Mark it down: Chad Ochocinco will have a comeback season in 2011. No, it’s not because of a voodoo brainwashing spell cast by Bill Belichick, nor will it be due to the homey wisdom of a hospitable fan, but rather the result of one seemingly obvious change: he’s now catching passes from Tom Brady.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Tom Brady is pretty good at throwing footballs, a quality from which his receivers are happy to benefit. Let’s look at Brady’s past with other new additions at wideout to see what we might expect from his partnership with Ochocinco.
Since Brady became the starter in 2001, the Patriots have picked up seven starter-caliber wide receivers from other teams -- players who, at some point in their New England tenure, were among the top three in the receiving corps in single-season yards. Ochocinco figures to be the eighth to fit this classification.
Here’s how these signings performed the year before their arrival in New England and in the following season, as a Patriot.
Most of these receivers dealt with middling to below-average quarterback play prior to their tenure with the Pats, catching passes from the likes of Andrew Walter, Joey Harrington, and a graying Matt Hasselbeck. Ochocinco ran routes in 2010 for Carson Palmer. Though once considered a top-5 NFL quarterback, the increasingly disgruntled Palmer, who spent much of the last two years trying to force his way out of Cincinnati, can’t be considered too much of an upgrade on those listed above.
Not surprisingly, the new signings, as a group, improved considerably -- their receiving yards rose by 51 percent and their yards/game by 42 percent after teaming up with Brady.
What does this mean for Ochocinco? None of the Pats’ previous signings is a perfect analogue to him. At 33, he ranks as the oldest of this group, but he’s also the most productive coming into New England; his 831 yards and 59.4 yards/game last season are first and second, respectively, on this list. When applied to Ochocinco’s 2010 stats, the average increases above project to over 1,200 receiving yards in 2011, a level achieved only by Stanley Morgan, Randy Moss, and Wes Welker in Patriots’ history.
The best parallel available here is Moss. Upon joining the Patriots, both were declining superstars with a history of disciplinary issues whose best years were thought to be behind them. Moss, 30 years old when he joined the Patriots, rediscovered his status as an elite deep threat and put up numbers in 2007 that Ochocinco will probably never approach this year, given the presence of a Pro Bowl incumbent in Welker, with whom he’ll have to split catches, and the reality that he may indeed have lost a step. He’s not quite the home-run threat who rips off 70-plus-yard catches anymore, like he did in each of the ’05, ’06, and ’07 seasons.
But if Ochocinco’s still got any of his superstar form left in the tank, Brady will bring it out of him. According to Football Outsiders’ advanced metrics, he’s been the top quarterback in the NFL in each of his last three healthy seasons, and there’s no reason to think he’ll slow down now. He’s made the likes of Danny Woodhead and Julian Edelman into productive players, and he got 1,000 yards out of the tight end position last year from two rookies. We’ve seen what he can do with a legitimate superstar in Moss; if he can recreate even a fraction of that magic with Ochocinco, the Pats’ passing offense will look as destructive as Rex Ryan in a buffet line.
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He has also authored or made contributions to many books, including the Sports Illustrateds 100 Fenway: A Fascinating First Century.
Now living in Marblehead, hes focusing his attention on the Boston sports scene, specifically delving into the numbers affecting the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins, with the goal of informing and entertaining real fans. You can follow him on Twitter at @SabinoSports.