The meaning of Tom Brady lies in his recipe for greatness


Beyond the obvious essentials of accuracy and smarts and competitiveness and quick decision-making, what makes a great quarterback in the modern game? Five things, I think:

  1. Mastery of the thousand little things the position demands, and actual enjoyment in the road to that mastery.
  2. Total unselfishness. As Bo Schembechler once said, “The team, the team, the team.”
  3. Treating your body and your brain like a temple. Those Ken Stabler drink-all-night-and-play days are dead forever.
  4. Embracing continuing education about the position and the game.
  5. Being a beacon for the position and the game, and wanting to leave it in a better place than you found it.

Tom Brady, five for five.

There will be those who won’t want another hagiography on Brady in the wake of his retirement, maybe because they’re just sick of him, maybe because they’ll always view him with suspicion after he was suspended for four games for his alleged role in deflating footballs in 2015. Deflategate’s a part of Brady’s legacy. Everything counts. But there is so much unproven in that investigation, and I’ve never felt that a series of “more probable than not” findings should put a scarlet letter “D” on Brady’s legacy. So on with it.

The Brady ethos surfaced just weeks after he was drafted 199th overall in 2000. Then-Patriots personnel czar Scott Pioli saw the lights on in the team’s indoor workout facility around 9 one spring night. In the place was Brady, then totally unknown, throwing footballs into target-nets. Pioli said hi. Brady said, “Don’t tell anyone you saw me.”

The ethos never stopped. Through big losses (Giants, Giants), through personal strife (his mother’s cancer battle), through marital strife (the Gisele divorce) perhaps brought on by his insatiable desire to play football, Brady kept up the precedent-setting unique care and feeding of the best quarterback in the world. When I met him for an interview in 2017, twice he emptied TB12 electrolyte packets into his bottles of Vitamin Water Zero—he did it almost without noticing. I asked him if he missed going out with his buddies and having nine beers one night in the off-season. “I’ve done that before,” he said, “and this [winning Super Bowls] is a lot more fun.”

The work showed up in games, and in playing till 45: In his last 14 seasons as a football player, from age 32 to age 45, he played 258 football games and missed none due to injury. John Elway played 256—in his NFL career.

As for my list of five things, let’s look at number one. I’m going to tell you a story I’ve told before, but it’s the perfect explanation for why Brady became the best to ever do it.

Brady doesn’t think this, but I’ll always think his greatest game was the comeback from 28-3 against Atlanta in the Super Bowl. “I don’t really consider playing a good quarter-and-a-half plus overtime as one of the ‘best games ever,’” he said.

Putting up 31 points in 28 minutes, playing the most snaps in a game (99) in his career, getting tattooed all game by Grady Jarrett and the Falcons’ front, and using Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell as his most trusted wide receivers late in the game. Coming back from a crap start in the biggest game of the year. That’s what the greats do, in the biggest games they play.

The thing about that game that’s never gotten the attention it deserved was Brady iso-ing two bottom-of-the-roster guys to win a Super Bowl. On the third play of overtime, Hogan, a spare piece in bits of 10 NFL seasons, was singled left on a second-round corner, Jalen Collins. Brady, standing at his 37-yard line, saw Hogan and Collins running together at the Atlanta 45. Brady threw to a spot about 23 yards downfield, to the left, with Hogan not looking. Hogan dug his foot into the ground at the Atlanta 37- and boomeranged back, not seeing the ball till it was two-thirds of the way to him, Collins a step behind him. The ball hit Hogan in the hands at the 40-, and he efforted ahead to the Atlanta 37-.

No one remembers those plays. No one remember Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell in the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. But there’s no more perfect way to remember Brady’s career than late comeback-route completions of 12, 16, 11 and 18 yards to players who aren’t household names in their own households.

I wondered about those anticipation throws. I said if you throw it 20 or 25 yards and your guy doesn’t get the perfect break, that easily could be an interception.

“That’s a lot of throws,’’ Brady said. “That’s 111 practices that we had. That’s however many games. Films, meetings. It’s got to be like clockwork. The trust has to be built over a long time.”

That’s the essence of Brady. Give him trustworthy workers, protect him okay, and you’ll win.

The little things. “Other than playing football, the other thing I love to do is prepare to play football,” he told me in 2017. “It doesn’t ever feel like a sacrifice to me. Football’s a job, but it’s never felt like a job to me.”

Unselfishness. Brady was never a pig at the salary-cap trough. Coming off that Atlanta Super Bowl win, in 2017, Brady’s salary was 8.3 percent of the team’s cap. The year New England went 16-0 in the regular season, Brady was 6.7 percent of the cap. Just spend to the cap every year, and I’ll be reasonable, he’d tell Pioli and his successors with the keys to the Patriots’ vault. When Brady won Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year in 2005, magazine editor Terry McDonell referenced Brady’s contractual unselfishness as part of the reason for the award.

Fitness. Brady on football fitness, and thinking for yourself, and not just buying into the you-gotta-lift-more-weights drill that lords over football training: “Strength is very important to your job. But how much strength do you need? You only need the strength to withstand the hits and throw the ball and make your movements of being a quarterback. You need conditioning because you need to be able to do that over a period of time, certainly a season. You need muscle pliability—long, soft, muscles in order to be durable. How do you work on durability? That’s what I’ve figured out. It’s hard for me to get hurt, knock on wood. Anything can happen in football. But I want to put myself in a position to be able to withstand the car crash before I get the car crash. It’s going to be really hard for me to have a muscle injury, based off the health of my muscle tissue and the way that I try to take care of it. Your muscle and your body allow you to play this great sport.’’

Continuing education. How possibly could Brady have thrown 150,000 passes in his professional life—that’s being conservative; he threw 13,971 in games, and at bare minimum, 10 times that in practices—and never suffer a significant arm injury? Pliability, for one thing, and the tutelage of throwing mentors Tom House and Adam Dedeaux, who he worked with every off-season in California, and the body work of longtime trainer Alex Guerrero. As someone close to Brady told me the other day, “He’s not retiring because he can’t throw anymore. His arm doesn’t hurt.” As Brady said to me a few years ago, “I’ve got the answers to the test now.” That’s not just the mental parts of the test. It’s everything.

Lastly, leaving the game better than he found it. After one of the most exhilarating wins of his life—New England 37, Kansas City 31, a whoever-has-the-ball-last-wins duel with Patrick Mahomes in the 2018 AFC title game—Brady left the celebration in the cramped visitors’ locker room at Arrowhead Stadium and said, “I want to see Patrick” to a team official. By my watch, he was gone for 12 minutes. I would know. I was working the locker room, but waiting for Brady, all the while with one eye on his wooden stool stamped with the Chiefs’ logo. Empty.

When Brady came back, he spent the first of our seven minutes together raving about Mahomes. The leadership, the poise, the will. At the time, Brady was 41 and Mahomes 23. “He didn’t have to do that,” Andy Reid said. “There was nobody there to see it. It was one veteran competitor lifting up one young competitor.” The message had a big impact on Mahomes. Keep doing what you’re doing, keep putting in the work, you’ll have a lot more of these chances. Brady reached out again after Mahomes sprained his ankle and hobbled through the playoff win over Jacksonville. Brady’s message: That’s what I’m talking about! That’s what champions do!

Mahomes, 27, enters his third Super Bowl this week against Philadelphia, buoyed by one of the great coaches in the game, Reid, who’s not going anywhere. Brady was 27 when he played in his third, with one of the best coaches ever, Bill Belichick, ensuring they’d stay near the top. I’m not saying Mahomes will do what Brady did and play in 10 of them and win seven. I sincerely doubt he will; Brady had only Peyton Manning among premier AFC passers to beat every year, while Mahomes has Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert and Lamar Jackson if he stays in Baltimore. But of all the quarterbacks playing today, which one has the ethos closest to Brady? It’s Mahomes—with a mental assist from Brady.

Brady will always be there for Mahomes—that’s how much he respects him. He’ll be there for others too, now that he’s done. Brady will find something else to do now, but he’ll always have a line out to the players he respects. He’s done, but he’s not done contributing to football.

Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column

Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft CB Rankings: Devon Witherspoon highlights loaded draft class


The 2023 NFL Draft is growing nearer, with just weeks remaining until teams make selections that could alter the future of their franchise forever.

A solid secondary is crucial to any team’s defensive prowess, and for the teams looking to tighten up in coverage, this year’s draft is the one to do so.

The 2023 NFL Draft cornerback class is an incredibly deep one, but which corner will be first off the board? Chris Simms unveiled his 2023 NFL Draft Cornerback rankings this week on the Chris Simms Unbuttoned podcast, posting Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon at the top of his list of corners in this year’s crop.

But trailing Witherspoon very closely are four other potential NFL superstars, with Simms ranking Michigan’s DJ Turner at No. 2, Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez at No. 3, Maryland’s Deonte Banks at No. 4 and Georgia’s Kelee Ringo at No. 5.

The 2023 NFL Draft will begin on Thursday, April 27, and end on Saturday, April 29. The first round will take place on Thursday with rounds two and three airing on Friday and rounds four through seven on Saturday. Click here for Simms’ quarterback rankings,and here for his list of top wide receivers.

RELATED: When is the 2023 NFL Draft? Date, start time, location, Round 1 order

Simms’ Top Five CB prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft

Tier One

1. Devon Witherspoon, Illinois

2. DJ Turner, Michigan

3. Christian Gonzalez, Oregon

Tier Two

4. Deonte Banks, Maryland

Tier Three

5. Kelee Ringo, Georgia

RELATED: 2023 NFL Draft order: Complete list of every pick from Round 1 through Round 7

Simms Breaks Down 2023 Draft CB Rankings

The following are highlights from Simms’ CB draft rankings. For Simms’ in-depth analysis, read below for a breakdown on each prospect and be sure to subscribe to Chris Simms Unbuttoned for an unfiltered look at the NFL, featuring player access, unabashed opinion, X&O film breakdown, and stories from a life in and around football.

No. 1: Devon Witherspoon, Illinois

What Simms said: “This guy is must-see TV. He’s up there with one of the most twitchy, sudden people I’ve ever seen in my life to the point where when he takes off, you’re like, ‘Wait, is that real? Did he really get to full speed in half a step?’ … Bump or off, both are phenomenol —  it’s rare to have that. He’s got very good play strength for a guy that’s 5’11” and a half at 181 lbs. He doesn’t know that, he thinks he’s 220 … It’s efficient and easy. He’s sudden and can see the ability to accelerate whether it’s downhill or sticking the foot in the ground and changing direction. As compared to my No. 2 and No. 3 guy, he might be a hair tighter in his hips, but his twitchiness and explosion and acceleration … you just start to go, ‘What does this guy not have, besides the fact that he’s not 6’2” or over 200 lbs.’ He’s phenomenol.”

No. 2: DJ Turner, Michigan

What Simms said: “To me, (DJ Turner is) the most technically sound corner in the draft. There’s nobody better at technique. Like Witherspoon, the ability to mirror receivers at the line of scrimmage, the quick feet, it’s phenomenol. His hips are better than Witherspoon … His ability to flip those hips, turn and break on the ball, it’s right up there. It’s actually more smooth hip-wise than it is for Devon Witherspoon … What more can you say about the guy? Start-stop ability, amazing. Make-up speed, amazing. Other than Witherspoon, I think he’s put in the second-most tough spots out of anybody I’ve watched in this. He plays man-to-man, in your face a ton against big-time receivers. He’s awesome defending double moves. He could be the best nickel or outside guy, and he’s also the fastest guy in the draft. He’s got it all.”

No. 3: Christian Gonzalez, Oregon

What Simms said: “There’s not much to pick apart here … He’s got a little more size and meat on his bones. The Tee Higgins of the world, the bigger receivers of the world, they’re gonna have a harder time pushing him around and doing that stuff. He’s got incredible ball skills … He looks prototype. He looks Darrelle Revis, Champ Bailey-ish in his uniform …  He just wasn’t as edgy as the other guys … He’s gonna match up better with DeAndre Hopkins than the other two. But I don’t know if he’ll match up better with Jaylen Waddle or Ja’Marr Chase than the other two … But his technique is real. He’s a top-20 pick. You talk size, technique and straight speed, of course this guy is one of the top corners in the draft.” 

No. 4: Deonte Banks, Maryland

What Simms said: “He has more measurables like Gonzalez. 6 foot, 197 lbs., there’s a thickness to him and a power and strength element that certainly jumps out. Let alone, speed is Real Deal Holyfield … man-to-man, great legs, runs easy … He’s comfortable in his speed. He’s never panicked. He’s comfortable in going, ‘You have a step on me? That’s fine, I’m good,’ … But he’s also incredible, like Witherspoon and Turner, at getting on top of people when they try to run a go-route. No one can ever really get around him for the most part … He’s sticky as hell, he’s got very good feet, but he doesn’t know how to use his hands at all yet. So he’s not really that great at jamming people at the line of scrimmage, but he’s never not there … I thought his ability to play the ball and create PBUs in those 50/50 situations where the quarterback tries to throw the ball back shoulder and all that, he’s got a great feel and vision to be able to cover and see the throw at the same time that I was very impressed with.”

No. 5: Kelee Ringo, Georgia

What Simms said: “When you turn on the film, you go, ‘What? This guy’s a corner, he’s not a safety?’ Because he has a prototype safety vibe … Against the bigger, straight-liner guys, nobody’s gonna push this dude around. That’s certainly not going to be an issue, that along with the straight speed. Hey, the change of direction stuff is not beautiful. He’s a little heavy-footed because he’s a bigger guy … but it’s not bad … When he opens up, he can really go; obviously with a 4.36 second 40 time … He’s very smooth as far as an athlete overall.” 

For more preview content of the 2023 NFL Draft, stay tuned to Chris Simms UnbuttonedProFootballTalk and NBC Sports EDGE for all the latest updates, player analysis and mock drafts.

Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft Position Rankings: The top QBs, WRs, RBs, and more ahead of draft weekend


The 2023 NFL Draft takes place on Thursday, April 27 through Saturday, April 29 in Kansas City, Missouri. Click here for the full first-round draft order to find out when your team is picking.

Ahead of this year’s draft, Chris Simms has already started analyzing the top prospects by position on the Chris Simms Unbuttoned podcast. So far, Simms has revealed his highly anticipated list of the top 5 quarterback prospects and wide receivers. See below to find out who made the top 5 names for each position and be sure to check back for updates!

Be sure to subscribe to Chris Simms Unbuttoned for more on the 2023 NFL Draft as well as an unfiltered look at the NFL, featuring player access, unabashed opinion, X&O film breakdown, and stories from a life in and around football.

RELATED: When is the 2023 NFL Draft? Date, start time, location, Round 1 order

Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft Position Rankings:

Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft QB Rankings:

  1. C.J. Stroud, Ohio State
  2. Bryce Young, Alabama
  3. Hendon Hooker, Tennessee
  4. Anthony Richardson, Florida
  5. Dorian Thompson-Robinson, UCLA and Will Levis, Kentucky

Chris Simms’ 2023 NFL Draft WR Rankings:

  1. Zay Flowers, Boston College
  2. Jaxon Smith-Njibga, Ohio State
  3. Quentin Jonston, TCU
  4. Michael Wilson, Stanford
  5. Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee

Chris Simms 2023 NFL Draft Cornerback Rankings

  1. Devon Witherspoon, Illinois
  2. DJ Turner, Michigan
  3. Christian Gonzalez, Oregon
  4. Deonte Banks, Maryland
  5. Kelee Ringo, Georgia

How can I watch the 2023 NFL Draft live?

ESPN, ABC, and NFL Network will air all seven rounds of the 2023 NFL Draft.

What time does the NFL Draft start?

The first round of the 2023 NFL Draft will get underway on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET. Rounds two and three will commence Friday at 7 p.m. ET, with Saturday’s final rounds at 12 p.m.

Follow along with ProFootballTalk for the latest news, storylines, and updates surrounding the 2023 NFL Season and be sure to subscribe to NFLonNBC on YouTube!