When you look at the list of people who have caught passes from Brady, the lack of standouts is shocking. No one has more than 8,000 yards (Manning has two in Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison with 10,000+ yards each) and there are two Hall of Fame players with a combined 13 seasons for Brady (Manning had 20 seasons between Wayne and Harrison combined).
This is not me trying to revive the Brady/Manning debate, I'm just trying to note that it is surprising how quickly, when ranking the guys who have caught passes from Brady, you run into a lot of "really, him?" type of guys.
We're not going to adhere strictly to the numbers here when ranking these guys but we're going to stay close. Brandin Cooks will be a better receiver than Deion Branch when all is said and done, but Branch was obviously a better receiver for Brady than Cooks, who was in New England for just one year.
This is a ranking of Tom Brady's receivers, not receivers who played with Tom Brady. There are 41 of them. Let's go.
It's a very small list, but Brady has thrown passes to some pretty incredible names over his tenure.
Gronk is unquestionably one of the greatest red-zone threats in NFL history and in my mind is the greatest tight end in NFL history. He's the all-time leading receiver for the Patriots since Brady was drafted and his 79 touchdowns are 29 more than the next-closest guy. It's pretty wild that a guy with his health issues has been the most consistent and reliable pass catcher for the Patriots' 18-year dynasty.
2. Randy Moss
Glitter, glisten, gloss, floss. Belichick gave up a fourth-round pick for Moss. It worked out pretty well. In three years and change, Moss caught 50 touchdowns and had 3,904 receiving yards. Being alive and of cognizant football-watching age for that 2007 Patriots season was pretty fun, even if you weren't rooting for the Patriots. Moss wasn't with the Patriots long, but he basically eradicated the waste of two years he spent with the Raiders. His 2010 season is sort of underrated -- imagine a 33-year-old Hall of Fame wideout coming off a year where he led the league in touchdown receptions and went over 1,000 yards suddenly being traded TWICE. The Pats dealt Moss back to the Vikings, then they traded him to the Titans after a messy catering incident. And then imagine it happening in 2019 instead of 2010.
3. Wes Welker
People don't give Welker enough credit. He was a product of the system, blah blah blah. Look at his numbers for his six years in New England. Welker averaged 112 catches, 1,243 yards and six touchdowns per game. That's what he averaged. For six years. In the last six years, 12 times a player has caught 110 passes for 1,200 yards and six touchdowns. Welker averaged it for six years! Anyway, he doesn't get the credit he deserves. He's the third-best pass catcher Brady played with and if you took just the stats you might make the case for Welker over Moss. But Moss created the 2007 team and Welker never played on a Super Bowl winning team.
If you'd like to hear John Breech, Ryan Wilson and myself break down Super Bowl LIII from Atlanta, listen to the Pick Six Podcast:
Grit. Hustle. Coaches' sons. Whatever you want to call it, these dudes embody everything that Patriots fans love about their team (or like to think they love about their team).
There was some weird "Edelman for Hall of Fame" buzz going on during the week of the Super Bowl. Stop it. Edelman is a stud and a gamer but he isn't close to a Hall of Famer. He's got two 1,000-yard seasons. Edelman has the same mind-meld as Welker when it comes to the working with Brady in the middle of the field. You can't overstate the importance of sure-fire chain movers in this offense over the last decade-plus. Welker caught 80 percent (!) of his passes and Edelman has caught more than 66 percent of his passes. Edelman is a postseason monster too. Since he became a full-time player in 2014, Edelman's played in 12 playoff games and has more than 75 yards in 11 of those.
5. Deion Branch
Branch is fifth all-time in terms of receiving yards from Brady ... and he was traded to the Seahawks in his prime. Branch spent four years with the Pats, piled up yards but never crossed 1,000 for the season, won three rings and was traded to Seattle. He spent four years there and then came back to beef up his Pats stats. This is what's remarkable about the list: we're at No. 5 and while Branch is a recognizable name, he has less than 5,000 yards receiving with Brady.
6. Troy Brown
When you think about the early portion of the Patriots dynastic run, you think about Troy Brown. Brown retired from football as the Pats' all-time leader in receptions, having played there for 15 years. But playing him at corner -- and somehow having him record a three-interception season -- is the most Belichick thing ever. The Patriots aren't cheap, but they're brutally efficient. Brown is a perfect example of that.
Signed as a free agent, Amendola was a small, Caucasian slot receiver who played at Texas Tech. Sound familiar? Amendola's stats are wholly underwhelming and he's only ninth on the all-time list for Brady receivers, so this might be high. But he fits perfectly in the "Patriot Grit" portion of the program and would've been even higher in Patriot lore if New England beat the Eagles last year after his incredible performance in the postseason.
8. David Patten
The similarity between Patten and Amendola is pretty striking. Both had fairly short runs with the Pats (who didn't?) and both ended up producing similar stat lines. Patten caught way less balls thrown his way and had way fewer receptions, but had a much higher yard per catch production. Like Amendola, he wasn't drafted by the Patriots but ground out some big years and Super Bowl wins for New England as a reliable weapon, although Patten was a much more dangerous deep threat than Amendola.
9. David Givens
Givens was also on those early Patriots teams, and actually helps to sandwich Amendola on the all-time list of receivers. Givens was one of those dudes who helped build the mythology of Brady, because he was winning tons of games, taking down titles and you were left shaking your head at the receivers he had around him. Givens was a seventh-round pick who played five years, put up pretty good stats with the Patriots (never more than 875 yards in a season), left New England, signed a big free agent deal with the Titans and promptly tore his ACL, ending his career. He held the Pats record for playoff touchdowns until 2015!
THOSE RUNNING BACKS (PT. 1)
A staple of Tom Brady's arsenal, the Patriots have utilized pass-catching running backs as well as anyone in modern NFL history. The Pats have four of the top 50 receiving backs since 2001.
10. Kevin Faulk
Maybe a Patriots fan should rank these running backs? I almost put Faulk at nine but that feels like recency bias. He's seventh all-time in terms of receiving yards for any player while Brady has been playing. He never did anything spectacular -- he just spent 12 years grinding out 30-40 catch seasons and doing his damn job. It's kind of a shame he "only" won three Super Bowl rings.
11. James White
White should have been Super Bowl MVP against the Falcons and this might be underselling him a little bit. He had 123 targets in 2018. White might be the biggest non-avocado-related reason for Brady extending his career, because he creates so much offense in such a short area. He averages 8.7 yards per reception for his career and has caught 73 percent of the passes thrown his way. Basically three quarters of the time you throw to White he's getting you 9/10 of the way to a first down. He also averages 5.3 catches per game in the playoffs with three scores.
12. Shane Vereen
Patriots Moneyball 2.0: they knew they wanted to have versatile, pass-catching backs to operate a modern NFL offense way before everyone else. Faulk was the OG and Vereen came along in 2011 as a second-round pick out of Cal (a.k.a. RBU). He was more of a rusher than a guy like White, but just as effective in the passing game (8.4 yards per catch), albeit at a lower volume.
13. Danny Woodhead
Perhaps overrated now because of his post-career celebrity status, Woodhead embodies GRIT. Welker was the prototype for Belichick stealing a player from another AFC East roster and turning him into a monster, but Woodhead certainly qualifies too.
14. Dion Lewis
Lewis is pretty far down the list in terms of actual yardage rankings but I don't care. If you watched him play for the Patriots you know that a) he made a bunch of money because New England knew how to use him and b) he was used so perfectly in this offense that it set up that big payday. Lewis in the open field was lethal, because his juke move was something they couldn't even replicate in Madden.
Non-Gronk Tight Ends
15. Aaron Hernandez
Very complicated player/person to write about here. The reality is when he played for Brady, he was incredible. The Patriots were the subject of many thinkpieces about their revolution of the game thanks to the addition of two complementary tight ends. Hernandez -- not Gronk -- was the focal point of the offense early on after the two were drafted. Hernandez could run out of the backfield and was a matchup nightmare.
16. Ben Watson
Feel terrible including Watson right after Hernandez since they are basically the opposite person, but it's hard to really grasp the tight ends in this system outside of Gronk. A large portion of the work done by these guys includes the grunt work of blocking for a run game. Watson is actually the third-highest tight end in terms of receiving yards and sixth all-time in TD catches (20) since Brady took over.
17. Daniel Graham
Further proof that Brady loves throwing to his tight ends. Graham has 17 touchdowns for the Patriots in his career, but he was never a flashy guy with big numbers. He grinded things out in the run game and made plays in the red zone.
18. Christian Fauria
Just one of those NAMES you always heard snagging big catches out of nowhere for the Patriots during his tenure, which occupied the early portions of the Brady dynasty. Fauria didn't latch on with the Pats until his 30s, but he picked up a pair of Super Bowl rings and was one of those tight ends who drew praise from Belichick for having a complete game. He could fit in the "TRUE PATRIOTS" section too. And, by the way, his nephew is already a veteran in the NFL, that's how long these guys have been doing this.
Huh... (Pt. 1)
18. Chris Hogan
If we played a game where I named a Patriots player and you had to guess where they ranked on the list of most receiving yards for a Tom Brady receiver and I said Chris Hogan, there is NO way you would say FOURTEEN. He's fourteenth. He signed in 2016. He has 107 catches for the Patriots. It's just wild.
19. Brandon LaFell
Let's play the game again. Where does LaFell rank? 15! It's mind-boggling to see him on there. LaFell was a role player with the Patriots for two years, a former second-round pick by the Panthers who ended up catching 111 balls from Tom Brady because New England needed the bodies out there.
20. Donte Stallworth
Pretty surprised at the totals for Stallworth, who was an underrated part of the 2007 Patriots team. He was always a big-time burner, and probably never saw a double team playing across from Randy Moss.
21. Brandin Cooks
Is there anything weirder than a guy who has produced 1,000-yard seasons for three different teams having been traded by BOTH Sean Payton and Bill Belichick? Cooks can get his revenge against the Patriots during the Super Bowl after vanquishing the Saints during the NFC Championship Game.
22. Brandon Lloyd
Always had a soft spot for Lloyd, one was one of the most enjoyable interviews out there. He's just a different dude. He led the league in receiving in 2010 with Josh McDaniels' Broncos (save that for trivia night) and was the recipient of a whopping 131 targets from Brady during the 2012 season.
23. Josh Gordon
It's unreal that Gordon is 26th on the receiving yards list, considering he was acquired via a midseason trade with the Browns during the 2018 season and got popped by the league before the year ended. That's how easy it is to crack this list. If Gordon plays another 1.5 years with the Patriots at the pace he had going, he would be a top 10 guy for Brady.
24. Reche Caldwell
The quintessential pre-2007 Brady receiver, Caldwell is the guy any NFL analyst worth his salt will name/would name when discussing the things Brady achieved with limited weapons at his disposal.
Technically in New England for multiple years but the second go round was after a really weird situation with the Packers and then just two games with the Patriots. He was a big part of a Super Bowl run for New England, though, especially with Gronk going down for much of the 2016 season.
26. Jabar Gaffney
Didn't expect the former Gators standout to land this high either, but he has more receiving yards than most guys on this list (18th) and spent multiple years catching passes from Brady. Drafted high (second round) by the Texans, he wasn't great in Houston, he was picked up by the Patriots for several years during his prime, and he put up decent numbers for three years.
27. Malcolm Mitchell
Slightly unfair to have him here, as Mitchell "played" multiple years for the Patriots after being a fourth-round draft pick. Injuries derailed his career, though, and he was released earlier this year. He had a huge game against the Falcons in the Super Bowl and picked up a ring as a result.
28. Antowain Smith
If you blindly asked me how many passes Smith caught from 2001 through 2003 I would have told you 3,500. It felt like that, but it's because there were just a million different running backs for the Patriots, all of whom could catch a pass or two. Time is a flat circle.
29. Philip Dorsett
Acquired in the Jacoby Brissett swap, Dorsett is a former first-round pick who has found a little salvation with the Patriots. This is a little bit of a projection, because he's only 25 and he quietly produced his best season yet this year (three scores) and has come on kind of strong in this postseason, catching a pair of touchdown passes.
30. Rex Burkhead
Another projection here: Burkhead is 40th on this list but he is locked in for next year on his contract, so I fully expect him to catch 300+ yards worth of passes and soar into the top 25 in terms of receiving yards. Burkhead is so perfect for the Pats on so many levels.
31. Aaron Dobson
A draft miss for the Patriots, Dobson was taken with a second round pick in 2013, leading everyone to believe he might become the next generation top target for Brady. He would only play three years for the Pats and never do better than his 519-yard rookie season. He's still 27th on the list of Brady pass catchers.
32. Sammy Morris
Millennials with their handy little smartphone apps won't remember this, but most of us had to get up at the crack of down and log into our dang computers to find out if we'd been awarded Morris off waivers as a bye week replacement in fantasy leagues.
33. Corey Dillon
Again, this is why it's important not to get caught up in the name: Dillon is a much better RUNNING BACK than the other guys on this list. But in terms of being a pass catcher, he only hauled in 52 catches for 431 yards in his 43 games with the Patriots.
34. Brandon Bolden
Jumped several spots in these rankings just because he managed a.
35. Patrick Pass
Can't make a list of guys who caught a pass from Tom Brady and not include the guy whose last name is Pass.
36. Bethel Johnson
A Patriots second-round pick who didn't turn into a monster as a receiver? No way. You can tell that Belichick likes to target guys who can also help in the return game.
37. Chad Johnson
The world's greatest FIFA player was one of the ultimate reclamation projects for Bill Belichick, getting picked up along with Albert Haynesworth, with the world wondering how Belichick would manage to make it work! Ultimately it did work, at least for Ochocinco, who was part of a team that made a run to the Super Bowl, although they came up short against the Giants in Indy.
There has never been a more annoying name in NFL history to worry about spelling.
39. Brandon Tate
A third-round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft by the Patriots, Tate was a great returner for New England but didn't develop into a threat at receiver until after he left.
40. Sam Aiken
Deserves to be on this list solely because he was a fourth-round pick for the Bills, didn't do much of anything (best season: 148 yards), was promptly signed by the Patriots in 2008 and produced more in his two years there than his five with Buffalo. Belichick has been robbing the AFC East for years.
41. Laurence Maroney
If you're making a list of Patriots receivers and you can include a former first-round pick running back with minimal receiving skills who was the sixth-leading receiver on the 2006 Patriots, you have to do it.