Too many guys winning too many Super Bowls. That’s what drove some of the most talented but somewhat snakebit players of the Bill Belichick Era down the list into this group from 21 to 30.
But before we get to them, at 21 we have a guy who wasn’t on the list at all in 2015, Patrick Chung. A mainstay next to Devin McCourty at the back of the defense, Chung won three Super Bowls and played in all five during the decade. After his one year sabbatical in Philadelphia in 2013, Chung returned to the Patriots in 2014 and started 18 games making 68 tackles in those games.
21. Patrick Chung
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Years in NE: 10 | All-Pro: 0 | Pro Bowls: 0 | SB wins: 3 | SB appearances: 5 | 2015 rank: N/R
When he retired earlier this year, Belichick said, “Patrick Chung is a special person and player, one of the pillars of our program and truly in the upper echelon of the many greats I have had the privilege to coach. It all stems from his passion for the game and tone-setting, team-first attitude. Pat’s combination of toughness, intelligence and versatility was exceptional and it enabled him to perform more roles than most any player I have ever seen. In any setting, whether in the locker room, in meetings, on the practice field, during games and in the biggest moments, Pat was everything a coach could want.”
Good enough for me.
New England Patriots
22. Rob Ninkovich
Years in NE: 8 | All-Pro: 0 | Pro Bowls: 0 | SB wins: 2 | SB appearances: 3 | 2015 rank: 21
Right behind Chung at 22 is Rob Ninkovich. An underrated player and athlete who didn’t just play every single game from 2010 to 2015, he played almost every defensive snap in every game some years. His sack of Russell Wilson on a key third down at the start of the third quarter in Super Bowl 49 was a play that jump-started the Patriots comeback against the Seahawks. Indestructible. He won rings in 2014 and 2016.
23. Logan Mankins
Years in NE: 9 | All-Pro: 1 | Pro Bowls: 6 | SB wins: 0 | SB appearances: 2 | 2015 rank: 14
Next up is Logan Mankins. He came into the league in 2005 and served with unrivaled toughness, effectiveness and leadership until August 2014 when he was traded to Tampa. So he came in right after the run of rings and left right before the second run of rings. And if contributing to Super Bowls matters -- and on this list, it does -- it’s hard to put this great player ahead of the guys who did win rings.
24. Wes Welker
Years in NE: 6 | All-Pro: 2 | Pro Bowls: 5 | SB wins: 0 | SB appearances: 2 | 2015 rank: 13
Same goes for Wes Welker who is at 24. Between he and Mankins, there were 11 Pro Bowls and three All-Pro honors. Welker averaged -- averaged -- 112 catches and 1,243 yards from 2007 through 2012. Want to make a case to put him higher? I understand. I’ll listen. But in the end, he’s here because the Super Bowls matter.
25. Stephon Gilmore
Years in NE: 4 | All-Pro: 2 | Pro Bowls: 3 | SB wins: 1 | SB appearances: 2 | 2015 rank: N/R
A player who did win a Super Bowl -- and made a key pick to help seal it -- is right behind Welker. Gilmore is the best big-money free agent signing of the Belichick era, coming aboard in 2017, having All-Pro seasons in 2018 and 2019 and winning Defensive Player of the Year in 2019. His relative short tenure compared to the guys ahead of him puts him right here.
26. Randy Moss
Years in NE: 4 | All-Pro: 1 | Pro Bowls: 1 | SB wins: 0 | SB appearances: 1 | 2015 rank: 16
Another short-timer who left an indelible mark is at 26. Randy Moss set an NFL record for touchdown catches in a season in 2007 (23) and caught what woulda, coulda, shoulda been the game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl 42 against the Giants. He left ringless after three-plus seasons but what he did for that ill-fated Patriots team (98 catches, 1,493 yards and the 23 scores) was way more than anyone envisioned when he came to the Patriots via a draft-weekend trade with the Raiders.
27. Ted Johnson
Years in NE: 10 | All-Pro: 0 | Pro Bowls: 0 | SB wins: 3 | SB appearances: 4 | 2015 rank: 37
Ted Johnson won three rings and was a mainstay at the second level of the Patriots defense through 2004. As talented and versatile as Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel were, Johnson brought run-stopping toughness to those Patriots teams and he might have had his best season for the Patriots on the best team of the Belichick Era, the 2004 edition.
28. Dan Koppen
Years in NE: 12 | All-Pro: 0 | Pro Bowls: 1 | SB wins: 2 | SB appearances: 3 | 2015 rank: 22
Dan Koppen might get overlooked a little bit in this dynastic run. He shouldn’t. He was the center on the 2003 and 2004 teams and was with the Patriots for a total of 12 seasons. The speed with which the Patriots ran their offense from 2007 through Koppen’s last season with the team in 2011 put immense heat on all the linemen but especially on Koppen, who had to share a brain with Tom Brady and make sure everything was locked down in a hurry when the Patriots went turbo. Tremendously durable, except for 2005 and his final year with the team, Koppen played 16 games six times and 15 games in the other year.
29. Roman Phifer
Years in NE: 4 | All-Pro: 0 | Pro Bowls: 0 | SB wins: 3 | SB appearances: 3 | 2015 rank: 18
Roman Phifer was a must-have for Bill Belichick when he took over. It took Belichick a year to pry him loose from the Jets but he did in 2001. A grizzled veteran by that time, Belichick wooed Phifer to New England because he had a specific set of skills -- coverage linebacker with the speed to come off the edge when necessary and the power to stand up in the running game. Plus, when you talk about a pro’s pro and the kind of player who helped set the culture, “Phif” did all that in his four years with the team from 2001 through 2004.
30. Lawyer Milloy
Years in NE: 7 | All-Pro: 1 | Pro Bowls: 4 | SB wins: 1 | SB appearances: 2 | 2015 rank: 27
Rounding out the top 30? Lawyer Milloy. In the end, he played three seasons for Bill Belichick’s Patriots. And he was capably replaced by Rodney Harrison in 2003 and beyond. But he has to be on this list because of everything he meant to that 2001 team. Remember, Tedy Bruschi wasn’t yet Tedy Bruschi. And Mike Vrabel and Richard Seymour were just getting started with the team. Milloy was a Parcells holdover who wore his heart on his sleeve and -- for a team that thrived on emotion, physicality and intensity, Milloy was the defense’s wellspring of ferocity.
Editor's note: Tom E. Curran's Top 50 players under Bill Belichick, 2.0, will be released all this week right here on NBCSportsBoston.com.