NFL Free Agency Fantasy Fallout: Tom Brady becomes big bounce back candidate with the Bucs

Tom Brady. Tampa Bay. Totally bewildering.

All signs point to the 42-year-old quarterback teaming up with an offense loaded with receiving talent and managed by one of the game's most aggressive downfield passing schemers in Bruce Arians. It's a match made in Fantasy Football heaven ... but it would have been better if it were happening five years ago.

Brady is coming off one of his worst seasons ever. He finished 2019 with 24 touchdowns (his lowest total since 2003), 4,057 yards (his second-lowest total since 2010), a 60.8% completion rate (his lowest since 2014) and 6.6 yards per pass attempt (his lowest since 2002). His Patriots were boosted by an easy schedule, but Brady had one of the least talented receiving corps at his disposal after Josh Gordon and Antonio Brown each received suspensions from the league. Somehow he still finished as the 12th-best passer in Fantasy, but it was on the strength of a hot start and helped by a league full of injured and disappointing quarterbacks.

His new playcaller is a big deal, though. Arians has never, ever been shy about asking his quarterbacks to throw the ball like mad. He actually encouraged Jameis Winston to chuck the rock 626 times last year. It was the third straight season Arians' quarterbacks attempted at least 620 passes (38.8 attempts per game), and the eighth straight season Arians' offense ordered a quarterback to throw at least 580 times (36.3 times per game).

So who's going to change whom? Are there limitations on Brady's arm that will keep Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich from dialing up a bunch of throws, especially down the field? Or will Arians & Co. encourage Brady to keep it short and simple while handing off a bunch?

For the $30 million per year the Bucs are paying, my money's on Arians begging Brady to let it rip. And given some details on how he performed last year, it's not crazy to think Brady can deliver another strong season.

Brady vs. Jameis

2019BradyWinston
Completion %60.8%60.7%
On-target %73.4%72.8%
WR+TE yards after catch9901299
RB yards after catch 949641
20+ yard pass att.6299
20+ yard comp. %41.9%44.4%
% of passes 20+ yards10.1%15.8%
20+ yard: att. per TD8.811.0
20+ yard pass QB rating102.197.1
* numbers from Pro Football Focus                       

No one could possibly suggest Jameis had a worse season than Brady. Certainly not statistically — Winston threw for 1,052 more yards and nine more touchdowns on only 13 more pass attempts. But Winston clearly had better targets than Brady and had considerably more yards after catch contributed by his receivers and tight ends than Brady did.

Furthermore, it wasn't like Winston's deep-ball efficiency was way better than Brady's. His completion rate was only slightly higher and his touchdowns per deep attempts (one every 11 such throws) was actually worse than Brady's (one every 8.8 such throws). Brady also had the better quarterback rating despite a lower concentration of deep attempts compared to Winston.

This should create some optimism toward Brady being successful at longer throws. He's going to get asked to try plenty of them, and receivers like Chris Godwin and Mike Evans (and perhaps a third option) will benefit. Those same receivers will also enjoy getting more on-target throws from Brady than they got from Winston. Simply put, it's a better situation all around, including for Brady, who will be tasked with some more aggressive passing requests. I could see him as a Fantasy starter to begin the Fantasy season, especially if the schedule isn't too difficult. While I'd still rather draft Aaron Rodgers or Matthew Stafford ahead of Brady, I would take Brady ahead of Carson Wentz and Jared Goff. I do think he has a chance at well over 4,200 yards and close to 30 touchdowns.

I get it if you're worried about Evans being as good as he was last season (67-1157-8) — just over 20% of his targets were deep throws and they made up 407 of his yards and three of his scores. But Brady should still take plenty of shots at Evans, plus he'll be a factor in the red zone (four of his scores came inside the 10 last season). Godwin fared better last year and should continue to do so, but both have top-12 Fantasy receiver appeal and both should go between 15th and 30th overall in every draft.

Everything else in Tampa Bay's offense is up for grabs. Will O.J. Howard get yet another chance after getting shelved last season? Is Ronald Jones going to be Brady's new James White, or could that go to someone else (Dion Lewis is a free agent; just saying)? We're going to have to wait and see how the rest of the Bucs receiving corps shakes out. Ditto that for the running backs, too.

Brady's old teammates, meanwhile, will become unpopular in Fantasy. Save for the Patriots acquiring a surprise at quarterback — someone better than Andy Dalton or Jarrett Stidham — expect Julian Edelman and James White's efficiency to slide even though their target share shouldn't. They'll still be the popular options in Josh McDaniels' inside-out scheme, with N'Keal Harry's potential slammed by whatever limitations the Patriots' new quarterback has. You'll be stunned where these guys get drafted — none before Round 6 in PPR or Round 7 in non-PPR.

Senior Fantasy Writer

Dave Richard has spent nearly his entire career covering the National Football League. Beginning with NFL.com at the boom of the Internet, Richard was that site's first Fantasy Football writer before transitioning... Full Bio

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