Let’s address this right away: Tom Brady isn’t washed. The Patriots offense is currently seventh in DVOA, the team has an 8-3 record, and New England is on the cusp of claiming what would be its ninth-consecutive first-round playoff bye. Like always, Brady is doing everything the team needs, and as a result New England is once again a Super Bowl favorite.
Still, through 12 weeks this season, it’s become clear that the 41-year-old quarterback hasn’t been at the peak of his powers this year. His numbers have regressed overall, but especially in fantasy football, where his week-to-week production has been wildly disappointing. In 11 of Brady’s past 12 seasons (not including the 2008 season he lost to injury), he’s finished in the top 10 among QBs in fantasy points (that includes a prorated 2016 season to account for the four games he missed due to a Deflategate-related suspension). He’s been particularly excellent in recent years, ranking in the top three in each of the past three seasons. But this year, Brady is 14th.
This regression comes at a particularly inopportune time, as passing numbers around the league are exploding. While Brady is averaging his fewest yards per game of any season since 2014, NFL totals in passing yards, touchdowns, passer rating, and adjusted net yards per attempt are projected to reach all-time highs. Brady’s also on pace for just 27 passing touchdowns this year, which would be his lowest mark since 2013. That total don’t seem so bad compared to other numbers he’s put up in the last five years, but when adjusted for this season it’s a significant slide. When Brady threw 25 touchdowns in 2013, that was the 11th-most in the league. Even though he’s on pace to top that raw number in 2018, he ranks just 15th in passing touchdowns. This could end up being Brady’s worst fantasy season since 2001, when he started 14 games in his second season in the league and finished the year as the 20th-highest scoring quarterback in fantasy football.
How did Brady go from being a fantasy stalwart to an afterthought in one year? One area of the field stands out in particular: the red zone. Brady has thrown just 12 touchdowns from inside his opponent’s 20-yard line this season, tied for 17th in the league. He’s 16th in passer rating (98.2) and 26th in completion percentage (49.1) among QBs with at least 15 red zone attempts. That completion percentage number is particularly concerning, as Brady has struggled with accuracy outside the red zone, too. In Pro Football Focus’s adjusted completion percentage statistic—a metric that accounts for drops, throwaways, spikes, and batted passes—Brady ranks 24th in the league. Through the first 10 weeks of the season, he was tied with Sam Darnold for the highest percentage of off-target throws in the league, as charted by ESPN.
Brady’s inaccuracy is particularly ugly when watching it on tape. In Sunday’s 27-13 win over the Jets, Brady was off the mark on multiple red zone passes, including back-to-back throws to Rob Gronkowski, the superstar tight end with a catch radius the size of a soccer goal. This first pass, which came with just over two minutes left in the second quarter, was positioned so poorly that Gronk essentially turned into a defender to prevent a pick:
And this second one, which came on virtually the same route, was just uncatchable:
Those types of touch passes have been just a bit off for Brady all year, and in the red zone’s more confined dimensions, he hasn’t been able to thread the needle like he’s done in past seasons. Just look at this throw to Josh Gordon against the Packers in Week 9:
Brady appears to be going for the back shoulder play here, but the pass is so low that this could be more accurately described as a back-kneecap play. Gordon gets his hands on the ball, but that’s a nearly impossible catch to make.
Brady’s also had plenty of passes that wind up nowhere near his receivers’ hands. In Sunday’s game, he drove two red zone throws intended for running back James White directly into the turf. Here’s one of them:
And that was hardly the first time he’s done that when targeting White this season. In watching back through most of Brady’s 2018 red zone plays, I saw him short White nearly half a dozen times. In Week 8 against the Bills, the ball just seemed to slip out of his hand:
Underthrows and touch passes haven’t been the only problems, either. Against the Chiefs in Week 6, Brady missed Julian Edelman high, sailing a pass out the back of the end zone.
Every quarterback has misses like this, and it would be unfair to pick apart a player based solely on his worst incompletions. But it’s a clear problem for Brady right now. His usually lethal accuracy is lacking, and he’s become an average—maybe even below-average—quarterback when the field condenses. That’s made the GOAT virtually droppable in fantasy formats.
Brady hasn’t scored more than 20 fantasy points in a game since October, and is averaging less than Mitchell Trubisky, who is still available in 23 percent of ESPN leagues and 28 percent of Yahoo ones. With bye weeks done and gone—and the playoffs right around the corner—the 14th-best quarterback is no longer even close to being a fantasy factor.
To be fair, Brady’s regression has only hurt fantasy teams so far—the Patriots are doing just fine. While few of Brady’s red zone passes have ended in touchdowns, he has managed to protect the ball inside the 20-yard line, with zero interceptions on his 57 red zone attempts. That’s put the Pats in position to score 11 rushing touchdowns from inside the 20, tied for fifth most in the league. Overall, New England has scored touchdowns on 63.2 percent of its red zone trips, the 13th-highest mark in the NFL. And the Patriots move down the field and into the red zone with relative frequency—they’ve made it to the red zone 38 times this season, tied for ninth in the league.
But that doesn’t mean much for the fantasy football owners who need their quarterback to put up points, especially at this point in the season. Brady may still be good enough to lift the Patriots to wins, but he’s not going to do the same for your fantasy team.