Tom Brady and Drew Brees will go down as two of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. Sporting five Super Bowl wins out of eight appearances, Brady already has a pretty firm hold on GOAT status. But Super Bowl wins aside, Brees’ incomparable accuracy and massive volume of production throughout his career have cemented his status as a future first ballot Hall of Famer as well.
There are many similarities between them. Both played college ball in the Big Ten Conference. Both were overlooked in the draft.
Brees, who expected to be drafted in the first round, didn’t go off the board until the first pick in the second round. Just one year earlier, Brady, who thought he’d go no later than the third round, had to wait until the 199th pick in the sixth round.
Both overcame serious injuries in the first half of their careers. Brees sustained a career threatening complete labrum tear and partial rotator cuff tear in his throwing shoulder while Brady lost an entire season from a torn ACL. Both would become obsessed with their health and with maximizing their sports performance well into their late 30s.
Both are shattering seriously hard to achieve records seemingly each and every week. Brady set a new record for most wins by any player and scored the elusive 500th touchdown of his career. Brees broke Peyton Mannings’ record for most career passing yards and scored his 500th touchdown too.
When I dug into their supporting rosters over the span of their careers, one amazing similarity stuck out more than any other. These two can both make legit cases as the best quarterback ever, and they may have done this without a traditional “number one” wide receiver for the bulk of their careers.
If we exclude longtime Patriots special teams ace Matt Slater, who has amassed seven Pro Bowl appearances while listed as a wide receiver, Tom Brady’s wide receiving corps, over the entire course of his career, have earned seven Pro Bowl selections total.
Slot receiver, Wes Welker, earned five consecutive Pro Bowl selections between 2008 and 2012. Randy Moss’ most fruitful season of his magnificent career earned him one last Pro Bowl selection in 2007 and Troy Brown started Brady’s career off well with his lone Pro Bowl season in 2001.
Of course Brady has enjoyed exceptional tight end play for the majority of his career. Brady had current Saints tight end, Ben Watson, for six seasons before the Patriots drafted both Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in the 2010 draft.
Brady’s tight ends account for six Pro Bowl seasons over his career. Gronk alone has five of them, along with 7,584 yards and 77 touchdowns of Brady’s career totals (68,035 yards, 504 TDs). If we break those down, Gronk accounts for about 11% of Brady’s career yardage and more than 15% of his total touchdowns.
Similarly, Brees’ most prolific target in his career was also a tight end, even though he thought of himself as a wide receiver. Jimmy Graham’s 4,752 yards and 51 touchdowns represent 8% of Brees’ yardage and 12% of his touchdowns in a Saints uniform.
Brady has had Gronk for nine years. Brees had Graham for only five. Just think if Graham had stayed longer. Brady and Gronk have averaged 843 yards and 7.7 TDs per season, but Brees and Graham averaged 950 yards and 10 TDs per season during their shorter time together.
True, both quarterbacks benefitted from exceptional tight end play, but both excelled without major star wide receivers. Brady remained Brady, even with wide receivers like Chris Hogan, Brandon LaFell, Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins, Jabar Gaffney, David Givens, and David Patten. Outside of Randy Moss’ 2007 season, Brady has never really had more than a dominant slot receiver like Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, or Danny Amendola.
While Brady’s receiving corps has earned 13 total Pro Bowl selections over his career, Brees’ Saints receiving corps has only received four. Jimmy Graham, a tight end, has three. Upstart third year wide receiver Michael Thomas finally became the first Saints Pro Bowler at his position since Joe Horn achieved it before Brees’ arrival.
Obviously Marques Colston should have a few Pro Bowl selections, but his competition was stiff those many years and for some reason, #12 just wasn’t given the respect he deserved. Still, the fact remains that Drew Brees has only had one wide receiver make the Pro Bowl one time during his tenure with the Saints.
Household names to Saints fans like Devery Henderson, Willie Snead, Brandon Coleman, Tommylee Lewis, Robert Meachem, and Lance Moore haven’t had their same impacts outside of the black and gold uniform. It’s not hard to fathom that only hard core Steelers, Ravens, and Chargers fans might be able to name one of of them.
Drew Brees has thrown for 59,967 yards and 421 touchdowns as a Saint. Most of this production came without a traditional #1 star wide receiver. He may be sick of comparisons to Tom Brady, but in this case, I think it means Brees is in really good company.