Tom Brady vs Joe Burrow: Is Burrow better than Brady at this stage of his career?

Tom Brady vs Joe Burrow at 26
Posted at 10:45 AM, Feb 01, 2023

CINCINNATI — Tom Brady has announced his retirement. Again. This time it seems like it's for good.

Brady's Hall of Fame career was one that kicked into high gear when he was very young. Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow can say the same.

While Burrow has a long way to go to make total career comparisons to the most accomplished NFL player of all-time, Burrow has done a lot for his age. Here's a look at how Burrow compares to Brady at the same age of 26, broken down into three categories: Accomplishments & wins, stats, and the eye test.

Brady: 2 Super Bowl wins, 2 AFC Championships; 1 Pro Bowl selection
Burrow: 1 AFC Championship; 1 Pro Bowl selection; Comeback Player of the Year
Brady: 34-12 (74%)
Burrow: 24-17-1 (57%)

Both QBs had shortened first seasons as a starter: Brady took over mid-season when Drew Bledsoe was injured. Burrow tore his ACL in Week 10.

Brady was blessed with a much better defense in his first year, which helped propel him to winning the Super Bowl. Burrow's team in Year 1 was not a good squad, posting just 2 wins while Burrow was under center.

The Bengals turned it around in Burrow's second year, getting hot at the right time on the way to the Super Bowl. Burrow, despite being sacked a record amount of times in the playoffs, led the team to just one possession away from winning that Super Bowl. In Brady's second year, his first full year as a starter, the team took a step back, posting only a 9-7 record, despite improving performance from Brady.

At 26, both quarterbacks posted their best numbers of their young careers, with Brady winning his second Super Bowl and Burrow making his second straight AFC Championship, losing to the Chiefs by only three points (one possession away in his final game of the season for the second straight year). Both QBs also had their best regular seasons to date, with Brady leading the Pats to a 14-2 record and Burrow with a 12-4 record.

While Burrow was in the ball park of where Tom was, Brady found ways to win when Joe didn't. The particular comparison that comes to mind is in the last minute drives when each QB was 26 in a tie game in the playoffs. In his second Super Bowl, Brady was able to lead his team into field goal range for a last second field goal to win it. Burrow had the ball with less than 2 minutes left in the AFC Championship against the Chiefs and couldn't get the job done.

Brady (47 games): 62.1% completion; 69 TDs, 38 INTs; 10,227 yards
Burrow (42 games): 68.2% completion; 82 TDs, 31 INTs, 11,774 yards

This is where we have to acknowledge how the NFL has changed in the past 20 years. In 2001-2003, the NFL was not as pass heavy as it is today. So while some of these statistical comparisons aren't totally fair, Burrow has put up bigger numbers, in fewer games than Brady.

To be fair to Brady, Joe Burrow has a Number 1 overall draft pick to throw to in the form of Ja'Marr Chase, as well as a top tier performer in Tee Higgins, and a great third option in Tyler Boyd. Brady was throwing to a top target Terry Glenn in his first year, but after that had middle of the road receivers at best with slot receiver Troy Brown, David Patten and Deion Branch. None of those receivers eclipsed 1,000 yards.

But to give credit where it's due to Burrow, he has had to deal with a challenging offensive line, where Brady played with several All-Pro guys in his first few years.

WINNER: Burrow
Joe's completion percentage alone is reason for him to win this category, but add on his higher number of yards and touchdowns with fewer games played at 26, and he is statistically further along at the same age as Brady. This is not even including the rushing numbers - which Burrow wins by a mile over Brady. One more blemish for Brady: He fumbled the ball 36 times compared to Burrow's 20 times by age 26.

Brady: Strong pocket presence; smart decision making; accuracy
Burrow: Strong arm; active legs; accuracy

Bit more subjective here, but raw talent evaluation can be the tiebreaker when you remove the situational stuff around each quarterback.

Brady was smart with the ball in his younger years with a lot of check down passes to his running backs (Kevin Faulk). He was also always ready to take a hit in the pocket, which was the way he dealt with his lack of mobility. This allowed that extra second for receivers to get open and complete passes downfield.

Burrow has been much more athletically gifted in his first few years. He is able to extend plays with his agility, scamper downfield on runs when it's called for, and his arm strength is much further along than Brady's was at this point in their careers.

A tie between both comes down to pass placement: Both QBs excelled at back-shoulder fade throws to the sideline that only their receivers could catch, or throwing the ball over the middle in the right spot where the defense couldn't make a play.

WINNER: Burrow (by a hair)
Burrow's skillset lends itself to more play creation, and more flexibility for an offense to score. If Brady's reads didn't pan out, he was stuck. Plus, Brady's offensive scheme in his early years catered to the limits of his style of play with lots of play action and short route passes. It wasn't until later in Brady's career when he had teammates like Randy Moss and Rob Gronkowski that he was able to spread the field like Burrow has done in his first few years in the NFL.

Brady is the GOAT in terms of an NFL career: There's no arguing that. But in his younger years, while he accomplished more in terms of wins and accolades in his time at 26 years old than Burrow, Joey B has made more individual contributions, with his talent shining brighter than a young Brady. If Joe Brr stays on this path, and plays until he's 45, we very well could be talking about him as the GOAT one day.