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PUBLISHED Jan. 11, 2022, at 6:00 AM

The NFL Really Does Revolve Around Tom Brady

Explore his connections to other quarterbacks through the touchdown-catching receivers they share.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady needs no introduction. Widely regarded as the greatest player in pro football history — and gunning for his record-extending eighth Super Bowl ring in this, his 22nd NFL season — Brady is the league’s all-time career leader in QB wins, passing yards and touchdown passes (among many other categories). Brady has been at the top of the game for so long that he has played with more than 200 teammates in the Super Bowl alone, to say nothing of the other players whose paths he crossed along the way. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that the NFL has revolved around Brady over the years.

We can even demonstrate this visually. To see how vast a QB’s solar system is, we traced touchdown passes from a quarterback to a receiver, looking for the pairs who have shared at least five TDs. We then followed arcs of receivers to other quarterbacks, establishing levels of links echoing from the initial QB. If Brady were a star in a solar system, connected to other QBs through the significant receivers they share, his gravitational pull would be tough to escape.

With his long career and many touchdown passes, Brady is an excellent starting point to see how expansive a quarterback’s network across the NFL can be. The visualization below displays the two closest rings — out of five total rings — of quarterbacks with paths to Brady. Some connections are tenuous, while others are sprawling. Though there are myriad paths from one quarterback to another, we are showing only the strongest connection between quarterbacks in touchdowns thrown to the shared receiver(s). For example, Brady shares multiple receivers directly with Drew Brees — with Brandin Cooks highlighted — who already has a dense set of receivers. This expands Brady’s system exponentially into the second ring.

Given that Brady is the only quarterback to surpass 700 total passing touchdowns, it’s no surprise that his gravity is so vast. But even other quarterbacks in the touchdown top 20 have very different networks. Take Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers, with his 494 TDs in 234 total games. His long tenure with just one team gives him significantly fewer connections than a quarterback like Vinny Testaverde, who played in 240 games but with six different teams.1Counting his stint with the Browns/Ravens from 1993 through 1997 as one team. Testaverde threw 281 touchdowns — more than 200 fewer than Rodgers — but his first-ring quarterback network is twice as large as that of the Packers star.

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Navigate the rest of the NFL galaxy

Start with a quarterback (or randomize!) to see how QBs and receivers orbit each other, creating each signal-caller’s system.

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Design and development by Anna Wiederkehr and Jay Boice. Text by Neil Paine. Visual editing by Christopher Groskopf. Art by Emily Scherer. Story editing by Sara Ziegler. Copy editing by Santul Nerkar.