Itís safe to say that in these parts thereís no current athleteóand few throughout historyómore revered than Tom Brady. Entering his 14th season as a Patriot, Tom Terrific has ascended to Boston Łberstar status, something shared only with the legendary likes of Ted Williams, Larry Bird, Bill Russell and Bobby Orr. Not only has Brady won championships and set NFL records, he became an accidental star, overcoming the adversity of being virtually ignored in the 2000 NFL Draft, then stepping in for an injured Drew Bledsoe to silence the din of critics, leading the Pats to their first Super Bowl title. For all heís done in whatís surely a career that will be punctuated someday with a gold jacket and a trip to Canton, OH, Brady will likely face his biggest challenge in 2013.
Itís no surprise to anyone whoís watched the Pats this decade that Brady likes to throw to his tight ends. In fact, given the talent heís had at his disposal heíd be crazy not to. But it hasnít always been that way. Before 2010 Brady ranked no better than 14th in percentage of completions to tight ends, and in three seasons, fewer than one out of every eight of his passes went to tight ends. However since 2010 when the Pats drafted both Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, a full third of Bradyís completions have gone to tight ends. In 2011 a staggering 41.9% of his successful passes ended up in the hands of one of his ends, signifying a full 10 percentage points above the second-highest ranked passer on the list, San Franciscoís Alex Smith (31.5%). And even with Gronkowski and Hernandez managing to play just a combined 21 of a possible 32 games in 2012, Brady still led the NFL in passing to his tight ends (28.9%), edging Dallasí Tony Romo (28.7%).
So with all of that productivity at tight end, itís hard to fault New Englandís brain trust for going all in on the teamís strength, and basically jettisoning the entire wide receiving corps (including Wes Welker who had 80 more catches during his New England tenure than any other NFL receiver) for one thatís younger, cheaper, and more interchangeable. But now Gronkowski is a candidate for the PUP list (which would disqualify him from the seasonís first six games) following a spate of offseason surgeries (first on his infected broken arm, then on his sore back) and Hernandez now just a tragic memory to the team and cautionary tale to all athletes. That leaves Brady with virtually no experience on the outside and a blue collar veteran tight end corps in Jake Ballard, Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui that in 10 combined NFL season has accounted for the same number of TDs (15) that Gronkowski has in a combined 16 career games against AFC East opponents alone. Rookies Zach Sudfeld and Brandon Ford are also in the mix, but even all of them combined will have trouble matching even a fraction of the output from Gronk/Hernandez.
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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.