New England Patriots QB Tom Brady might not have the best passer rating, or the most touchdown passes. As Panthers QB Cam Newton showed in 2015, success can be fleeting. Brady has done something more impressive and it involves a long term trend: he’s been better in every season since 2013.
The 2013 season was difficult for Brady and the Patriots offense. New England lost both of their tight ends for various reasons, their big free agent wide receiver acquisition tore his groin muscle in week 1, and Brady was throwing to free agents he pulled off the street in the AFC Championship Game.
Brady completed just 60.5% of his passes, his lowest rate since 2003; he threw a touchdown on just 4.0% of his passes, his lowest rate ever. After a stretch of play from 2007-2012, where Brady was breaking records left and right, it seemed like Brady might be on a decline.
So he reinvented himself.
In 2014, Brady worked on throwing while on the move. In 2015, he increased the offensive tempo through pre-snap reads. In 2016, he reduced his bad throws and improved his deep ball. He has posted his best interception rate, second-best completion rate and passer rating, and his third-best touchdown rate and yards-per-attempt rate. His 2016 season was probably the second-best of his career, after only 2007 (although 2010 and 2011 could make valid arguments).
Since 2013, Brady’s completion rate, touchdown rate, interception rate, and passer rating have improved in each subsequent year.
Brady’s continual improvement, in the face of his 40th birthday in 2017, defies all odds and deserves scrutiny with regards to sustainability. How much longer can he keep this up? We’ve never seen a player improve at such great levels at this stage in their career.
The areas for improvement are also smaller, meaning that each offseason theoretically produce marginal returns. Where can Brady get better? He ranks in the top five of every quarterback rate statistic. His work on third down is immaculate. Other than his boneheaded goal line interception against the Ravens, Brady was also fantastic in the red zone. That said, Brady has thrown the 2nd most red zone interceptions since 2013, so perhaps he can help improve the red zone production with better ball security and feedback on the playcalling (no more fades to Julian Edelman, please!).
Brady can also work to ensure Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman are available for all 16 games in 2017- that would be more beneficial than any specific upgrade in passing skill.
Whatever the change, it will be interesting to watch the 40-year-old Brady still in the midst of his prime.