Why Drew Brees is still an elite QB
Last week, colleague Sam Monson put together a list of the best 101 players currently in the NFL. While the fact that there were seven quarterbacks among the top 42 players should not be a surprise (and neither should the names), the ranking of Drew Brees as the seventh-best at his position could invite questions over whether the QB has truly taken a step back from his perennially elite level.
In reality, however, Brees is still one of the very best quarterbacks in the NFL. Let’s take a look at four big reasons why:
He quietly had an outstanding season last year
Brees checked in at fourth in PFF quarterback grades last season, behind only Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger, Arizona’s Carson Palmer and New England’s Tom Brady.
Brees ranked sixth in QB rating overall, and third in QB rating when getting rid of the ball in 2.5 seconds or less, which accounted for essentially 60 percent of his passes. He finished second in both yards on deep passes (thrown 20 or more yards downfield), at 1,180, and in deep adjusted completion percentage, at 50.6 percent.
His supporting cast last season wasn’t great — and looks to be better for 2016
While Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers rightfully gets a pass on his subpar 2015 because of the play of the Packers’ receiving corps, which struggled without injured No. 1 target Jordy Nelson, it’s worth noting that Brees did not have much help, either. Brandin Cooks, his highest-graded receiver, ranked just 36th at his position in the league in PFF grades (No. 2 target Willie Snead ranked 38th).
Looking ahead to 2016, there is reason for more optimism for Brees’ supporting cast than there was last year. At tight end, Ben Watson performed admirably last year in replacing Brees’ former top target, Jimmy Graham, but he is a limited athlete, and the addition of free agent Coby Fleener this offseason should be a strong upgrade to New Orleans’ passing game. The Saints also drafted Ohio State wide receiver Michael Thomas in Round 2 of this year’s draft, and he could be the true No. 1 receiver that Brees simply hasn’t had with the Saints.
His consistency has been remarkable
The pecking order at the top of the league is always going to be a hot topic for debate, especially at the QB position, and it’s understandable why younger players like Carolina’s Cam Newton and Seattle’s Russell Wilson have been pushed ahead of Brees on many lists. But it’s worth noting that neither of those guys, or even Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger or Arizona’s Carson Palmer, have had the same level of sustained top-end play of Brees.
Since 2009, Brees has ranked in the top six of PFF QB grades every season. He has finished in the top four in deep accuracy in six of the past seven seasons, and has six top-three finishes in adjusted completion percentage in the PFF era.
The issue over his age has been overblown
Brees is clearly in the latter stages of his career, at 37 years old, and his body will catch up with him at some point. But not only is there little to suggest that has already happened, his age is comparable to other quarterbacks still considered to be elite players. New England’s Tom Brady turns 39 this August, and Palmer will be 37 in December.
Brees has missed just one start due to injury in the last decade, and considering how few hits he takes not only because of his solid offensive line, but also his own lack of self-inflicted pressure (we’ve charged 14 sacks to him over the last nine seasons, compared to 14 each of the past two seasons to Wilson), it’s reasonable to think he can continue to play at a very high level.