for injury (such as 2011 Peyton Manning). The cells that are highlighted and bold are the seasons that a quarterback changed teams. Using Peyton Manning again, "Year 15" represents the season he went to the Denver Broncos.

Player 1st Year Seasons Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4 Year 5 Year 6 Year 7 Year 8 Year 9 Year 10 Year 11 Year 12 Year 13 Year 14 Year 15 Year 16 Year 17
Peyton Manning 1998 17 13 16 17 23 32 37 38 41 44 50 57 61 65 65 79 82 86
Matt Hasselbeck 1999 16 3 8 20 24 24 28 32 35 40 48 55 65 80 83 89 97
Tom Brady 2000 15 1 15 22 29 34 39 47 53 53 60 65 69 75 83 87
Drew Brees 2001 14 6 12 18 20 22 38 42 48 54 60 64 67 71 77
Donovan McNabb 1999 13 15 24 30 33 38 40 43 48 50 55 59 73 82
Kurt Warner 1998 12 3 14 17 19 24 28 38 53 60 66 73 78
Chad Pennington 2000 11 2 5 13 16 19 20 27 30 44 45 45
Carson Palmer 2004 11 13 16 17 22 23 31 39 52 60 76 82
Eli Manning 2004 11 11 14 17 25 27 33 35 41 46 52 61
Ben Roethlisberger 2004 11 13 16 20 23 30 34 37 40 45 51 58
Matt Schaub 2004 11 10 12 14 29 31 35 36 39 45 52 57
Philip Rivers 2004 11 4 8 12 17 19 21 29 32 42 45 49
Jeff Garcia 1999 10 14 16 20 21 24 38 49 58 70 75
Daunte Culpepper 2000 10 13 19 24 29 35 38 47 59 70 80
Aaron Rodgers 2005 10 6 11 14 23 27 31 36 40 44 48
David Garrard 2002 9 6 11 15 19 21 25 31 38 42
Jay Cutler 2006 9 11 19 25 38 41 47 54 57 63
Tony Romo 2006 9 10 13 18 20 22 29 36 40 41
Joe Flacco 2008 7 11 14 19 25 30 37 47
Matt Ryan 2008 7 13 17 19 23 28 35 38

The number in each cell represents how many different people caught a pass from the quarterback after that season. When a quarterback changed teams, the average amount of new receivers gained was 12. This number is substantially larger than the average change from year to year on the same team, which was roughly 5-6. This tells us more or less what we would expect - changing teams will increase the number of different receivers a quarterback threw to compared to a quarterback that stayed with the same team.

The chart above allows one to compare quarterback's to each other at certain points in time. The latest year all of the quarterbacks can be compared is "Year 7."

Player Year 7
Jay Cutler 54
Jeff Garcia 49
Tom Brady 47
Joe Flacco 47
Donovan McNabb 43
Drew Brees 42
Peyton Manning 38
Kurt Warner 38
Daunte Culpepper 38
Matt Ryan 38
Ben Roethlisberger 37
Matt Schaub 36
Aaron Rodgers 36
Tony Romo 36
Eli Manning 35
Matt Hasselbeck 32
Carson Palmer 31
David Garrard 31
Philip Rivers 29
Chad Pennington 27

You can also use the chart to look at how many different receivers a quarterback had on each of his teams and compare them to other players. For example, if you wanted to see how many different receivers a quarterback had on his primary team, you just need to subtract the other seasons. That list looks like this:

Player # of Receivers
Tom Brady 87
Peyton Manning (Colts) 65
Eli Manning 61
Donovan McNabb (Eagles) 59
Ben Roethlisberger 58
Matt Hasselbeck (Seahawks) 57
Drew Brees (Saints) 55
Philip Rivers 49
Aaron Rodgers 48
Joe Flacco 47
David Garrard 42
Tony Romo 41
Kurt Warner (Cardinals) 40
Carson Palmer (Bengals) 39
Matt Schaub (Texans) 38
Daunte Culpepper (Vikings) 38
Jay Cutler (Bears) 38
Matt Ryan 38
Chad Pennington (Jets) 30
Jeff Garcia (49ers) 24

I would rather measure a quarterback's significant receiver changes. Now significant is arbitrary, but I have done work on it in the past. In Tom Brady and Receiver Turnover - Touchdown Edition I introduced a statistic that measured the contributions of a quarterback's top six receivers to their career touchdown totals. This was called "Top 6 Touchdown %," which was later reduced to "Top 5 Touchdown %" in Give Him 5: Tom Brady's Top 5 in Greater Context a year later. I decided to stick with top five due to it being a much easier number aesthetically and otherwise.

So first, an explanation of how these numbers are calculated. Here is a chart of the top five players in each category - catches, yards, touchdowns - for Tom Brady. The leader in one category is not necessarily the leader in another.

Tom Brady Catches Yards Touchdowns
1 Wes Welker (563) Wes Welker (6300) Rob Gronkowski (53)
2 Deion Branch (328) Rob Gronkowski (4315) Randy Moss (39)
3 Troy Brown (325) Deion Branch (4297) Wes Welker (34)
4 Kevin Faulk (310) Troy Brown (3374) Deion Branch (24)
5 Rob Gronkowski (304) Randy Moss (2939) Aaron Hernandez (18)
Top 5 Total 1830 21225 168
TB Career 4551 53258 392
Top 5 % 40.2% 39.9% 42.9%

The number in the parentheses by each player's name is the amount of that category that they had in their career from Tom Brady. "Top 5 Total" is the sum of each category. "Career" is the amount of completions (found in the catches column), yards, and touchdowns Tom Brady has in his career. "Top 5 %" is the result of "Top 5 Total" divided by "Career" times 100 to get a percentage. What this number represents is how much a quarterback's top five players in each category contributed to their whole career.

I have made charts similar to the one up above that detailed the year-to-year changes in different receivers. I'm going to post them for each category and then go into greater detail after. The first is for "Top 5 Catches %."

Top 5 Catches % 1st Year Seasons Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4 Year 5 Year 6 Year 7 Year 8 Year 9 Year 10 Year 11 Year 12 Year 13 Year 14 Year 15 Year 16 Year 17
Peyton Manning 1998 17 83.1% 69.6% 71.0% 70.2% 68.6% 65.3% 65.9% 66.2% 64.3% 62.3% 61.7% 60.7% 58.0% 58.0% 53.5% 49.1% 46.7%
Matt Hasselbeck 1999 16 100.0% 76.9% 77.8% 75.9% 80.1% 76.3% 68.6% 65.0% 59.1% 57.0% 50.0% 45.4% 40.4% 38.5% 38.4% 38.1%
Tom Brady 2000 15 100.0% 76.6% 71.0% 64.9% 62.3% 62.0% 56.1% 48.4% 48.2% 47.0% 46.9% 46.6% 45.2% 41.9% 40.2%
Drew Brees 2001 14 93.3% 77.0% 66.3% 62.2% 65.2% 50.7% 46.6% 42.6% 41.2% 41.0% 39.8% 39.9% 40.7% 40.8%
Donovan McNabb 1999 13 70.8% 64.9% 57.0% 58.7% 57.1% 52.8% 49.2% 46.7% 43.9% 41.0% 37.9% 34.5% 33.5%
Kurt Warner 1998 12 100% 83.0% 86.7% 84.5% 83.1% 82.3% 71.3% 60.1% 56.1% 53.4% 52.0% 51.5%
Chad Pennington 2000 11 100.0% 100.0% 81.2% 67.2% 62.8% 63.1% 54.1% 53.5% 42.7% 41.3% 41.3%
Carson Palmer 2004 11 74.1% 69.2% 71.0% 72.0% 71.3% 64.3% 56.6% 52.0% 45.0% 39.5% 38.5%
Eli Manning 2004 11 78.9% 83.3% 80.6% 75.4% 67.2% 59.9% 51.9% 46.7% 42.2% 40.8% 37.4%
Ben Roethlisberger 2004 11 82.7% 73.4% 62.9% 65.0% 66.1% 67.2% 63.3% 61.1% 60.5% 58.4% 57.0%
Matt Schaub 2004 11 84.8% 80.3% 71.4% 49.6% 64.3% 64.4% 63.0% 63.8% 65.6% 63.8% 63.7%
Philip Rivers 2004 11 100.0% 82.4% 81.7% 72.5% 69.6% 69.3% 63.7% 60.3% 56.0% 51.1% 48.9%
Daunte Culpepper 1999 10 82.2% 71.6% 66.7% 64.6% 54.7% 51.8% 49.5% 46.6% 45.1% 43.2%
Jeff Garcia 2000 10 79.1% 83.1% 70.2% 65.0% 61.7% 56.1% 52.7% 49.4% 44.3% 39.5%
Aaron Rodgers 2005 10 88.9% 60.0% 65.7% 72.1% 68.2% 67.2% 67.3% 65.4% 64.1% 59.3%
David Garrard 2002 9 95.7% 75.0% 68.6% 63.7% 58.5% 54.1% 58.3% 49.9% 49.5%
Jay Cutler 2006 9 84.0% 73.0% 70.3% 49.3% 44.6% 46.1% 50.2% 50.8% 50.9%
Tony Romo 2006 9 88.6% 83.8% 81.3% 75.2% 71.8% 63.5% 59.9% 58.4% 57.7%
Joe Flacco 2008 7 82.1% 81.1% 74.1% 65.8% 62.1% 56.5% 50.4%
Matt Ryan 2008 7 82.3% 74.2% 74.7% 72.3% 69.7% 68.7% 66.7%

The second is for "Top 5 Yards %."

Top 5 Yards % 1st Year Seasons Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4 Year 5 Year 6 Year 7 Year 8 Year 9 Year 10 Year 11 Year 12 Year 13 Year 14 Year 15 Year 16 Year 17
Peyton Manning 1998 17 85.2% 69.7% 71.5% 72.1% 69.8% 67.3% 67.0% 67.2% 66.7% 65.4% 65.2% 64.1% 61.7% 61.7% 56.8% 52.1% 50.9%
Matt Hasselbeck 1999 16 100.0% 75.9% 73.7% 78.7% 83.3% 79.9% 72.3% 69.0% 61.9% 59.7% 54.7% 49.5% 44.2% 42.4% 42.3% 41.9%
Tom Brady 2000 15 100.0% 78.2% 73.3% 67.1% 67.5% 65.7% 58.3% 49.1% 49.0% 45.4% 45.4% 45.2% 43.7% 40.9% 39.9%
Drew Brees 2001 14 91.4% 77.0% 63.9% 61.5% 64.8% 48.6% 44.2% 40.9% 41.7% 42.0% 42.2% 43.7% 45.0% 44.4%
Donovan McNabb 1999 13 74.1% 68.5% 61.1% 62.4% 60.7% 54.4% 51.4% 46.6% 43.2% 38.8% 35.1% 31.9% 31.0%
Kurt Warner 1998 12 100% 87.9% 91.1% 88.7% 87.9% 87.5% 76.6% 65.8% 61.8% 60.5% 57.8% 57.1%
Chad Pennington 2000 11 100.0% 100.0% 80.2% 69.9% 65.0% 64.4% 59.9% 60.2% 47.5% 46.4% 46.4%
Carson Palmer 2003 11 84.8% 79.7% 79.6% 80.2% 79.6% 73.3% 65.7% 59.1% 52.9% 46.2% 45.3%
Eli Manning 2004 11 76.6% 84.0% 83.6% 80.1% 70.5% 61.5% 55.7% 50.0% 47.0% 47.3% 42.9%
Ben Roethlisberger 2004 11 86.9% 78.8% 67.3% 68.6% 71.6% 71.4% 68.8% 66.0% 65.1% 63.1% 61.4%
Matt Schaub 2004 11 92.4% 86.4% 76.7% 61.4% 71.6% 69.2% 68.8% 69.2% 70.5% 68.5% 68.4%
Philip Rivers 2004 11 100.0% 86.5% 86.4% 77.8% 74.4% 75.1% 67.3% 65.7% 62.1% 56.7% 55.8%
Daunte Culpepper 1999 10 86.6% 78.5% 72.3% 67.7% 58.7% 55.5% 53.0% 49.9% 48.2% 46.3%
Jeff Garcia 1999 10 82.9% 84.5% 75.3% 73.3% 69.3% 59.4% 59.6% 55.8% 49.8% 44.7%
Aaron Rodgers 2005 10 100.0% 76.6% 80.5% 79.4% 76.7% 77.5% 77.8% 74.5% 73.0% 68.3%
David Garrard 2002 9 93.9% 73.2% 73.7% 73.1% 68.3% 60.4% 60.4% 50.7% 50.0%
Jay Cutler 2006 9 87.3% 78.5% 75.4% 54.9% 50.3% 50.3% 53.8% 53.1% 52.7%
Tony Romo 2006 9 91.7% 86.2% 83.5% 77.1% 74.7% 66.5% 66.7% 65.0% 63.5%
Joe Flacco 2008 7 85.5% 84.9% 78.0% 69.0% 65.0% 59.9% 53.5%
Matt Ryan 2008 7 86.8% 79.5% 79.3% 76.7% 78.1% 76.6% 74.7%

The third is for "Top 5 TD %" (touchdown is abbreviated to make smaller cells)

Top 5 TD % 1st Year Seasons Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4 Year 5 Year 6 Year 7 Year 8 Year 9 Year 10 Year 11 Year 12 Year 13 Year 14 Year 15 Year 16 Year 17
Peyton Manning 1998 17 88.5% 80.8% 78.8% 80.2% 77.5% 74.3% 74.5% 73.8% 74.5% 74.2% 73.3% 71.9% 68.2% 68.2% 62.4% 57.2% 55.1%
Matt Hasselbeck 1999 16 100.0% 100.0% 88.9% 83.3% 82.0% 79.2% 70.8% 68.4% 59.9% 57.8% 53.0% 49.4% 44.8% 43.3% 43.3% 42.9%
Tom Brady 2000 15 0/0 77.8% 65.2% 58.0% 60.8% 56.9% 51.0% 43.1% 43.1% 44.9% 42.5% 45.0% 45.8% 43.7% 42.9%
Drew Brees 2001 14 100.0% 77.8% 62.1% 64.3% 68.8% 53.8% 51.5% 47.6% 47.0% 49.4% 49.8% 50.9% 52.3% 51.8%
Donovan McNabb 1999 13 100.0% 82.8% 66.7% 67.6% 59.8% 55.1% 56.0% 52.0% 49.7% 47.9% 43.5% 40.9% 40.2%
Kurt Warner 1998 12 100% 87.8% 87.1% 79.6% 78.2% 78.4% 74.1% 67.2% 64.0% 57.9% 59.9% 59.6%
Chad Pennington 2000 11 100.0% 100.0% 95.8% 86.5% 73.6% 72.7% 69.4% 70.7% 57.4% 56.9% 56.9%
Carson Palmer 2003 11 88.9% 80.0% 83.3% 84.6% 85.0% 80.5% 72.1% 67.1% 61.4% 54.9% 53.1%
Eli Manning 2004 11 100.0% 93.3% 92.6% 88.3% 82.7% 72.0% 66.0% 60.0% 54.5% 52.0% 46.3%
Ben Roethlisberger 2004 11 88.2% 85.3% 71.2% 73.8% 77.2% 74.0% 73.6% 71.5% 69.6% 63.0% 61.4%
Matt Schaub 2004 11 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 60.0% 73.3% 78.0% 78.3% 78.6% 74.2% 70.8% 70.8%
Philip Rivers 2004 11 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 88.6% 82.1% 80.2% 77.9% 77.9% 73.5% 64.7% 64.7%
Daunte Culpepper 1999 10 97.0% 93.6% 80.0% 77.8% 72.1% 69.6% 68.6% 66.2% 64.4% 63.1%
Jeff Garcia 1999 10 100.0% 92.9% 83.8% 81.1% 77.9% 71.5% 69.8% 64.7% 59.7% 55.3%
Aaron Rodgers 2005 10 0/0 0/0 100.0% 82.8% 72.9% 75.9% 78.0% 77.2% 76.6% 72.1%
David Garrard 2002 9 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 88.9% 72.2% 64.7% 56.1% 58.4%
Jay Cutler 2006 9 100.0% 86.2% 81.5% 58.0% 53.8% 49.6% 50.0% 51.0% 49.7%
Tony Romo 2006 9 100.0% 90.9% 84.0% 81.3% 81.4% 71.1% 70.1% 69.2% 67.4%
Joe Flacco 2008 7 85.7% 80.0% 76.7% 66.3% 68.6% 62.0% 58.1%
Matt Ryan 2008 7 93.8% 81.6% 78.8% 74.7% 76.4% 72.5% 69.6%

Here are some general observations:

  1. For all three categories for every quarterback "Top 5 %" decreases over time
  2. Typically, "Top 5 Catch %" is less than "Top 5 Yards %", which is less than "Top 5 TD %"
Some might argue that a statistic such as this punishes quarterbacks that switched teams, devaluing the efforts it takes to adjust to new receivers, a new system, etc. My counterpoint is that these stats actually add context to the quarterback changing teams and help paint a picture of which players contributed the most to a quarterback's career total.

Take a look at the Tom Brady receiver table again. It is inarguable that Randy Moss is the best weapon Tom Brady has ever had, yet Moss didn't catch enough passes from Brady to make it into Brady's career top five. Moss comes in with the fifth most yards and the second most touchdown receptions, but in each category he doesn't even constitute 10% of Brady's career totals. In fact, no player constitutes 10% or more of Brady's career totals in every category. Here's how Tom Brady compares to the other quarterbacks. They are ranked by the average of the three categories.

Player 10% Catches 10% Yards 10% TDs Average
Donovan McNabb 1 0 1 0.7
Eli Manning 0 1 2 1.0
Tom Brady 1 1 1 1.0
Jeff Garcia 1 1 1 1.0
Drew Brees 1 1 2 1.3
Daunte Culpepper 1 1 2 1.3
Chad Pennington 1 1 2 1.3
Matt Hasselbeck 2 2 1 1.7
Jay Cutler 2 2 1 1.7
Peyton Manning 2 2 2 2.0
Carson Palmer 2 2 2 2.0
Philip Rivers 1 3 3 2.3
Joe Flacco 1 4 2 2.3
David Garrard 2 2 3 2.3
Tony Romo 2 3 4 3.0
Matt Schaub 3 3 3 3.0
Ben Roethlisberger 3 3 4 3.3
Kurt Warner 3 4 3 3.3
Matt Ryan 4 4 3 3.7
Aaron Rodgers 3 5 4 4.0
So, now that all of the bulk data is out there, I think you can see that by most measures of personnel turnover that Tom Brady has, in fact, experienced more than his fair share. He is at or near the top in every category. One could stop here and have a sizable argument supporting Price's premise. I felt this needed to be looked at with more scrutiny.

There is a subjective nature to interpreting data. For example, Tom Brady has been in the league 15 seasons. That is a fact. However, most recognize that Tom Brady has only truly "played" 13 seasons, as Drew Bledsoe was the starter Brady's rookie year in 2000 and Brady missed 2008 because of an injury. The same logic can be applied to Peyton Manning who has been in the league 17 seasons but only truly "played" 16 seasons due to missing 2011. I am acknowledging the subjective nature of this currently because I am about to start comparing quarterbacks in much more specific detail.

Let's start simple. At the beginning of this fanpost I included each quarterback's "1st Year as Primary Starter" when I introduced them. Because you shouldn't have to scroll all the way up there again, here's it is:

Player Drafted 1st Year as Primary Starter Passer Rating
Peyton Manning 1998 1998 97.5
Kurt Warner 1999 93.7
Jeff Garcia 1999 87.5
Daunte Culpepper 1999 2000 87.8
Donovan McNabb 1999 2000 85.6
Tom Brady 2000 2001 95.9
Matt Hasselbeck 1998 2001 82.3
Drew Brees 2001 2002 95.4
Chad Pennington 2000 2002 90.1
Ben Roethlisberger 2004 2004 93.9
Carson Palmer 2003 2004 86.3
Eli Manning 2004 2004 82.4
Tony Romo 2006 97.6
Philip Rivers 2004 2006 95.7
David Garrard 2002 2006 85.8
Matt Schaub 2004 2007 89.5
Jay Cutler 2006 2007 85.2
Aaron Rodgers 2005 2008 106
Matt Ryan 2008 2008 91.1
Joe Flacco 2008 2008 84.8
Aaron Rodgers took the reigns of the Packers in 2008. That same year Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco were drafted and they started right away. Since Rodgers only had 35 completions in 3 years with the Packers prior, comparing him to these other guys is not that egregious.

Player Top 5 Catch % Top 5 Yards % Top 5 TD % Passer Rating
Aaron Rodgers 59.3% 68.3% 72.1% 106
Matt Ryan 66.7% 74.7% 69.6% 91.1
Joe Flacco 50.4% 53.5% 58.1% 84.8
I doubt many are going to try to argue that Ryan or Flacco are as good as Rodgers. What is interesting is to compare these quarterbacks to longer tenured quarterbacks that seemed to face similar circumstances. For example, Joe Flacco's first seven years of his career look very similar to Donovan McNabb's.

Player Top 5 Catch % Top 5 Yards % Top 5 TD % Passer Rating
Joe Flacco 50.4% 53.5% 58.1% 84.8
Donovan McNabb 1999-2005 49.2% 51.4% 56.0% 84.1
While both of them are good quarterbacks that occasionally had well known receivers, their teams were primarily known for the defense and running backs. McNabb had Brian Westbrook, who by the end of McNabb's career had 162 more receptions than any other player McNabb threw to. Flacco was arguably even more dependent on Ray Rice who has 154 more receptions than Flacco's second place guy. These teams weren't known for their passing games. Talented receivers didn't make their way through those teams very often, and when they did it was either for a short time (Terrell Owens - Eagles) or they were old (Anquan Boldin, Steve Smith - Ravens). They didn't post mind-boggling passing statistics and their teams weren't built to.

Meanwhile, Rodgers and Ryan have enjoyed receiver consistency that is very similar to most of the highest rated passers ever. Below is what every quarterback with a career passer rating above 90 looked like in their 7th year. The only ones included are the ones that stayed with the same team throughout that time-frame.

First 7 Years Top 5 Catch % Top 5 Yards % Top 5 TD % Time-Frame Passer Rating
Aaron Rodgers 59.3% 68.3% 72.1% 106.0
Tony Romo 2006-2012 59.9% 66.7% 70.1% 95.6
Philip Rivers 2006-2012 56.0% 62.1% 73.5% 94.5
Tom Brady 2001-2007 48.4% 49.1% 43.1% 92.9
Ben Roethlisberger 2004-2010 63.3% 68.8% 73.6% 92.5
Peyton Manning 1998-2004 65.9% 67.0% 74.5% 92.3
Matt Ryan 66.7% 74.7% 69.6% 91.1

I am very aware that Tom Brady's top five percentages are substantially smaller than the others. For now, ignore it and focus on the others. For the other quarterbacks, roughly 65-70% of their production comes from their top five guys. For most of the study, there are quarterbacks that started and played 7 years in a row in one place. Here is what all of them look like together, with the team they played on listed in the far right column.

Player Top 5 Catch % Top 5 Yards % Top 5 TD % Average % Time-Frame Passer Rating Team
Aaron Rodgers 2008-2014 59.3% 68.3% 72.1% 66.6% 106 Packers
Drew Brees 2006-2012 53.8% 59.7% 65.2% 59.6% 98.2 Saints
Tony Romo 2006-2012 59.9% 66.7% 70.1% 65.6% 95.6 Cowboys
Philip Rivers 2006-2012 56.0% 62.1% 73.5% 63.9% 94.5 Chargers
Tom Brady 2001-2007 48.4% 49.1% 43.1% 46.9% 92.9 Patriots
Ben Roethlisberger 2004-2010 63.3% 68.8% 73.6% 68.6% 92.5 Steelers
Peyton Manning 1998-2004 65.9% 67.0% 74.5% 69.1% 92.3 Colts
Matt Ryan 2008-2014 66.7% 74.7% 69.6% 70.3% 91.1 Falcons
Matt Schaub 2007-2013 66.6% 71.6% 74.2% 70.8% 90.9 Texans
Matt Hasselbeck 2001-2007 59.5% 62.3% 60.7% 60.9% 88.8 Seahawks
Carson Palmer 2004-2010 56.6% 65.7% 72.1% 64.8% 86.9 Bengals
Joe Flacco 2008-2014 50.4% 53.5% 58.1% 54.0% 84.8 Ravens
Donovan McNabb 1999-2005 49.2% 51.4% 56.0% 52.2% 84.1 Eagles
Eli Manning 2004-2010 51.9% 55.7% 66.0% 57.9% 80.2 Giants

Tom Brady is pretty much an anomaly however you look at it. 11 quarterbacks have a passer rating above 85. Only two of them have an "Average %" below 60%, Brees at 59.6%, and Brady at 46.9%. The guys most consider great had their top five contributing 60-70% of their total. For all of them except Brady, their top five contributed more than 50%.

I understand that there are probably some people that feel that Brady's numbers are skewed by his 2007 season and therefore they are not indicative of his overall performance from 2001-2007. That was the year Brady got Randy Moss, otherwise known as the best receiver Brady has ever played with. It also gave Brady Wes Welker, who we know has caught the most passes and yards in Brady's career. That season severely dropped Brady's top five percentages while it drastically improved his passer rating. I can entertain the idea that the numbers don't accurately reflect a fair distribution of Brady's numbers compared to others. The counterargument is that Brady had a career passer rating of 88.4 after 2006, his sixth season. For those of you scoffing at that number, keep in mind that Peyton Manning had a career passer rating of 88.1 after his first six seasons in the league. Also, to state that Brady's numbers were higher as a result of the quality of his personnel would open the door to a completely different discussion.

Similar to how Aaron Rodgers has really only played seven seasons, Tom Brady and Drew Brees have really only played thirteen seasons. They perfectly line up with Peyton Manning's time with the Colts.

Player Seasons Years
Peyton Manning (Colts) 13 1998-2010
Tom Brady 13 2001-2007, 2009-2014
Drew Brees 13 2002-2014
Their stats are relatively the same as well.

Player Completions Attempts Yards Touchdowns Interceptions Passer Rating
Peyton Manning (Colts) 4682 7210 54828 399 198 94.9
Tom Brady 4551 7168 53258 392 143 95.9
Drew Brees 4937 7458 56033 396 194 95.4
Since this data encapsulates the careers of Brady and Brees, their percentages remain the same. Manning's numbers remove his time with the Broncos.

Player Top 5 Catch % Top 5 Yards % Top 5 TD % Average % # of Receivers
Peyton Manning (Colts) 58.0% 61.7% 68.2% 62.6% 65
Drew Brees 40.8% 44.4% 51.8% 45.7% 77
Tom Brady 40.2% 39.9% 42.9% 41.0% 87

Even with Drew Brees having the added advantage of playing with two teams, Tom Brady still comes out with more significant personnel turnover. Their percentages are likely to move closer in 2015. The Saints traded way Jimmy Graham, leaving Marques Colston as Brees' only returning Top 5 member. Brady's only returning Top 5 member is Rob Gronkowski, but Julian Edelman is in a position to move into Brady's Top 5 in every category. Gronkowki is currently fifth in receptions, but he only needs seven to surpass Kevin Faulk so I included Faulk's number instead of Gronkowski's.

Tom Brady Catches Yards Touchdowns
5th Most Kevin Faulk (310) Randy Moss (2939) Aaron Hernandez (18)
Julian Edelman 257 2663 14
Difference 53 276 4
While Brady and Brees are fairly close, their percentages are nowhere near Peyton Manning's, and the discrepancy is stupid. Manning's percentages are what one would expect from a seven year stretch, not thirteen. It isn't even a matter of the team switch for Drew Brees either, because in Brees' nine years with the Saints his percentages are still smaller.

Player Seasons Top 5 Catch % Top 5 Yards % Top 5 TD % Average % # of Receivers
Drew Brees (Saints) 9 52.9% 57.0% 63.0% 57.6% 56
Peyton Manning (Colts) 13 58.0% 61.7% 68.2% 62.6% 65

Manning having receiver consistency isn't a shock to anyone familiar with the NFL. What may surprise you is to find out that Manning's twosome of Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne outproduce Tom Brady's Top 5.

Group Catch % Yards % TD % Average %
Harrison + Wayne 37.0% 42.6% 44.9% 41.5%
Tom Brady Top 5 40.2% 39.9% 42.9% 41.0%
There really is no comparison to Manning's time with the Colts. The skill position investment by the Colts is reflected in Manning's Top 5.

Peyton Manning Catches Yards Touchdowns
1 Marvin Harrison (953) Marvin Harrison (12766) Marvin Harrison (112)
2 Reggie Wayne (779) Reggie Wayne (10602) Reggie Wayne (67)
3 Dallas Clark (387) Dallas Clark (4479) Dallas Clark (44)
4 Edgerrin James (355) Marcus Pollard (3138) Marcus Pollard (34)
5 Marcus Pollard (243) Edgerrin James (2833) Brandon Stokley (15)
Marvin Harrison and Marcus Pollard were on the Colts when Manning was drafted in 1998. Edgerrin James, Reggie Wayne, and Dallas Clark were 1st round picks in 1999, 2001, and 2003 respectively. Brandon Stokley's stint with the Colts was brief, and by brief I mean still longer than Tom Brady had Randy Moss.

One can argue day and night about who made who, the quarterback or his weapons, but one thing in the face of these numbers is certain - Tom Brady has had to deal with a lot more change over the course of his career than normal. Compared to most of the top passers, Brady's Top 5 percentages are anomalous. By the time his career is over there may be ways to study past quarterbacks to give more credence to Price's first point. For now, it is safe to say that no quarterback has had to rely on a wider variety of targets than Tom Brady while also having the statistical excellence.

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