During the front half of his career, Tom Brady didn’t have much at his disposal in the form of star receivers.
That’s been the exact opposite during the latter half of his career, as he’s been showered with a number of highly capable and even record-setting options to throw to.
His array of weapons has undoubtedly helped him sustain an unrivaled success through his second decade of play, and there’s no telling how he would’ve fared through the 2010s and beyond without such a litany of targets.
So let’s show the GOAT’s wideouts some love. These are some of the best receivers Brady’s had in recent years.
Career Pro Bowls: 6 (Four-time first-team All-Pro)
1,000-yard seasons: 10
The Brady-Moss combination may very well have been the best partnership Brady’s enjoyed on a single-season basis. The two were nearly unstoppable together, taking the top off of several defenses with Brady’s rocket arm and Moss’ rare speed and leaping ability.
Moss’ first season in New England was Brady’s most prolific as a passer, as he set a then-NFL record for TD passes with 50, while Moss’ 23 scoring receptions have yet to be matched by another wideout. Moss recorded 1,493 yards on 98 catches that season, while Brady had the second-highest passing yards total of his tenure (4,806). He broke that number just this past season.
Career Pro Bowls: 7 (Five-time first-team All-Pro)
1,000-yard seasons: 7
Jones is the latest Hall of Fame name to line up alongside Tom Terrific, but his career résumé is perhaps second-to-none among active receivers.
“Jet” has been plagued by injuries in recent years, and has suited up for no more than 10 games in the past two seasons, but when he’s right, he’s a sight to behold. At 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, Jones possesses astronomical speed (4.34 40-yard dash), with behemoth strength that allows him to bench press 350 pounds. And for nearly a decade in Atlanta, that natural dexterity allowed him to register six straight seasons of at least 1,390 receiving yards, including the third-most single-season receiving yards of all time (1,871) in 2015.
CHAD “OCHOCINCO” JOHNSON
Career Pro Bowls: 6 (Two-time first-team All-Pro)
1,000-yard seasons: 7
The man they call “Ochocinco” (by his own request) was in the twilight of his career when the Pats traded for him in 2011. Bill Belichick and New England gave up four draft picks in the deal for the then 33-year-old, who had been torching defenses with an unmatched route-running prowess in Cincinnati since 2002. Johnson’s vigorous pace during his heyday included five straight Pro Bowl nods from 2003-2007, in which he broke the 1,300-yard mark four times.
Brady and Johnson combined for just 15 hookups in the 2011 campaign though, good for 276 yards (18.4 yards per reception) and a lone TD. The highlight of his lone season with N.E. came in Super Bowl XLVI, where he hauled in Brady’s longest pass of the day on a 21-yarder. The Pats went on to lose 21-17 to the Giants.
Career Pro Bowls: 7 (Four-time first-team All Pro)
1,000-yard seasons: 6
Before he was a rapper, many considered Antonio Brown the most feared receiver in the league. He was un-guardable at times in Pittsburgh, with a shrewd work ethic to boot, and boasted a slew of accolades that few have bested during their careers. Those include four straight first-team All-Pro selections, a Super Bowl ring (LVI), twice leading the league in both receptions (2014, 2015) and receiving yards (2014, 2017) and a spot on the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 2010s.
So it didn’t come as much of a surprise to see Brady petition heavily for Brown’s services after he was released by the Raiders in 2019. Brady’s persuasion worked, but Brown played just one game in New England (catching four balls for 56 yards and a score) before being released amid a sexual assault scandal. He linked up with Brady again in T.B., this time posting 87 receptions for 1,083 yards, eight TDs and a Super Bowl win in two seasons before his untimely departure in 2022.
Career Pro Bowls: 5 (Two-time First-Team All Pro)
1,000-yard seasons: 5
Look up slot receiver in a dictionary and you’ll see a big bold picture of Wes Welker smiling back at you. Welker gave slot receivers a claim to fame during his prime years with TB12, and made his money as a readymade cushion for Brady whenever he needed it, which was often during his time with N.E.
Only Gale Sayers had more all-purpose yards than Welker during his first three seasons in the league, and he immediately became a 1,000-yard regular upon joining the Pats in 2007. He made back-to-back second-team All-Pro squads in 2007 and 2008, before solidifying a first-team bid in 2009 with a league-high 123 receptions. Catching passes is what the sure-handed savant became known for, and Welker led the NFL in receptions three of his six seasons in Foxborough, making another first-team All-Pro squad in 2011 with 122 snags for 1,569 yards.
Career Pro Bowls: 0
1,000-yard seasons: 2
Talk about slot playmakers. Edelman indubitably fits the bill for men who’ve excelled in this role, and after Welker departed New England for Denver following the 2012 season, Edelman immediately vaulted into the vacant role the next year.
The year 2013 marked the first 1,000-yard season of the hard-nosed receiver’s career, and he had no problem stepping up in Welker’s wake, going on to post three more seasons of over 1,000 yards (1,106 in 2016, 1,117 in 2019) through 2020. Edelman was never named to a Pro Bowl, nor he did receive All-Pro recognition during his tenure with N.E., but where he lacks in individual achievements, he wholly makes up for with three Super Bowl rings and a game MVP for SB LIII.
Career Pro Bowls: 4
1,000-yard seasons: 8
Evans has been the epitome of consistency in the NFL since the beginning of his career, and Brady’s arrival in Tampa has only elevated his prowess.
He’s played in at least 15 games in seven of his eight seasons as a pro, and recorded at least 1,000 yards in each, topping out at 1,524 in 2018. Evans has been enmeshed in a 1/1-A role alongside Pro Bowl receiver Chris Godwin since 2018, and Godwin’s presence in the lineup has taken some attention off of the 6-foot-5 ballhawk. Evans has thrived because of it, pulling in 13 TD in 2020, and a career-best 14 in 2021.
Career Pro Bowls: 5 (Four-time first-team All-Pro)
1,000-yard seasons: 8
He’s technically not a wide receiver, but it only feels right that we end with Gronk. Gronkowski was never hidden in the fray when he suited up alongside the GOAT, and despite his massive frame, and the fact that most defenders knew who’d be getting a lump sum of Brady’s targets, it didn’t matter.
Perhaps the most productive tight end of all time, Gronk registered 9,286 receiving yards on 621 receptions and scored 92 TD. He’s a four-time Super Bowl champ, has the most 100-plus receiving yard games by a TE in NFL history (32) and has the second-most TD in postseason history (15). Gronk also has the most receptions (23) and receiving yards (297) in Super Bowl history, and is a member of the NFL’s 100th Anniversary All-Time Team. And he did so while lining up alongside Brady during his whole career.
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