Mark Schofield’s RSP NFL Lens: Tom Brady’s 2018, Declines, and Non-Negotiables

Is Tom Brady in decline or are we undervaluing his non-negotiable traits because of video game production from other stars? Mark Schofield’s RSP NFL Lens dives into the state of Brady’s game.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about transitions.

The human brain is a strange and fascinating organ and one that we may never fully understand as a species. So I can tell you in no uncertain terms that I have no idea why this topic has dominated my brain over the past few weeks or so, I can only tell you that it has. It might be due to some things in my life, such as health concerns over a beloved pet, the consideration of moving and how that might impact my children, thoughts about my own personal transition as I enter into another year as a “former lawyer turned football writer,” or thoughts about the general passage of time.

Or it might be this…it might be seeing Tom Brady enter into another Super Bowl, only this time against the team where he started his run of excellence.

Brady’s 2018 season has been fascinating to watch on both a micro and a macro level, as well as on both a local and a national level. Last year, he was a named the league’s Most Valuable Player – for the third time in his career — and he was thought of as one of the top two or three quarterbacks in the game. For many, his subsequent season sparked renewed talk of a “decline,” a “cliff,” an arm akin to overcooked pasta, or worse.

But if you look at his numbers from 2017 to 2018, you might pause for a moment. His completion percentage ticked down a bit, from 66.3 to 65.8. His yardage ticked down from 4,577 to 4,355. His touchdowns ticked down from 32 to 29 while his interceptions nudged up to 11 from 8. Perhaps the best way to illustrate the coming point is this. Last year Brady posted an Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt of 7.56, and it was fifth-best in the league. Jared Goff’s 7.72 was best in the NFL in 2017.

This season Brady posted an ANY/A of 7.26, and it was eighth-best. Partly because three passers: Patrick Mahomes, Drew Brees and yes, Ryan Fitzpatrick, posted ANY/As north of 8.0.

More than anything else, the video game numbers put up by players like Mahomes perhaps skewed the perception of Brady’s season.

But what was his season truly like?

Studying Brady’s 2018 season finds moments of what makes Tom Brady…Tom Brady. This leads us to the idea of “non-negotiables” at the quarterback position. Traits that you need to have, at some level of proficiency, to be successful playing QB. You do not need to master these or display them at a high level, but without some level of competence in these areas, you will likely struggle to transition to life as an NFL quarterback.

These “non-negotiables” might not be the ones that first come to mind, but as we can see from Brady, they matter:

When you watch Brady during Super Bowl LIII, watch for these “non-negotiables.” Then, when you start working on draft quarterbacks and studying them, examine their levels of proficiency in these areas. Brady’s success to this point deep into his career shows just how important these are.

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