With apologies to the newly-packaged Pro Bowl games and the bye-week Super Bowl buildup for the Chiefs and Eagles, Tom Brady is atop the NFL news cycle this week thanks to his second and seemingly (hopefully!) final retirement.
Though he officially left New England just less than three years ago, he remains woven into the dynastic fabric of Patriot Nation. In fact, owner Robert Kraft said this week that he hopes to sign Brady to a one-day contract to symbolically finish out his career where it began, even if that seems a silly and unnecessary gesture in the eyes many.
Brady’s GOATness is complete. A legacy that began as a lowly sixth-round pick, molded under Bill Belichick’s watchful eye and concluded in Tampa Bay is without comparison.
But Brady didn’t rise to the top of the NFL mountain alone.
He was the point man on so many impressive passing attacks and winning teams. He was surrounded by various elite pass catchers for pretty much the entirety of his career in New England, from fellow Hall of Fame talents to franchise legends.
With that in mind, and Brady’s crazy career accomplishments top of mind, here’s a top-10 list of the GOAT’s top playmaking pass catchers from his time leading the Patriots’ offense and dynasty.
10 – David Patten: From coffee deliveries to delivering big plays on the run to the first Super Bowl – whether conscious or not! – Patten was an underrated productive target for Brady’s developmental years. Patten’s numbers won’t wow anyone, but he was there for Brady (and Drew Bledsoe) at key times in key games.
9 – David Givens: Underrated, somewhat forgotten Davids were a big part of the Patriots passing game from 2001-05. Givens evolved from seventh-round pick to clutch playmaker with consecutive 50-catch seasons.
Givens had seven touchdowns in eight career postseason games, including one each in his final seven postseason games in New England. He flexed his muscle went it mattered most.
8 – Aaron Hernandez: On the field, Hernandez was a unique talent as a move tight end and slot option who averaged nearly five catches a game over his three seasons with Brady in New England. He was the lesser part of the Patriots TE Party attack, as Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski put defenses in a bind with their unique skills and versatility.
7 – James White: The best, most productive of New England’s long list of impressive passing backs, White should have had an Super Bowl MVP to his resume thanks to his work in the comeback against the Falcons. When healthy White had six consecutive seasons with 40 or more catches, including 87 and 72 as Brady’s favorite option over their final two seasons together in New England.
6 – Troy Brown: Brown was born too early. Had he and Brady combined during the explosion of the Patriots’ passing game in the mid-2000s and beyond Brown would probably be closer to the top of this list. Still, he notched a 100-catch Pro Bowl campaign in Brady’s first season as a starter in 2001. That was the middle of three straight 80-plus catch seasons as the first in the long line of impressive slot options in New England. Brown was as clutch a playmaker as you’ll find.
5 – Deion Branch: Originally a second-round pick who’s the rookie measuring stick for instant success as a wide receiver in New England, Branch had two impact tours working with Brady. The first was capped with his Super Bowl XXXIX MVP award in beating the Eagles. Branch had a combined 21 catches for 276 yards in Super Bowl wins over Carolina and Philly. He never had huge regular season stats, but did top 40 catches in five of his seven seasons with Brady as a trusted, efficient option.
4 – Julian Edelman: Edelman was at his clutch best in the postseason over the second part of the New England dynasty. With the game and championships on the line, Brady went to No. 11 so many times, finding success even when opponents knew what was coming. Edelman’s 10 catches for 141 yards in Super Bowl LIII against the Rams earned him MVP honors. Edelman topped 100 regular season catches twice and 1,000 yards three times, but only Jerry Rice and Travis Kelce have more postseason production.
3—Wes Welker: Taking the baton from Brown, Welker took the slot receiver position to a new productive level when he arrived in New England in 2007. He topped 110 receptions in five of his six seasons, including two 1,300-yard efforts. He was a five-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro and as tough as they come even if he never collected a Super Bowl ring despite pretty productive personal postseason efforts.
2 – Randy Moss: Moss’ arrival took Brady and the evolving Patriots passing game to new heights in 2007 when he set an NFL record with 23 touchdown catches. Moss had 50 touchdowns in 52 games played in New England, double digits in all three full seasons played for the Patriots. He took the top off the defense. He made highlight reel plays and helped Brady set a then-NFL record with 50 touchdown passes to prove that No. 12 was way more than a dink-and-dunk system QB. Like Welker, Moss never tasted Super Bowl victory but he and Brady were still an historic Canton-bound tandem.
1 – Rob Gronkowski: Arriving as a second-round pick, Gronk was an instant impact player for Brady in 2010 with 10 touchdowns as a rookie. A year later he led the NFL with 17 touchdowns to go along with career highs in catches (90) and yards (1,327). Brady trusted Gronkowski with the game on the line almost regardless of the coverage situation. A strong argument can be made that this was the GOAT QB throwing to the GOAT TE. It was such a productive pairing the duo took it to Tampa Bay to win another Super Bowl together.
Others receiving votes: Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, Jabar Gaffney, Kevin Faulk, Benjamin Watson, Shane Vereen, Christian Fauria/Mike Vrabel, James Develin.