Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are both going to the Hall of Fame, have Super Bowl rings and have had the two greatest passing seasons in the history of the National Football League.
But one of the ongoing story lines around the two is that Manning has had to overcome poor defences, while Brady has had a better team, but not the offensive weapons surrounding him. Both of these are, broadly speaking, true.
Over the course of his career, these are the players Tom Brady has played with who were drafted by the Patriots in the first round, and their receiving stats playing with Brady:
- Terry Glenn (1996, 7th overall): 14 recs, 204 yards, 1 TD
- Daniel Graham (2002, 21st overall): 120 recs, 1,393 yards, 17 TDs
- Ben Watson (2004, 32nd overall): 145 recs, 1,893 yards, 18 TDs
- Laurence Maroney (2006, 21st overall): 40 recs, 409 yards, 1 TD.
First round picks of the Patriots receiving stats from Tom Brady: 319 recs, 3,899 yards, 37 TDs
Players who were drafted in the first round (by any team) who have caught a pass from Tom Brady in their career produce this stat line: 657 receptions for 8,403 yards and 86 TDs.
In comparison, Manning has had these first round draft picks:
- Marshall Faulk (1994, 2nd overall): 84 recs, 908 yards, 4 TDs
- Marvin Harrison (1996, 19th overall): 965 recs, 12,878 yards, 114 TDs
- Edgerrin James (1999, 4th overall): 356 recs, 2,839 yards, 11 TDs
- Reggie Wayne (2001, 30th overall): 787 recs, 10,748 yards, 69 TDs
- Dallas Clark (2003, 24th overall): 393 recs, 4,535 yards, 44 TDs
- Joseph Addai (2006, 30th overall): 176 recs, 1,355 yards, 9 TDs
- Anthony Gonzalez (2007, 32nd overall): 99 recs, 1,307 yards, 7 TDs
- Donald Brown (2009, 27th overall): 31 recs, 374 yards
- Knowshon Moreno (2009, 12 overall): 81 recs, 715 yards, 3 TDs
- Demaryius Thomas (2010, 22nd overall) 186 recs, 2,864 yards, 24 TDs
Peyton has thrown 3,449 receptions for 41,628 yards and 308 TDs to players who were drafted in the first round by any team.
During their careers, both quarterbacks have been relied on to help their team win Super Bowls. Brady has three rings from five appearances, and Manning is one win away from collecting his second, in his third Super Bowl. They have also both been productive passers, and put up big numbers over their respective careers.
But it is clear that, while Peyton has had poorer defences to deal with than Brady, part of the reason for that is he has played for teams that have used their first round draft picks on offensive skill players (yes I know the Patriots drafted Logan Mankins and Nate Solder in the first round, who has helped the offence) while Brady has played with lower round offensive talent.
Manning has thrown more to first round picks than Brady, while Brady has thrown more to 2nd rounders (Rob Gronkowski makes up a third of the 124 TDs caught by 2nd round picks) and undrafted players than Manning. Brady has had his offence made up of role players, lower round picks and clever acquisitions (including undrafted players like Wes Welker).
Now both of these approaches work, the results speak for themselves. With the Patriots there was a plan to build the best all round team, which means Brady throwing to a more diverse supporting cast, while Manning has been surrounded by first round talent at the expense of his defence.
So whenever Manning’s struggles in the post season are mentioned in comparison to Brady (and especially if the Broncos lose in the Super Bowl), can we not blame his defence being undermanned? That was done deliberately, with the idea of being able to overcome those weaknesses with a quality offence stacked with talent and a future HoF quarterback.