New England Patriots

Ranking Bill Belichick's top 10 draft picks with the Patriots

This was a hard list to make.

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Bill Belichick's recent draft classes haven't produced a ton of star players. But if you look at the entirety of his 24 years running the NFL Draft for the New England Patriots, you can say that no person in league history has hit on more picks.

The Patriots dynasty was largely built through the draft. Belichick hit on plenty of first-round picks, but his greatest strength was finding value in the middle to later rounds.

Taking a chance on Tom Brady with the 199th overall selection in 2000 is the greatest pick of all time, but there are many, many more from Belichick's tenure in New England.

The Patriots and Belichick officially parted ways Thursday. Now that Belichick's time in Foxboro has come to an end, let's look at a ranking of his top 10 draft picks as Patriots head coach, with an honorable mentions list at the bottom.

This ranking was based on the performance of the player in New England, combined with the value of where he was selected.

10. Asante Samuel, CB (Fourth round, 2003)

Samuel's exit from New England wasn't the smoothest, to say the least, and he never passes up an opportunity to criticize Belichick when given the chance. But there's no question he was a top player his entire Patriots career and played a key role on two Super Bowl-winning teams in 2003 and 2004. He also led the NFL in interceptions and passes defensed in 2006, while being named a Pro Bowler and first team All-Pro in 2007. Yes, he dropped a potential perfect season-clinching interception in Super Bowl XLII, but an elite cornerback in the fourth round is damn good value.

9. Dan Koppen, C (Fifth round, 2003)

Koppen played nine seasons in New England from 2003 through 2012 and started 120 of the 121 games he played, including two Super Bowl titles in 2003 and 2004. Getting a very good starting center in the fifth round who helped anchor the offensive line for almost a decade is tremendous value. Koppen also was named to the Pro Bowl and was selected second team All-Pro in 2007.

8. Logan Mankins, LG (First round, 2005)

Mankins is a Hall of Fame-caliber player who was the best left guard in the league for most of his career. He was a seven-time Pro Bowler (six with New England) and a five-time second team All-Pro with one first team All-Pro selection. Mankins also was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame's All-Decade team for the 2010s. He's one of four guards who made it. Unfortunately for Mankins, he did not win a Super Bowl in New England despite playing nine seasons here. His Patriots career spans the nine-year gap between Super Bowl XXXIX and Super Bowl XLIX.

7. Matt Light, LT (Second round, 2001)

The 2001 NFL Draft was massive for the Patriots. They found a Hall of Fame pass rusher in Richard Seymour in the first round and a franchise left tackle in the second round. Light was an excellent player at a premium position for the Patriots. He was part of three Super Bowl-winning teams and made three Pro Bowls with one first team All-Pro selection. Light played 11 seasons in New England and started 153 of his 155 games played during that span.

6. Devin McCourty, CB/S (First round, 2010)

McCourty was a cornerstone of a Patriots defense that won three Super Bowl titles. He was originally drafted as a cornerback and made a transition to safety, where he was a top-tier player until his retirement following the 2022 campaign. McCourty played 13 seasons in New England and was one of the most reliable players of his era. His leadership skills were fantastic, too.

5. Vince Wilfork, DT (First round, 2004)

Wilfork is another Hall of Fame-caliber player Belichick drafted late (No. 21 overall) in the first round. After an excellent career at the University of Miami, Wilfork made a strong impact as a rookie in 2004 for a Patriots team that won a Super Bowl. He was one of the best defensive tackles of his era, and earned five Pro Bowl selections, three second-team All-Pro selections and one first team All-Pro selection. Wilfork deserves to get in the HOF at some point.

4. Richard Seymour, DE (First round, 2001)

The highest pick Belichick ever made running the Patriots was No. 6 overall in 2001, and he made it count in a huge way. Seymour was not the consensus sixth-best player in the class. In fact, he was projected to go No. 20 overall to the St. Louis Rams in ESPN expert Mel Kiper Jr.'s 2000 mock draft in March of that year. A lot of people wanted the Patriots to take one of the top wide receiver prospects -- David Terrell from Michigan or Koren Robinson from N.C. State. Belichick instead went with Seymour, who was one of the best defensive linemen of his era. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2022.

3. Rob Gronkowski, TE (Second round, 2010)

No tight end in NFL history is better than peak Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski was the definition of a matchup nightmare -- too fast for linebackers and too strong for safeties.

"Robbie G had the route tree of a receiver, which is really hard for a guy who is 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds -- to run full speed and stop, to run full speed and make cuts like a wide receiver could, is unbelievable," Tom Brady recently said about Gronk on his podcast.

Gronkowski tallied 621 receptions for 9,286 yards with 92 touchdowns over 11 seasons as a player for the Patriots (2010 through 2018) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2020 and 2021). In his second season, 2011, Gronkowski posted 90 receptions for 1,327 yards and a league-leading 17 receiving touchdowns. It's the best season by a tight end in league history.

Gronkowski was no sure-thing coming out of Arizona. He had dealt with injuries in college, and there were concerns about whether he would be durable enough to have a productive career. Belichick took the risk and was rewarded handsomely.

2. Julian Edelman, WR (Seventh round, 2009)

Edelman is not the best player on this list. He might not even be top five. But to get a player of his caliber in the seventh round is just absurd value.

Edelman's true value came in the playoffs. He is one of the best postseason performers of his era. He ranks No. 2 all-time among wide receivers in playoff receptions (118) and playoff receiving yards (1,442). The player ahead of him in both stats is Jerry Rice.

Here are his Super Bowl stats:

  • Super Bowl XLIX: 9 rec, 110 yards, 1 TD
  • Super Bowl LI: 5 rec, 87 yards
  • Super Bowl LIII: 10 rec, 141 yards (named MVP)

Edelman's list of memorable playoff moments is a lengthy one. His touchdown pass against the Ravens in the 2014 AFC Divisional Round is an all-timer. He scored the winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLIX. He made a remarkable diving catch in the Super Bowl LI comeback vs. the Falcons, and he won Super Bowl LIII MVP vs. the Rams. He also came up with a few clutch receptions in overtime of the 2018 AFC Championship Game vs. the Chiefs.

Edelman probably won't make the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he's a lock for the Patriots HOF.

1. Tom Brady, QB (Sixth round, 2000)

This one doesn't need much of an explanation.

Brady is the best player in NFL history and owns a crazy amount of NFL records, including seven Super Bowl titles (six with the Patriots).

Belichick not only drafted Brady and kept him on the roster when the team already had a couple QBs, he kept him as the starter when Drew Bledsoe was ready to return from injury in 2001. That was not an easy decision at the time and took a lot of guts. Bledsoe was the franchise QB and one of the league's highest-paid players. It might be the best decision in team history, frankly.

With Tom Brady announcing his retirement after 23 seasons in the NFL, take a look at some of the all-time-great QB's career regular season, playoff and Super Bowl NFL records.

Honorable mentions

Deion Branch, WR (Second round, 2002)

David Givens, WR (Seventh round, 2002)

Matthew Slater, Special Teams (Fifth round, 2008)

Nate Solder, LT (First round, 2011)

Dont'a Hightower, LB (First round, 2012)

James White, RB (Fourth round, 2014)

Shaq Mason, RG (Fourth round, 2015)

Trey Flowers, DE (Fourth round, 2015)

Joe Thuney, LG (Third round, 2016)

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