Throughout the Patriots dynasty, one of the most crucial aspects of remaining competitive has been smart and clever drafting. Over these decades, Belichick has found his share of late-round steals and hidden talents. Here are the best drafts Bill has put together here in New England.
The 2009 class was a VERY close miss, with multiple starters that are still on the team today getting drafted. 2012 saw the introduction of star defenders Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower, but they also fell short. The 2019 draft, among other recent drafts, have the potential to be great as well, with Isaiah Wynn, Sony Michel, Chase Winovich, and N’Keal Harry, among others, advancing in their development. But of course, they aren’t exactly there yet.
There were ten picks in this draft for the Patriots, six being completely useless and two remaining relevant for only a short time. Kenyatta Jones played three seasons in the NFL but was a great starter for the Pats in 2002. Fellow fourth-rounder Jabari Holloway wasn’t as lucky, a starter for one season but with a different team. But besides those okay picks, the first two choices in the draft are what stand out.
Richard Seymour, the 6th overall pick, became a three-time All-Pro, made five Pro Bowls and was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s All-2000s First Team. He places seventh in Patriots sack history, and eight in value among Patriots defenders. He was a top-10 player in his draft class, so his selection wasn’t exactly a steal like the previous selections. But he filled a clear need and its not the end of the world if Belichick doesn’t steal all of his stars late in drafts. Oh yeah, and as of writing this, he is a finalist for the upcoming Hall of Fame class.
In the middle of the second round, the Patriots found their steal of the draft in left tackle Matt Light. He played his entire career in New England, and in five Super Bowls. He was an All-Pro during the historic 2007 season, on top of making three Pro Bowls. Light was a top 10 player in the draft, as well as in Patriots history. Not too shabby indeed.
Yes, it may seem a bit low, due to the fact that the greatest player of all time was selected here in the sixth round. Yet outside of Tom Brady, this group was rather below average.
The Pats didn’t have a first-round pick in the draft, as it was the compensation for bringing in Belichick from the jets. So in the second round, their first pick of the draft was spent on guard Adrian Klemm. He was the fourth-best player Belichick brought in this draft, and the only year he was a starter was with the Packers in his fifth and last year in the NFL.
Then there was fourth-round tackle Greg Randall, who started every game in 2001. But he would only be a starter for one more season in his career, and that was with the Texans. Yet this was enough to be the second-best player the Patriots drafted in 2000.
After Brady in the seventh-round, the Patriots selected fullback Patrick Pass. He played his role pretty well, especially in his final two years in New England, but that role was not honestly very impactful at least when compared to pretty much everyone else on the offense.
But there is still Brady, and he alone saves this class from being one of Bill’s worst. Like Gronk, not much has not already been said about Brady. All you really got to know is he is easily a top-five player in NFL history skill-wise, and simply the most valuable player ever. Period.
With 12 picks available for Bill, including five in the first three rounds, something positive was sure to result. And it definitely did, with seven picks falling in the top 75 of the draft, and two in the top 15.
The first round brought in safety Devin McCourty, who was the first of many steals in this class. He has been the centerpiece of the Patriots defense with his tackling ability, and his talent for recognizing plays and then adjusting the defense in the moment. He is top ten in Patriots all-time interceptions, third in Patriots tackles, and first in passes defended. Last year he was placed on the NFL’s top 100 list, and will certainly be there again this year.
The next Patriots pick became arguably the best tight end of all time. I’m of course talking about Rob Gronkowski. He fell in the draft due to injury concerns, but now he is considered one of the biggest draft steals in history. There isn’t much that hasn’t already been said, so I’ll just finish by stating some accolades: seven top-50 finishes on the NFL’s Top 100 Players list, four All-Pro selections, five Pro Bowls, and three championships, all in only nine years.
The other two second-rounders resulted in one-year starter Jermaine Cunningham and solid starter Brandon Spikes. While Spikes was constantly found in trouble, his final two years in New England were pretty impressive.
Then there is the big “what if”, Aaron Hernandez. Taken in the fourth round, Aaron looked like a clear steal after dropping 900 yards and seven touchdowns in only his second season. While the 23-year-old followed that up with only a decent campaign due to only playing ten games, that would be the conclusion of his once-promising career. He was arrested and later convicted of first-degree murder for the 2013 shooting death of Odin Lloyd. Nonetheless, it was still technically a good pickup for Belichick, as he recognized Hernandez’s talent and Aaron did contribute greatly to the offense.
Near the end of the draft, the Pats found two more solid starters. Punter Zoltan Mesko was solid in his three seasons, even arguably being top ten in the league. Then there was center Ted Larsen, who never played for the Patriots. But he did start for six seasons with a handful of teams and was pretty impactful wherever he played.
ANOTHER draft from the early years of the Patriots dynasty, it still undoubtedly deserves its spot on this list. It is very underrated, due mostly to it only resulted in one Patriots superstar. But this draft shows the rare occasion where quantity rules over quality. The Patriots drafted four solid starters (all four being top 70 players in the draft) in addition to their star pick, though some would reach their peaks with other teams.
Ellis Hobbs would come early in the third round and would find himself as the Patriots kickoff return-man and starting cornerback. On the return side of things, he would find himself the league’s best in his third and fourth seasons. He even returned three for touchdowns in his final three years in New England. Ellis was pretty impressive on the defensive end too, averaging over two interceptions and 10 passes defended with the Pats.
Nick Kaczur was also taken in the third round, and was even more valuable than Hobbs. The Canadian right tackle started all five years of his career, all with the Patriots. He got better as he got older, hitting his prime at 28 and continuing that play until 30, before retiring partly due to a back injury.
The Patriots also drafted a cornerback in the fourth round, James Sanders. He wasn’t as impactful in his time as a starter, but he did average well over one interception and almost exactly 50 tackles in his time with the Pats. He would leave the squad in 2011, and his career fell from there.
The Patriots once again struck a solid QB in the late rounds in the draft, this time being Matt Cassel. He was Brady’s backup for his first three seasons, but after Tom went down Cassel took his place. With him at the helm, the Pats won 11 games thanks to Cassel playing like a top 10 QB. They capitalized on the newfound value within the squad and traded him in a deal sending a second-rounder the other way at the end of the season. He would only be able to live up to that level of play once more in 2010, which resulted in a Pro Bowl.
But of course, the highlight of the draft was star left guard Logan Mankins. He was picked with the final selection of the first round and had the best career out of all of his fellow draftees besides Aaron Rodgers. He started every year of his career, including his final two with Tampa Bay. Mankins made the NFL’s Top 100 list in each of his last three years in New England and would’ve been there more if it was formed earlier in his career. He is undoubtedly a top-five player in Patriots history, pushing the class to number three on this list.
This draft contained four eventual multi-year starters, another one-year starter, with two top 10 players in the draft. The class began with a first-round selection of Ty Warren. While Ty didn’t exactly live up to being the number 13 pick, he did start six years while averaging three sacks per season. But Warren’s value came from his presence on the line, and even the statistics can’t show just how impactful he was.
Then in the second round came another long-term starter in safety Eugene Wilson. He had four interceptions in each of his first two seasons, but after a solid third season, he began to regress as injuries began to take their toll. Wilson stopped starting games after his injuries, before getting an increased role with the Texans.
The true talents began to appear in the fourth and fifth rounds, starting with Asante Samuel. In five years with the Patriots he racked up 22 picks, including one year with 10. He also had nearly 80 passes defended with the Pats as well. But of course, this couldn’t last, and he left New England for Philadelphia in 2008. He had three more insane seasons before he began to regress, retiring after the 2013 season. He finished his career with four Pro Bowls and one All-Pro selection.
In the fifth round, the Patriots grabbed center Dan Koppen from Boston College to replace star center, Damien Woody. Koppen started 120 of 121 games played for New England, receiving one Pro Bowl nod in the middle of that run. Koppen is the best center in Patriots history, so enough said.
Also, there was seventh-round pick Tully Banta-Cain. His first four years with the Pats were nothing special, but he returned hot three seasons later. In his last two seasons of his career in that second stint, he averaged 7.5 sacks and 15 QB hits. Those 15 sacks are 2.5 more than he had the six prior years of his career.
All of these drafts were spectacular, but the sheer amount of steals Belichick grabbed, in addition to all of the starters he chose, puts this class on top. This draft set the Pats up to win an additional Super Bowl the following year, and kept the team competitive for the rest of the decade.