"The peak of a player's career can come at any time. We naturally assume players will post their best numbers in their late 20s, and while that is the case for most players, it's hardly the case for everyone. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin's most productive seasons were his first and third years in the league, and he's still plugging away with the Buffalo Bills as he enters his 15th season. "Peaking," in other words, doesn't necessarily mean a player will have a disappointing career from that point forward."
These words from ESPN NFL writer Bill Barnwell are very important for two marquee players for the Patriots. Those players are Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. I think this article is interesting but has some fatal flaws. Peaking is too hard to define for athletes as Barnwell mentions so I think this article was doomed from the start. I want to go into both of these superstar Patriots and define their peaks and how they can reach them.
Brady is 40 years old and has reached his peak. But has he? I can understand if you argue that his statistical peak was his 50 touchdown 2007 season but I believe he is a better quarterback now than in 2007. Last season at age 39, he threw 28 touchdowns to just 2(!) interceptions in his suspension shortened season. He had his best adjusted net yards per attempt since his famous 2007 campaign. Most notably, he led the Patriots to the all-time Super Bowl comeback over the Falcons. People love to say he will decline just because he is 40 years old now but thats a naive proposition. He hasn't missed a single game because of injury since the freak 2008 ACL tear, is coming off a healthy 2016 season and has looked sharp all throughout training camp. His arm has the same zip while throwing deep balls to his fancy new receiving target Brandin Cooks.
While he almost certainly won't throw 50 touchdowns, I think its too early to say he has peaked as a quarterback. Brady has gotten smarter and more efficient as his career has progressed and his mind can process defenses faster than anyone in the league. Name me another quarterback who has played in the same offensive system for their whole career? I don't know if you can find one which is why Brady may not have peaked. He is an all-time great at reading defenses, getting the offense into the right play and getting the ball out of his hand quickly. These skills only improve with age.
Additionally, the weapons the Patriots have acquired will only make Brady's job easier. He was throwing to Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Martellus Bennett and James White last season. The Patriots bring all those guys back but instead of Bennett they have a healthy Gronk and add Cooks, running back Mike Gillislee and tight end Dwayne Allen. A defense has no chance to disguise their scheme against Brady while also covering all those weapons. Brady will find someone open on most plays if his offensive line gives him enough time.
Brady may even improve on the kind of numbers he put up last season. I think with his plethora of weapons, Brady can be the most efficient quarterback in the NFL and challenge the record of 71.6% completion percentage for the whole season. He can also challenge the touchdown to interception rate record he set last season and attempt to throw less than 4 interceptions over 16 games which was his career low set in 2010. I think he can win his third MVP award with these efficient numbers and also be in the top 3 for touchdowns and yards among quarterbacks. While Brady may have statistically peaked in 2007 I think its too early to say he can't have an unbelievable season, unlike any he has ever produced.
Gronkowski on the other hand, had his best statistical season in 2011 when he caught 90 balls for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns. The yards and touchdowns he amassed that season were records for a tight end. Again, that will be his statistical peak that will never be touched by him or maybe any other tight end ever. Gronk can easily reach his career peak this season and thats by playing 14 or more games. I say 14 because I wouldn't mind him sitting games at the end of the year assuming playoff positions are set in stone. If Gronk does that he will be back to his old self of grabbing 70 balls for over 1000 yards and 12 touchdowns. This will be his peak because he is such an important cog in the offense that he makes the rest of the skill position players better. He blocks for running backs and opens up lanes for receivers because he demands double coverage.
If you look at his stats last season, he had 25 receptions for 540 yards and three touchdowns in minimal action. That averages out to 21.6 yards per reception which is far and away the best of his career. If he comes anywhere close to that, he won't need many targets to reach 1000 yards and 10 touchdowns and it could be defined as his peak. The NFL has never seen a tight end that big and athletic that has soft hands so if Gronk becomes a bonafide deep threat, he will have reached his peak. If both Brady and Gronk can become even more efficient, dangerous players while dissecting defenses, it will be hard to argue against them reaching their peak, especially if they play into February together.
If you want to talk more about what you can expect from Brady and Gronk this coming season follow me on twitter @jakescearbo! And check out my website at jakescearbo.com for more Patriots pieces written by me.