Tom Brady is just two years removed from an NFL-record 50 touchdown passes, but his statistics since are enough to scare even Patriots fans.
Since throwing his last TD on Dec. 29, 2007, Brady has amassed these numbers: 0 touchdowns, 11 pass attempts, 15 missed games, two surgeries, one reconstructed knee and one offensive guru hired away by another team.
All that may frighten fantasy football players into passing on Brady in favor of safer picks like Drew Brees, Peyton Manning or Philip Rivers, but there are plenty more reasons to take Brady first.
Most importantly, by all accounts Brady has recovered from the torn left knee ligament that dropped him on opening day last year.
There's no way to truly tell until the season starts, but Brady says he feels great and is well within the typical time line of 8-12 months for full recovery. The 32-year-old Brady says he doesn't feel at all limited physically and would prefer not to wear the brace, but will because New England's trainers want him to. He threw at the team's first OTA and is expected to be ready for the season-opener against Buffalo on Sept. 14.
Don't just take Brady's word for it, though. Consider the actions of his team. The Patriots traded away backup Matt Cassel in the offseason - and even did so on the cheap. That left the roster with this collection of backups and their total of seven career NFL passes: Kevin O'Connell, Matt Gutierrez and Brian Hoyer. It's hard to imagine such a move without full confidence that Brady will be back without problems.
When Brady does return, he'll have an even more explosive passing attack than the one that set the league scoring with 589 points in 2007.
Randy Moss (34 touchdowns the past two years) and Wes Welker (223 catches the past two years) return as the primary stat-producers.
The Patriots added veterans Joey Galloway and Greg Lewis to the four-wide set. Those names don't really scare anyone, but they're great options if they're wandering around all alone while coverages focus on Moss and Welker. Galloway's especially dangerous. While at 37 he's a long, long, long way from his featured receiver days, he's certainly still fast enough to make big plays when no defenders are near.
The Patriots also added tight ends Chris Baker and Alex Smith, as well as a couple of linemen.
Perhaps more important for Brady's fantasy value is what the Pats don't have: a reliable running game. They went out and got Fred Taylor, but he's 33 and really looked it last year. It's also very near the time to call Laurence Maroney a bust after he missed 13 games last year. Second-year man BenJarvis Green-Ellis and a handful of other really old guys round out the position.
As for the departure of offensive mastermind Josh McDaniels, who left New England to become Denver's head coach, there's no reason to worry. Coach Bill Belichick is not known as a mad genius for nothing. He will fix it because, well, he always does.
Perhaps the biggest reason fantasy players shouldn't worry about Brady is the least tangible: He's a freak.
Even before he broke the touchdown record his resume was one of unexplainable accomplishment. To go from sixth-round draft pick and backup to two-time Super Bowl MVP with three championships is stunning. (Throw in a supermodel wife and it's ridiculously stunning.)
Plus, think about how he threw all those scores back in 2007. He was relentless, and so were his coaches. They poured it on, passing and passing when at times it didn't seem necessary anymore. Now Brady wants to prove he's back and Belichick wants to prove he's still a genius, which could make them an even more heartless duo.
The other top quarterback choices might indeed be safer fantasy picks, but it's all about risk-reward. They'll surely have good numbers, but Brady seems to have the best shot at absurd numbers.
Last year Brees was passing almost every down and didn't come close to Brady's 2007 numbers. Manning's been good for about 30 scores a year since going for 49 in 2004, and there are questions about whether the offense will change much. Rivers may break out, but he also may hand off every down.
Even if Brady is a big miss, it's worth the gamble. And it's a gamble that you can prepare for, too.
Just take a backup quarterback a little earlier than you normally would. There's a backup every year who delivers good enough numbers, and there's also always that surprise guy who develops as a free agent.
Then just hope that pretty good backup stays on the bench while Brady's busy breaking the 60-touchdown mark.
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