Measure of the Man: Tom Brady’s Career Numbers Show His Longevity, Versatility

by Tucker Boynton

tom brady
AP/ADOBE/DESIGNED BY MARIO PAULIS

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In a year marked by so much uncertainty—even far beyond a certain 43-year-old’s future as a professional quarterback—one constant has remained: Tom Brady is playing in the Super Bowl.

Over 21 years in the league, there isn’t much he hasn’t achieved. A 14-time Pro Bowler, three-time MVP, and six-time Super Bowl champion, Brady has at one time or another led the league in touchdowns, passing yards, expected points added, defense-adjusted yards above replacement, total quarterback rating, passer rating and any other statistical category you can conceive. He’s been recognized as the Offensive Player of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year, Super Bowl MVP and 1st Team All-Pro.

If you can win it, Tom Brady probably has.

And on Sunday, he’ll have his chance at illustrious ring number seven, but first, he’ll have to get through Patrick Mahomes, his presumptive heir apparent as league standard-bearer.

To fully grasp Brady’s longevity and consistency (and to see what’s changed since he flew south to Tampa), it’s useful to see his achievements alongside his contemporaries. While others may rival his individual, per-game statistics, it’s hard to believe that anyone will ever amass the sustained dominance and jaw-dropping résumé that Brady has accrued over the course of his career.

Regardless of outcome, Sunday’s appearance will put Brady alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only American professional team athletes in the last half-century (1971-2020) to play in 10 league finals and win more than half of them. In fact, no other NFL player has been to more than six Super Bowls (Stephen Gostkowski, Mike Lodish).

In addition to his regular attendance to the biggest game of the season, Brady’s consistent yearly production over two decades has prompted some to wonder: If you chopped his time in the NFL into two—or even three—chunks, would they each be individual Hall of Fame careers?

Expected points added (EPA) measures how much better or worse a team’s position on the field is from one play to the next; it provides meaningful units to measure a player’s total contribution to his team. As you can see in the chart below, Brady’s seasonal EPA trajectory resembles that of Hall of Fame contemporaries Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers… if they happened to share one career.

But what’s even more stunning about this season is that after two decades with the same coach, owner and home field, Brady joined a new organization in an abbreviated offseason, learned and embraced a new passing philosophy and still managed to rise to the top.

From 2019 to 2020, Brady significantly reduced the frequency of his short throws (<11 air yards)—the same ones completed at a league-leading 0.22 EPA/attempt during his time in New England—and turned to Bruce Arians’ fabled vertical passing attack. Over the course of the regular season, Brady threw 21 more long passes (25+ yards from the line of scrimmage) than any other player in the league.

Not only is he throwing deep in a way we haven’t seen before, but he’s doing it well; since Week 13, Brady’s averaging 0.83 EPA/play on throws 15+ yards from the line of scrimmage, good for fifth in the NFL in that span and just ahead of MVP Aaron Rodgers (0.82).

In short, Tom Brady has taken a résumé the size of War and Peace and penned yet another chapter.

Editor’s Note: If you have any questions or comments about this piece, please feel free to get in 
touch with Tucker at harvardsportsanalysis@gmail.com
or on Twitter @Tucker_TnL. Thank you for reading!

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