Tom Brady is an anomaly. His career defies what we thought was humanly possible for an NFL player, in terms of both on-field success and longevity. Brady was a legend of the game long before he turned 40, but the 44-year-old just keeps going. You don’t have to conduct a statistical analysis to know that he’s amazing, but we decided to do some research nonetheless. Specifically, we looked into how Brady’s career since turning 40 compares to others in NFL history. We also explored Hall of Fame criteria and asked the question: Is TB12’s post-40 career Hall of Fame worthy by itself?
Here are the key takeaways from our research on the Buccaneers QB:
2007 was his best season, but watch out for 2021
By any measure (aside from winning the Super Bowl), 2007 was the best season of Brady’s career. To clarify, the below table is sorted by Expected Points Added (EPA) per Play, which is a metric that judges how successful a team’s average play is based on how many more points you are expected to score as a result of your team’s yardage gained on the play. This is highly situational (for example, a 4-yard gain on third-and-2 in the red zone will result in a higher EPA than a 9-yard gain on third-and-10 from your own side of the field).
It’s going to be tough for 2021 to top Brady’s performance in 2007 from a statistical standpoint; however, we think 2021 has a great chance to be the second-best season of his career for two primary reasons:
- The Buccaneers have historically good offensive weapons in terms of both superstars and depth.
- Brady’s average depth of target (aDOT) in 2020 was 9.8, which was the highest of his career since 2003. His aDOT peaked from Weeks 16 to the NFC Championship Game, indicating that he was getting more comfortable in the Bucs offense, which is known for a downfield passing attack under head coach Bruce Arians.
Hall of Fame
The Pro Football Reference Hall of Fame Monitor (HOFm) is a metric designed to estimate a player’s chances of making the Pro Football Hall of Fame using Approximate Value, Pro Bowls, All-Pros, championships and various stat milestones. The Average Hall of Fame QB has a score of 104. Brady’s score is 252.34, which means that he has had about 2.5 Hall of Fame careers thus far and is on his way to his third HOF career. Tom Brady’s historic career has therefore been superfluous in terms of Hall of Fame candidacy.
Brady is famous for his longevity, but has he done enough for his career post-40 to be worth the Hall of Fame on its own? In just his four seasons since turning 40 (2017-2020), he seems to be about halfway there based on HOFm (48.5). He has as many Super Bowls as the average HOF QB and a better completion percentage, but trails in every other category. The question, then, is what else would Brady have to do to make his career in his 40s a Hall of Fame career?
If Brady wins another Super Bowl, this could make his post-40 career HOF worthy by itself. Earl Morrall is the only QB with three rings who is not in the Hall of Fame (he only started one of those games, Super Bowl III for the Colts). As for first-team All-Pro selections, one more won’t be enough. Rich Gannon, Jack Kemp, Daryle Lamonica and Morrall all have two All-Pros and aren’t in the Hall. But two more All-Pros would all but guarantee enshrinement. Only two QBs with three All-Pro Selections aren’t in the HOF, and only because they’re still playing (Brady and Rodgers).
Essentially, there are three ways for Brady’s career in his 40s to be HOF worthy by itself:
- Win another Super Bowl.
- Two more first-team All-Pro selections.
- Play for 3-4 more seasons and reach the requisite career stat milestones.
Based on HOFm: if Brady plays for 1-2 more seasons, wins another Super Bowl and makes another All-Pro team, his HOFm for his 40-plus seasons alone would be in the 80s. This would be right around Kurt Warner and Eli Manning. Overall, Brady’s career over 40 isn’t a Hall of Fame career yet, but it’s very possible it’ll get there.
QBs over 40: There’s Brady and then everyone else
However, don’t mistake the fact that Brady’s post-40 career is unprecedented. In NFL history, 18 quarterbacks have completed 10-plus passes in a season after age 40. In total, these 18 have completed 41 QB seasons over 40, or about 2.1 per passer. (Note: George Blanda completed only 7 passes total in his four seasons after 1971, so we excluded them.) With respect to QBs in their 40s, Brady has been better than everyone else combined. He is better in every category in the below table aside from total Pro Bowls and wins, a pair of counting stats that are hard to reconcile given that Brady has only played just four seasons in his 40s in comparison to 37 for everyone else. If we were to adjust for the number of seasons, it wouldn’t be close. He also might save us the effort as he continues to play and shatter more records.
In addition, Brady’s four seasons in his 40s are four of the top five seasons in NFL history for a QB over 40, with Brett Favre’s 2009 Vikings season the other. Below are the top 10 seasons for QBs in their 40s. They are ranked by Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value, which is a metric that attempts to value a player by apportioning credit based on the overall production of an offense (or defense).
As something to chew on, see the following charts below to show how Brady’s statistics (dark purple) compare to the other 17 QBs previously described at each specific age. It’s quite clear that the sixth-round pick from San Mateo is the greatest quarterback in NFL history, and his continued dominance is no longer competing with any players from the first 100 years of professional football. Rather, Brady is insulating his legacy and setting a possibly insurmountable task for whoever comes next.