Home > Draft, FNQB, NFL > FNQB: How well would Tom Brady Profile as a Draft Prospect Today?

FNQB: How well would Tom Brady Profile as a Draft Prospect Today?

This week’s Friday Night Quarterback question is one that attempts to answer the question of where Tom Brady would profile in the NFL Draft if he had come out of Michigan in 2011 instead of 2000.  You know the background story on Brady.  He was recruited to Michigan and buried on the depth chart, but emerged as the best player for the job in 1998 after Michigan won the national championship, starting the final 25 games of his NCAA career, and winning 20 of them including two major bowls.  Brady, though, played for Michigan in such a dominant era that he never received the reputation for being a good college player.

Brady’s scouting report, which is unsourced primarily because it is eleven years old, reads as follows:

Notes: Baseball catcher and football quarterback in high school who was drafted by the Montreal Expos in the 18th round of the June 1995 baseball draft. Opted for football and redshirted at Michigan in ’95. Saw limited action in ’96 and ’97 and started the past two years. Completed 3 of 5 passes for 26 yards, no touchdowns and one interception in ’96, 12-15-103-0-0 in ’97, 214-350-2,636-15-12 in ’98 and 180-295-2,216-16-6 in ’99, when he often shared time with super sophomore Drew Henson. Went all the way against Alabama in the Orange Bowl and completed 34-46-369-4. Unlike many Michigan quarterbacks, Brady is a pocket-type passer who plays best in a dropback-type system.

Tom Brady Positives: Good height to see the field. Very poised and composed. Smart and alert. Can read coverages. Good accuracy and touch. Produces in big spots and in big games. Has some Brian Griese in him and is a gamer. Generally plays within himself. Team leader.

Negatives: Poor build. Very skinny and narrow. Ended the ’99 season weighing 195 pounds and still looks like a rail at 211. Looks a little frail and lacks great physical stature and strength. Can get pushed down more easily than you’d like. Lacks mobility and ability to avoid the rush. Lacks a really strong arm. Can’t drive the ball down the field and does not throw a really tight spiral. System-type player who can get exposed if he must ad-lib and do things on his own.

Summary: Is not what you’re looking for in terms of physical stature, strength, arm strength and mobility, but he has the intangibles and production and showed great Griese-like improvement as a senior. Could make it in the right system but will not be for everyone.

 We know these there are three variables that translate directly from the college game to the pro game.  First: college completion percentage.  Second: college sack rate; at the major college football level (the proliferation of the spread offense at lower levels of college football has rendered this measure useless for lower-division QBs, though the skill is still important).  Third: the adult height of the quarterback.  We know that all other college stats are system/situation dependent enough to not have any predictive value between a college quarterback and that same players in the pros.  But we also know that a player’s stats are largely useless in a limited sample which is why three and four year college starters are so much more valuable in the draft today than one or two year starters.

And that’s the big thing with Tom Brady.  He was a great statistical quarterback at Michigan, but because his career lasted only 25 starts, it was easy to write his production off as a function of his team’s dominance, and his physical skill set as alluded to in his scouting report, only served to reinforce the idea that any player could have accomplished what Brady did at Michigan over his timeframe.  It wasn’t a certainty that he was going to get drafted in 2000, though it was pretty likely.

What sticks out about the Brady scouting report was that he was labeled as a system quarterback by the scout, a label that has pretty much held up as true in the pros.  Brady has become a system quarterback, the first elite spread quarterback in the NFL in the way that Joe Montana became the first elite west coast quarterback in the NFL.  Guys who are viewed as system passers, such as Colt McCoy or Kevin Kolb, almost universally do not get picked in the first round.  I needed more context on this, so I looked up the scouting report of a guy who has had a very similar career to Brady in the same NFL era, but didn’t fall to the sixth round.

Drew Brees
By: Dave-Te’ Thomas

#15-DREW BREES Purdue University Boilermakers 5:11.7-221

Positives… Touch passer with the ability to read and diagnose defensive coverages…Confident leader who knows how to take command in the huddle…Very tough and mobile moving around in the pocket…Has a quick setup and is very effective throwing on the move…Throws across his body with great consistency…Hits receivers in stride and improvises his throws in order to make a completion…Puts good zip behind the short and mid-range passes…Shows good judgement and keen field vision…Has a take-charge attitude and is very cool under pressure…Hits receivers in motion with impressive velocity…Has superb pocket presence and uses all of his offensive weapons in order to move the chains…Has solid body mechanics and quickness moving away from center… Elusive scrambler with the body control to avoid the rush.

Negatives… Plays in the spread offense, taking the bulk of his snaps from the shotgun… Tends to side-arm his passes going deep…Lacks accuracy and touch on his long throws… Seems more comfortable in the short/intermediate passing attack…Does not possess the ideal height you look for in a pro passer, though his ability to scan the field helps him compensate in this area…Will improvise and run when the passing lanes are clogged, but tends to run through defenders rather than trying to avoid them to prevent unnecessary punishment.

The unquestioned leader of the Boilermakers’ offense and one of the school’s most decorated athletes…The three-year starter shattered virtually every school passing record and also made his marks on the Big Ten Conference and NCAA Division 1-A record charts…Ranks fourth in NCAA annals with 1525 pass attempts, 942 completions and 11,815 yards in total offense (NCAA does not recognize bowl stats)…Including post-season action, he holds the Boilermaker and conference career-records with 1026 pass completions of 1678 passes for 11,792 yards, 90 touchdown tosses and 12,692 yards in total offense…His pass completion percentage of .611 set another Purdue all-time record… Only player in Big Ten Conference history to throw for over 500 yards in a game twice in a career…Threw for over 400 yards seven times, over 300 yards sixteen times and over 200 yards twenty-seven times during his career…Tied Wisconsin tailback Ron Dayne’s (1996-99) Big Ten Conference record by earning Player of the Week honors eight times during his career.

Drew Brees is kind of sort of a system quarterback, though in a far different way than Brady.  Brees’ accuracy numbers are all about the precision on his passes and fitting the ball into tight spaces.  Brady’s accuracy numbers are about being ahead of the defense from a mental standpoint and quicker than the defense with his arm.  The reason that Brees was selected in the second round was that he did a ton of passing in his four years of college.  As you read above, his size and durability were a concern, and like Brady, scouts weren’t convinced he could be an effective vertical passer coming out of college.  The difference between Brees and Brady was that college senior Drew Brees threw the football in the intermediate zone and to the sideline in a way that made scouts very confident that he could translate to the pro game given a top rushing attack (which he had in SD), by making the difficult out throws that NFL quarterbacks need to.  I feel that Brady’s combine performance may have given some credence to the thought that he could not make those throws to the edge of the football field.  Otherwise though, these were eerily similar prospects coming out who have enjoyed very similar careers, except that Tom Brady got overlooked on Draft day, and Brees was the second quarterback in 2001 taken after Michael Vick.

A first round pick in today’s game must be perceived as durable coming out of college.  Joe Flacco was perceived as durable.  Sam Bradford, despite a shoulder injury, was perceived as durable.  Blaine Gabbert: durable.  Matt Ryan: durable.  JaMarcus Russell: durable.  Brady Quinn: durable.  Even Matthew Stafford was perceived to be durable coming out of Georgia.  Neither Brady nor Brees seemed like they would hold up to the NFL rush, and Brady’s frame was of particular concern.  Of course, Michael Vick went first overall in 2001 as an anomaly because no one could have possibly felt he was durable.  If we expand the scope past quarterbacks, Reggie Bush may have lost out on being the first overall pick because of durability concerns at the next level.

So we can conclude that as a system QB project who had durability and arm strength concerns, Brady would not have gone in the first round in any year.  There were too many questions about him as a prospect.  The second round is possible.  Brady had a lot of Drew Brees’ qualities, and a lot of Kevin Kolb’s qualities as well.

Kolb has good size and build for a NFL quarterback and excels at throwing short to mid-range passes. He can throw the ball on the move and is a threat to run with the ball if necessary. Kolb is a great leader and has started for four years at Houston. He would be an ideal West Coast quarterback once he learned the system.

Kolb did not play in a pro style offense at Houston and would have to learn the NFL style of progression and reads. He is unlikely to become an elite vertical passer. He must work on improving his mechanics, as he has a tendency to wind up too much. Kolb has as tendency to go to a three quarters delivery that causes the ball to get batted down at the line of scrimmage.

Kolb was productive at Houston, but that was in a shotgun based, short throwing offense. He would have to take the time to learn the pro style offense, and his lack of arm strength will limit his ceiling. The question on Kolb will be if his success was due to the system or if he can mature into a solid NFL starter.

System concerns.  Vertical passing concerns.  No height concerns and no durability concerns listed for Kolb, who was definitely not as well regarded as Brees coming out (for Brees the spread system was perceived as more of a fact, re: learning curve; for Kolb, it meant he was off a lot of teams boards).  Kolb was more highly regarded than Tom Brady coming out of Houston in 2007 (which ended up being a weak QB class), and I think the reasoning for that is sound.  Brady, all these years later, would not go at the top of the second round either.

A good comparable for Brady in terms of historical significance is Joe Montana, and he was drafted 82nd overall in 1979, which was pretty high for a quarterback.  The scouts in that draft loved Jack Thompson and Phil Simms, which made 79 a really strong draft for quarterbacks at the time even before you consider Montana.  In today’s game, Montana wouldn’t have fallen past where Jimmy Clausen was drafted by the Panthers out of the same school in 2010.  But then again, Montana was an accomplished college player who simply had arm-strength/system limitation.  In hindsight, Brady had the same deal: accuracy over arm, but was overshadowed at his college program where Montana achieved legend status.  Brady was more like Wisconsin’ Scott Tolzien should Tolzien have enjoyed a more competitive performance against TCU in the Rose Bowl, which probably cost him the right to be drafted.

System guys like Michigan-era Brady get drafted if they play in enough big games in their college careers, which Brady did.  Strangely, that’s probably not what got him drafted in 2000.  Brady’s intelligence made him a perfect candidate for the system that Bill Belichick was trying to install in New England.  But because of the success of that system and the proliferation of Belichick’s assistants throughout the league, players with Brady’s skills are more valued today.  Brady’s draft profile would have been more valuable than, to throw a name out there, either Colt McCoy or Mike Kafka in 2010.

We now have a range where Michigan’s Tom Brady would have been drafted in the 2011 draft.  He would have gone higher than Joe Montana went in 1979, because players who were more maligned by NFL draftniks and front offices alike slipped further than that.

I went back to the list of statistical comparables, and I see names like John Beck, Jimmy Clausen, Drew Stanton nearby in completion percentage.  This year, the closest comparables were Andy Dalton, Christian Ponder, and TJ Yates unadjusted for era, and Tolzien and Greg McElroy when compared to the time-weighted average.  Brady would have been one of the more sought after system quarterbacks this year, though he probably wouldn’t have caused the Dalton-mania symptoms the Bengals exhibited on draft day.  I think he would have gone higher than the average year in 2011, but speaking about 2011 more abstractly, I think Brady would have been the fourth QB drafted in 2009, I think he would have been the third or fourth QB taken in 2010, and he probably wouldn’t have been in the first five taken in 2011, though that would have been the one year Brady might actually have gone in the first round.

Tom Brady, a decade later, would likely not have been a sixth round pick.  Brady likely would have been perceived similar to this years former Michigan QB, Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett.   Brady may not have been seen as the player with the most upside, but he wouldn’t have fallen due to character concerns.  If Tom Brady had not been drafted in 2000, but had been drafted in 2011 or 2012 instead, front offices would have rated the Michigan product as a mid second round pick to an early third round pick, and a system quarterback prospect who could thrive in a system that takes advantage of his limited skill set.

Like, for example, the New England Patriots.

  1. June 13, 2011 at 6:08 pm

    You’re missing at least one important factor in the rankings of Tom Brady. First, scouts tend to overrate “pure athleticism” (Moneyball documents this). Second, Brady shared time with Drew Henson, all of 6′ 4″ and 235 pounds (so says the Wikipedia). Consequently, there was what Dan Ariely calls the “decoy effect” (pages 15, 21-22 of the paperback) in Predictably Irrational and what Coors Light parodied in the Wingman commercials. Brady just didn’t look good next to Henson.

    You see this issue in reverse in 2001. So many people were enamored of Michael Vick that he left any kind of running quarterback overvalued. Hence, Q Carter, a 4th round talent, ended up going in the second.

    Btw, nice blog. I’ve added you to my blogroll. Given the analytic nature of your content, you might talk to the people who run Stathead at Pro Football Reference and get them to check out your content. They can drive a lot of hits, if they like your posts.

    David Myers of the WordPress blog “Code and Football”

    • June 13, 2011 at 6:22 pm

      Thanks for the read/comment David.

      I tried to look past the issues that still lead to major errors in scouting/pre-draft analysis. There’s no doubt that based on his college attributes as well as his production, Brady should get taken in the back half of the first round of the NFL draft if not higher. I am only hoping to convince readers that the NFL Draft has changed so much over the last ten years, that had Brady been in this draft, a couple of teams would have viewed him as a potential starter in year two or three. But in 2000, I don’t think even the Patriots saw a potential starter so much as they just saw something they could work with and someone who would provide depth to their organization. I believe that a lot of the successful players of the last ten years at the QB position have shared a lot of these attributes.

      And of course, at the time, Brady was dinged for mediocre college production, but the way the draft has evolved since 2000, he would almost certainly be viewed as a polished product that wouldn’t require a ton of coaching. My assertion is that while Henson may have dwafted Brady in terms of physical ability, if you took Brady after his senior year and put him through a bunch of combine drills next to Greg McElroy, Brady would look really good. I also think the ship has sailed on the multi-sport athletes at the QB position. Pro coaches seem to prefer early specializers.

      Good points and thanks.

  2. Alex
    October 14, 2011 at 8:48 am

    Here’s the interesting thing though – Brady appears to have been successful in putting on 10-20 lbs of muscle and, accordingly, increased his arm strength from mediocre to very good. He certainly has shown plenty of arm for the deep outs and deep crossers into tight windows that he throws regularly nowadays. How much do you think scouts underestimate the ability to improve arm strength through mechanical fixes and / or better weight training?

    • October 14, 2011 at 12:33 pm

      Generally speaking, those who struggle with arm strength at age 23 are always going to have that limitation, and Brady might simply have been an exception rather than the rule. Where I think you may be onto something though is that when we see 21 year old underclassmen being drafted into the NFL, we’re typically seeing height/weight/speed speciemens taken high in the draft. But aren’t those younger prospects exactly the types we would expect to improve the most physically as a pro? I would think so. Maybe that’s why we’ve seen such a dichotomy in success between 21 year old rookies and 23 year old rookies: maybe the NFL is just looking for the wrong type of underclassman.

  3. Walter Tibbs
    January 14, 2013 at 9:57 am

    That infamous photo of a pasty, weedy Brady at the combine in just his shorts and his subsequent poor athletic testing destroyed what little there was of his draft stock after what seemed like a constant QB battle at Michigan. But that said, his senior numbers as a Wolverine (70% completion rate) capped by his performance in the Orange Bowl and all the positives in his scouting report should’ve ticked more boxes for teams than it did. This wasn’t your usual wildcat hero carving up typically lacklustre collegiate defenses with easy improvisation, but a prototypical pocket passer with ice in his veins, a computer for a brain, clutch, big game and comeback badges and the potential to overcome concerns about his slender frame with a couple of years of red meat and a Pro gym.

  1. June 14, 2011 at 6:55 pm
  2. June 15, 2011 at 9:41 am
  3. June 19, 2011 at 3:11 pm

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