It doesn't take the powerful statistical microscope of NFL Next Gen Stats to know that Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have been very good together in the first two weeks of 2021. But you might be surprised to know how good they've been, relative to some of the league's other prolific pass-catching duos.
The raw numbers are obvious enough. Brady has thrown 13 passes in Gronkowski's direction so far in 2021 and they have resulted in 12 catches for 129 yards and four touchdowns. Brady leads the league in scoring passes; Gronkowski leads the league in touchdown receptions. Gronkowski is third among all NFL tights in yards, behind only Kansas City's Travis Kelce and the Raiders' Darren Waller.
Simply put, Tom Brady choosing to throw to Rob Gronkowski is just about the most successful decision in the NFL in this young season, just behind some of the most dynamic QB-WR duos in the NFL. Among quarterback and pass-catcher combinations with at least 10 targets, the Brady-Gronkowski connection has the third-best passer rating in the league.
Here's where it gets even more interesting. The Brady-Gronkowski duo (combined age: 76) has not taken an easy route to this impressive level of production. In fact, according to Next Gen Stats, they probably shouldn't be doing as well as they are to this point.
Next Gen Stats charts every throw and assigns an "Expected Completion Percentage," or xCOMP %. This is defined as: "A quarterback's average 'Completion Probability' which represents the aggregate level of difficulty of a set pass attempts." In other words, given thousands of other similar throws in the NFL, how likely is any given pass to be caught.
Next Gen Stats expected Brady to complete 72.2% of the 13 specific throws he has made to Gronkowski. Instead, he has completed 92.3% of his throws, which means he has completed 20.1% more of them than one should expect. That number falls under a stat Next Gen calls "Completion Percentage Above Expectation," or CPOE. As it turns out, that's an impressive number.
In fact, among duos with at least 10 targets between them this year, that's the single best CPOE in the entire league.
NFL Next Gen Stats also calculates a statistic called "Total Expected Points Added." Let's let them explain:
"Total Expected Points Added - This is based off of our Expected Points model, which uses historical data to determine the (expected) number of points the offense will score on the current drive given situational factors like down, distance, field position, etc. 'Expected Points Added' is the change in this value from it's pre-snap state to post-play based on the results of the play. Whereas using yards gained to evaluate the success of a play will ignore important situational context, EPA normalizes the situation and accounts for the differences between a 3 yard gain on 1st and 10 compared to 3rd and 2."
So, basically, how much more likely is your team to score points after any given play? Tom Brady throwing the ball to Rob Gronkowski has definitely increased the Bucs' chances of scoring this year. Brady-to-Gronk has the ninth best Total EPA in the NFL through two weeks, at 13.8. That ranks second among all QB-TE combinations behind Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce, who lead all duos regardless of position with 17.2 CPOE.
So, yes, you already knew that Brady-to-Gronkowski had been magic this year, and pretty much for the last decade. Perhaps you didn't know how well these two grizzled veterans were performing as compared to expectations.