I'm a running backs junkie, but I have to admit that I thought Brady's incredible 2007 season made it impossible to pass on him with the first pick. I mean, how is it possible to ignore a player after a season with 4,806 passing yards, 52 total touchdowns and a ridiculous 478 fantasy points on NFL.com?
That's more points than LaDainian Tomlinson and Chad Johnson scored combined!
But after hours of debate that included thoughts of an increase in backfield committees around the league (and the resulting decrease in true featured running backs) and three prominent trends that have developed over the past 20 seasons, I've decided to pass on Brady if I land the top pick in one of my numerous fantasy drafts.
Am I nuts?
Read on and you can make your own call.
This trend makes me wary of selecting Brady because it has affected even the most productive players from the losing teams of the NFL's ultimate event. Studs like Shaun Alexander, Marshall Faulk, Brett Favre, Donovan McNabb, Terrell Owens, Steve Smith, Kurt Warner, Brian Westbrook and all the relevant fantasy players on the 2003 Oakland Raiders have fallen to this so-called hex.
For the first time in his career, Brady will enter an NFL season as a Super Bowl bridesmaid. There's also been talk that the ankle he injured at the end of last season remains an issue, though Brady has squashed those rumors and told reporters the ankle "feels great" after the second day of the team's recent three-day mandatory minicamp.
"I'm still slow, I can't jump and I don't lift very much. That hasn't changed," he said.
Regardless of his health, it will be close to impossible for Brady to meet the statistical expectations that fantasy footballers will have for him, which brings me to the second trend.
2) Falling stats
When we look back at the history of the NFL, we see that players who've recorded unbelievable statistical seasons have seen their numbers fall the very next season.
Let's examine a few examples.
Back in 1984, when fantasy football was not nearly as popular, Dan Marino made mincemeat of defenses with a record 5,084 passing yards and 48 touchdowns. Those totals made him the top pick in all 1985 fantasy drafts (for those who played fantasy sports at the time), but he failed to meet expectations. Marino did throw for a solid 4,137 yards and 30 scores, but those totals were far less than what owners had hoped to receive.
Kurt Warner, who was the leader of the "Greatest Show on Turf" in St. Louis, came out of nowhere to record 4,353 passing yards and 42 total touchdowns in 1999. His 41 touchdown passes were the third-most ever in a single season at the time, and he went from an undrafted fantasy player to the consensus No. 1 overall selection in 2000 drafts. Warner turned out to be a serious disappointment across the board, however, as he missed five starts and threw for 924 fewer yards and scored 21 fewer touchdowns.
Peyton Manning threw for a career-best 4,557 passing yards and broke Marino's single-season record for touchdown passes with 49 in the 2004 season. Those numbers made Manning a popular No. 1 overall pick in 2005. He went on to throw for 3,747 yards and 28 touchdowns and failed to reach the 4,000-yard mark for the first time since his rookie season.
Do the math: That's 810 fewer yards and 21 fewer scores than he recorded in 2004.
Let's stick with the 2005 season and talk about Alexander.
The former Alabama standout had never rushed for 1,700 yards or scored more than 20 total touchdowns before that season, but he exploded for 1,880 rushing yards and what was an NFL-record 28 total touchdowns. His numbers were so incredible that he put countless owners on his shoulders and led them to a league title.
Alexander was a consensus top-three selection in all drafts, but he failed to meet expectations. He missed six starts due to injuries, rushed for 896 yards and scored seven touchdowns.
Again, let's do the math: That's 984 fewer yards and 21 fewer touchdowns than he had in 2005.
The final exhibit is Tomlinson. If you had him on your roster in 2006, there's a good chance you won your league's championship. He rushed for a career best 1,815 yards, totaled 2,323 all-purpose yards and broke Alexander's record for touchdowns in a season with 31. Of course, Tomlinson was considered the No. 1 overall selection in all 2007 drafts.
Guess what happened.
Tomlinson did lead all running backs on NFL.com with 295 fantasy points, but that number paled in comparison to the 420 points he had in 2006. He recorded 341 fewer rushing yards and 13 fewer total touchdowns. Again, L.T. was a solid contributor last season, but he didn't even come close to the magical statistics he recorded when he broke NFL records.
3) End of season slump
Aside from talk of curses and the decreased numbers of the five aforementioned superstars, the third and final trend came between the white lines at the end of this season.
In his final six starts between the regular season and postseason, Brady averaged 241 passing yards and 1.8 touchdown passes. Project those totals over a full 16-game schedule, and Brady would have recorded 3,861 passing yards and 29 touchdowns. Those totals are far closer to his average career numbers of 3,766 passing yards and 28 scoring passes (2001-2007).
Here's another statistical factoid that fantasy football owners should consider: Defenses started to put much more pressure on Brady as the season wore on.
In his first 13 starts of the regular season, Brady was sacked a combined 16 times. That would equate to a mere 19.6 sacks over a full season. He was taken down 12 times in his final six starts, including five times in the Super Bowl XLII loss to the New York Giants. Based on those numbers, Brady would have been sacked close to 35 times over a full 16-game season.
We also need to remember that the NFL is filled with intelligent, defensive-minded coaches and coordinators, so teams will watch footage of how the Giants dominated New England's offensive line, sacked Brady five times and pressured him throughout the contest. From those tapes, coaches could find the blueprint to limit Brady and his offense.
However, those numbers might look more like the totals of Peyton Manning, who threw for 4,040 yards and scored 34 total touchdowns last season. Manning finished with a total 330 fantasy points on NFL.com, or 148 fewer points than Brady had in 2007.
So what does the future hold for Brady? Is he destined to record lesser numbers in 2008, much like Marino, Warner, Manning, Alexander and Tomlinson?
The answer is a resounding yes.
Brady is still the current king of the fantasy football world, and he does deserve to be one of the top five overall selections in all drafts.
But based on these prominent trends (even the least superstitious owners have to admit the decreased numbers of Super Bowl losers holds water) and the fall in numbers of Marino, Warner, Manning, Alexander and Tomlinson, chances are Brady, the Golden Boy, the new Stetson man or whatever you want to call him, will find less success in the 2008 season.