After Tom Brady signed with the Buccaneers, I had conversations with some friends of mine regarding Brady’s 2020 fantasy football prospects.
Brady hasn’t been a consistent fantasy point producer for a while now, as per pro-football-reference.com (PFR), Brady has ranked 12th or lower in QB fantasy points in three of the past four seasons. In part because of this, those friends agreed that Brady might have some upside value in the new system and could end the season near the bottom of the QB1 tier, but they did not think he was going to be a bona fide, every week starter this season.
I was initially of that same mindset, but after doing some research and running some numbers, it quickly became clear that there is a very strong case for Brady to be a true QB1 in the 2020 fantasy campaign.
Let’s look at some of the key elements pointing in that direction.
Bruce Arians hasn’t always been a pass-happy coach, as PFR indicates his Arizona offenses finished ranked 17th, 15th, and 19th, respectively, in pass attempts during the 2013-2015 seasons. Having noted this, in the past three years Arians’ offenses have ranked fifth or higher in pass attempts.
Arians would probably like to throw the ball less frequently than his teams have of late, as a big part of the Buccaneers recent pass volume has been due to their terrible pass defense forcing Tampa Bay to throw the ball a lot to keep up. Even with that caveat, the addition of Brady will allow Arians to trust aerial tactics more than he would have with risk taking Jameis Winston under center, so Brady has a very good chance of landing in the top 10 in pass attempts this season.
Vertical pass volume
There isn’t a coach in the NFL that likes to call vertical passes (aerials thrown 10+ yards downfield) more often than Arians.
This tendency showed up in the numbers last year, as per the Sports Info Solutions (SIS) DataHub Pro database, Tampa Bay led the league in vertical attempts and yards by significant margins and tied for the league lead in vertical touchdowns last season. Those elements also resulted in the Buccaneers posting the highest vertical pass fantasy point totals for quarterbacks and receivers.
By contrast, last year New England had mid-tier or worse totals in nearly every vertical pass category. That means Brady should see a significant increase in these all-important fantasy point producers.
Fantastic vertical pass catching corps
The Buccaneers have arguably the best 1-2 vertical threat wide receiver combination in the league in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Per SIS, both Evans and Godwin ranked in the top six among wide receivers in vertical receptions, in the top three in vertical yards, and in the top eight in the SIS DataHub Points Earned category that measures a player’s expected points contribution.
Add the impact of that duo to O.J. Howard, who posted superb vertical numbers at Alabama and has shown impact downfield ability in the pros, and Tampa Bay may give Brady more quality downfield threats than he’s ever had in his career.
Short pass touchdowns
A key to Brady’s fantasy success in New England over the years was a high volume of short pass touchdowns. The Patriots trusted Brady to be safe with the football in this confined field position area and this faith usually led to his being among the league leaders in many short pass categories. This certainly was the case in 2019, as PFR indicates Brady had the most passes from at or inside the 10-yard line last year (45).
One might figure that Winston’s penchant for mimicking Brett Favre’s hell bent for leather approach would keep Arians from calling a lot of passes at or near the goal line, but that wasn’t the case last year, as PFR denotes Winston ranked second in passes from at or inside the 10-yard line (41).
That strongly suggests the red zone short pass volume should remain the same for Brady, but it’s also worth noting that Brady had only nine touchdowns passes at or inside the 10-yard line, a mark that ranked 20th. Winston had 15 scoring throws under that circumstance, a total that placed tied for third. This implies that Brady could see a notable increase in this valuable area.
Highly favorable schedule
It is very early to put much emphasis on schedule strength, as the rest of free agency and the NFL draft can change this factor in significant ways, but it should be noted that Tampa Bay does have the makings of one of the most favorable fantasy football schedules in the league.
Six NFC South matchups against Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, and Teddy Bridgewater all have the potential to become high scoring games. The Buccaneers also face Green Bay, Kansas City, Minnesota, the Rams, and the Giants, all of which are contests that could end up in the fireworks category. These contests are only part of the reason why the Buccaneers current have a 90 mark in my preliminary schedule strength metric that measures schedule favorability on a 0-100 scale (with 100 being the most favorable).
Already have a pass catching back on board
Brady is used to having a pass catching running back at his disposal. There is talk of Tampa Bay needing to acquire this type of back to make Brady more comfortable in this offense, yet the reality is they already have such a back in the form of Dare Ogunbowale.
To get an idea of Ogunbowale’s comfort level in the passing game, consider that he caught 60 passes over his last two seasons at Wisconsin. That might not sound like a lot, but it is a high volume of receptions in the run-heavy Badgers offense. Ogunbowale also caught 35 passes last year despite being on the field for only 32 percent of Tampa Bay’s offensive snaps.
The Buccaneers would certainly do well to add more to this area, as Ronald Jones might be the worst pass catching running back in the NFL, but given that they already have a good starting point in Ogunbowale, Tampa Bay should be in solid shape in this area in 2020.
I am going to wait until all of the major free agent signings have been completed before fully updating the fantasy rankings, but in the preliminary post free agency fantasy rankings I’ve put together Brady keeps landing somewhere between the No. 8 and No. 11 spots on the quarterback board.
His draft day cost could be up or down depending on a number of factors and he will likely be viewed in many draft rooms as a boom or bust candidate, but given his age and fantasy production decline over the past three years, the odds are favorable that Brady won’t cost much in terms of draft pick stock. If that turns out to be the case, it means that Brady could be one of the best upside value picks in 2020 fantasy draft rooms.