Tom Brady is in the midst of his 16th year in the National Football League and shows no signs of slowing down. The 39-year-old quarterback continues to defy father time by putting on elite performances for the Patriots season after season.
Where do I start? Brady is a four-time Super Bowl champion, three-time Super Bowl MVP, two-time league MVP, and 11-time Pro Bowler.
Brady holds a mind-boggling 15 playoff records, including most games played (31), most touchdown passes (56) and most wins (22) by a quarterback.
Even after returning from his “Deflategate” suspension in Week 5 of 2016, Brady threw 12 touchdown passes in his first four games back behind center.
One reason for Brady’s consistent on-field dominance is the revolving door of solid, dependable receivers he’s thrown to throughout his career. From stars like Deion Branch and Randy Moss to Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski, Brady has had some reliable deep threats over the years.
At the same time, Brady has played with some struggling receivers, whether they were in the twilight of their careers (Chad Johnson) or often on injured reserve (Aaron Dobson).
Here are the eight best and seven worst receivers Tom Brady has ever had. We will also be including tight ends, given the fact that a lot of New England's offense over the years has depended on pass-catching tight ends.
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15 Best: David Givens
It’s not often that I would list a wide receiver with 12 career touchdown receptions among the “best” in any receiving category. Yet, 2002 seventh round pick David Givens earns a place as one of Tom Brady’s best wide outs. Despite spending just three seasons in New England, Givens led the team with six touchdown receptions in 2003, and proved to be a reliable postseason performer.
The Notre Dame alum caught at least one touchdown pass in seven straight playoff games from 2003-2005. He held the team record for postseason touchdown receptions until 2016, when another number 87, Rob Gronkowski, broke the record in a January Divisional Round game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Givens’ career came to an unfortunate end in 2006 after he tore his ACL in Week 10 while playing for the Tennessee Titans. He was released after the season, and promptly retired.
All of Givens’ 12 touchdown receptions came from Tom Brady.
14 Worst: Aaron Dobson
The Patriots took Aaron Dobson in the second round of the 2013 draft, and signed the Marshall University alum to a four-year contract shortly thereafter.
The investment seemed to pay off early, as Dobson had a decent rookie season that year. He registered 519 yards and four touchdown receptions in 12 games. However, he would appear in just 12 more games for New England over the next two seasons, as hamstring and ankle injuries kept him off the field for extended periods.
In fact, Dobson never caught another touchdown pass from Brady after his rookie year in 2013. He totaled just 16 receptions from 2014-2015 for 179 yards. The Patriots released the young wide receiver in September 2016. Dobson signed with the Detroit Lions later that month, but the team released him on October 8.
13 Best: Daniel Graham
If you want to get technical, Graham was a tight end. However, he proved to be an important receiving option for Brady during the young quarterback’s early years in the NFL.
Graham spent four seasons in New England, and put up solid numbers for a tight end. In 2003, Graham caught 38 passes for 438 yards and four touchdowns. He caught seven touchdown passes the following year, and recorded a career-high 14.7 yards-per-reception in 2005.
Graham was also a valued leader in the Patriots’ locker room, and was named a team captain during his final season in New England in 2006. He caught his first (and only) postseason touchdown pass in January 2007 that helped the Patriots defeat the New York Jets. Graham would then sign with Denver the following season.
12 Worst: Jabar Gaffney
Gaffney starred at the University of Florida in the early 2000s, and remains the only wide receiver in school history with two seasons of 1,000 yards or more.
The two-time First-team All-American joined the Patriots in 2006 and spent two seasons with the team.
It’s no surprise that Gaffney had a career year playing on a 2007 Patriots team that went 18-1. He caught 36 passes for 449 yards and five touchdowns. Yet, despite a 44 reception, 468 yard season in 2008, Gaffney only recorded two touchdown receptions.
Gaffney played briefly with both the Broncos and Redskins before the Patriots brought him back on a two-year deal in 2012. He was released before the 2012 season began.
Finally, he played three games for the Miami Dolphins before being waived in November 2012.
11 Best: Julian Edelman
Since 2013, Edelman has emerged as one of Brady’s dominant receiving targets. Edelman played quarterback during his college days at Kent State and the College of San Meteo. However, when one has an opportunity to catch passes from the great number 12, you consider all options. Thus, Edelman quickly made the switch to wide receiver and slot receiver.
He had a solid rookie season in 2009, including a standout performance in the Patriots’ Wild Card loss to Baltimore, where Edelman caught six passes for 44 yards and two touchdowns.
Brady and Edelman have hooked up for 21 touchdowns since 2009, with 20 of those touchdowns coming from 2012-2015. With Edelman’s increased role in New England’s offense in recent seasons, expect Brady to look his way often. Gronkowski may overpower defenders with his brute size and strength, but Edelman’s shifty, agile frame adds a new dimension to the team’s offense.
10 Worst: Kyle Brady
He may share Tom’s last name, but Kyle Brady is in no way related to the Patriots' quarterback. I don’t mean that as a slight to Kyle, but rather a testament to Tom’s status as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.
Once a prized first round draft pick of the New York Jets, Kyle Brady was a durable tight end who missed just nine games over his 12-year career.
However, he was in the twilight of his career by the time he joined the Patriots in 2007. The 35-year-old played 14 games for the team, and caught nine passes for 70 yards and two touchdowns. He fought through injuries all year, and was released by the team after their Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants in 2008.
9 Best: Troy Brown
Troy Brown was already an NFL veteran by the time Brady took the reigns from Drew Bledsoe in 2001. Brown spent his entire 14-year career in New England, and proved to be Brady’s top target during the 2001 season. He recorded 101 catches for 1,199 yards and 5 touchdowns. Brown’s 101 catches set the franchise record for receptions as the team went on to win its first Super Bowl championship that season.
Brown caught 15 total touchdown passes from Brady, and could’ve had more had Brady been around for the first half of his tenure. The two spent six seasons together, and they were terrific.
Brown was also a kick and punt return specialist, and is the team’s all-time leading punt returner with 252 returns for 2,625 yards and 3 touchdowns. He is second in team history in receptions (557) and receiving yards (6,366).
Brown was voted into the Patriots Hall of Fame by fan vote in 2012, solidifying his legacy as one of the greatest receivers in team history.
8 Worst: Danny Amendola
There’s no doubt that Amendola has talent. He is extremely versatile as a player. The undrafted free agent joined the Patriots in 2013, and has carved out a nice niche as a kick returner and depth wide receiver.
Yet, he’s nothing more than that for the Patriots. The 30-year-old had a career-year in 2015, catching 65 passes for 648 yards and three touchdowns.
Those are respectable numbers for a player in Amendola’s role. They just aren’t elite numbers for a wide receiver. Brady’s supreme vision and throwing prowess as a quarterback can turn most marginal players into reliable, consistent contributors. Amendola fits that bill.
He has never caught more than three touchdown passes in any season in his career, and his 5-foot-10, 190 pound frame doesn’t compare to the domineering statures of some of the top wide outs in the NFL today.
7 Best: Deion Branch
Deion Branch may have been a bit undersized, but the 5-foot-9 receiver was a towering presence for Tom Brady and the Patriots during their dynastic years in the early and mid 2000s.
Branch’s most heroic moment came on the NFL’s biggest stage, Super Bowl XXXIX. Branch caught 11 receptions (on 12 targets) for 133 yards against the Philadelphia Eagles. He was named the game’s MVP as the Patriots won their second Super Bowl title. It was the only Patriots Super Bowl win that didn't see Brady pick up the MVP award.
Branch played several seasons in Seattle before reuniting with Brady in 2010. That season, Branch caught another five touchdowns in 11 games. Overall, 24 of Branch’s 39 career touchdown receptions came from Brady. That stat puts Branch in the top-five in Brady’s all-time touchdown receivers list.
6 Worst: Donte Stallworth
The journeyman wide receiver played for six different teams during his career, including two separate stints with the Patriots in 2007 and 2012. Everyone knows Brady was playing lights out in 2007, throwing for 50 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions.
As it turns out, only three of those touchdown passes went to Stallworth. Despite playing in every game that season, Stallworth amassed less than 700 yards on 46 receptions.
He clearly wasn’t one of Brady’s preferred targets, and the Patriots declined the second year option on his contract after the season. Stallworth became a free agent and signed a seven-year deal with the Cleveland Browns in 2008. He managed just one touchdown for the Browns before a DUI manslaughter charge resulted in a season-long suspension in 2009.
Stallworth returned to New England in 2012, but only appeared in one game before he was placed on IR with a high ankle sprain.
5 Best: Wes Welker
You could say that Wes Welker was Brady’s Julian Edelman before Julian Edelman. Sporting a similar 5-foot-9 , 180 pound frame, Welker’s productivity exploded during his five-year run as Brady’s go-to receiver.
He had three straight 110-plus reception seasons from 2007-2009, and recorded five total 100-plus reception seasons by the end of his time with the Patriots in 2012. Welker holds the NFL record for fastest receiver to 500 receptions, accomplishing that feat in just 70 games.
He also, quite unbelievably, caught a Brady pass in every single game he played as a Patriot, including the postseason.
The Texas Tech alum was easily Brady’s most consistent target during their six years together. Welker has caught 50 career touchdown passes, 34 of which came from Brady. That’s good for third on Brady’s all-time receivers list.
4 Worst: Brandon Tate
Tate’s NFL career got off to a rocky start. The University of North Carolina alum joined the Patriots in 2009 after the team drafted him in the third round.
He didn’t suit up for his first game until Week 7 of the 2009 season due to a nagging knee injury. He only appeared in two games that year before a second knee injury ended his season in November. He didn’t record a single reception from Brady.
Tate rebounded somewhat the following season, appearing in 16 games and starting in 10. He caught 24 passes for 432 yards. Brady also threw Tate three touchdown passes.
Tate was released in early September of 2011, and was picked up on waivers by the Cincinnati Bengals. He became a punt return specialist, and holds the Bengals’ team record in combined kick and punt return yards with 4,928.
He just couldn’t click as a wide receiver with Brady.
3 Best: Rob Gronkowski
Givens may have worn number 87 first, but it was Gronkowski who truly made the jersey a best-seller. When healthy, The 6-foot-6, 265 pound tight end has proven virtually unstoppable.
Gronkowski went with the 42nd pick in the second round of the 2010 draft, but his stats have proven worthy of a number one overall selection.
The four-time Pro Bowler set the league record for touchdown receptions by a rookie tight end (17) and receiving yards by a rookie tight end (1,327) in his first full season in 2011.
Gronkowski emerged as Brady’s number one target over the past six seasons. The duo have connected for an astonishing 65 touchdowns, the most for any receiver Brady has ever had. Gronkowksi has proven to be just as reliable in the postseason, and holds the NFL record for playoff touchdown receptions by a tight end with nine.
A fierce competitor like Brady has to love Gronkowski’s perfect mix of size, skill, leadership, and determination to win.
2 Worst: Chad Johnson
Chad Johnson may very well be a Hall-of-Fame caliber receiver. He just didn’t bring that Hall-of-Fame talent to New England during his brief, disappointing one-year run with the team.
Johnson, or “Ochocinco,” as he was still known at the time, had the worst season of his career, catching 15 passes for 276 yards and one touchdown. The outspoken receiver never gelled with Brady, which says a lot given the quarterback’s knack for getting the most out of mid-level talent.
In Johnson, Brady had a star talent, and even he couldn’t get Johnson to contribute. It was hardly Brady’s fault. Johnson did manage to catch one pass for 21 yards in the Patriots’ loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI.
The Patriots released Johnson at season’s end, and he signed a contract with the Miami Dolphins. He was released that August after an arrest on domestic violence charges.
1 Best: Randy Moss
There is no argument with this choice. Randy Moss wasn’t only Tom Brady’s greatest deep threat, but one of the greatest overall receiving threats of all time.
Moss, also known by his nickname “The Freak,” amassed over 15,000 receiving yards and 156 receiving touchdowns in 218 career games. Moss and Brady connected for 39 touchdowns from 2007-2010. Moss caught 23 of Brady’s 50 touchdown passes during New England’s near-perfect 18-1 season. Moss’ 23 touchdowns that year are an NFL record for a wide receiver in a single season.
On a team that boasted one of the most potent offenses in NFL history, Moss was Brady’s number one target. One can only imagine how many more touchdowns Brady and Moss would’ve hooked up for if Moss, like Gronkowski, had been with the Patriots for six plus seasons.
Although Gronkowski and Brady have connected for far more touchdowns than Moss and Brady have, the sheer domination that this tandem had in such a short period of time speaks to the special talent that Moss was.
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