New England is one of the greatest sports franchises of the last 20 years. They rank up there with the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers, San Francisco Giants, Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Red Sox, and all the other teams to win several championships since the turn of the century.
The Pats have been to the Super Bowl seven times since 2001, rising to prominence in the national discussion. But New England has a rich football history as well, with many other great players beyond just the quarterback currently leading the team. We apologize to such greats as Ben Coates, Steve Nelson, Steve Grogan, and Rob Gronkowski; here are the 15 greatest New England Patriots of all time.
15. Stanley Morgan
Drafted No. 25 overall in 1977, wide receiver Stanley Morgan played 13 seasons with New England. He played through an era that saw a lot of teams run the ball. However, Morgan was great at getting the deep pass. He led the NFL in yards per reception three years in a row and finished his career with an excellent rate of 19.2 y/r. Morgan is the all-time Patriots franchise leader in receiving yards at 10,352, and he was a Pro Bowler four times in his career.
14. Drew Bledsoe
Quarterback Drew Bledsoe was drafted No. 1 overall by the New England Patriots in 1993, taking over as the starter almost immediately. He was a Pro Bowler in his second season in the NFL, leading the league in passing yards as well as interceptions. Overall, Bledsoe was a Pro Bowl quarterback for the Patriots three times and helped lead the team to the Super Bowl against the Green Bay Packers in 1996.
He finally won a Super Bowl ring with the Pats in 2001, but not until after Tom Brady usurped the starting role from him. Bledsoe moved on after that season. However, he was good enough in nine years to make the backend of this list.
13. Ty Law
Defensive back Ty Law was the Patriots’ first-round pick in 1995. He developed into one of the better players in the secondary by the time he was 22 years old. In his fourth year in the NFL, Law led the league in interceptions and made his first Pro Bowl. Then Law went on to make three consecutive Pro Bowls from 2001–03.
He was a huge part in the developing dynasty under the leadership of Brady and Bill Belichick; Law won two Super Bowl rings with the team before ending his tenure in New England after 10 seasons.
12. Matt Light
The most important player on the offensive line is the left tackle, because he’s charged with guarding the quarterback’s blind side. From 2001–11, the player keeping Tom Brady off the ground was Matt Light. The Pats drafted Light in the second round in ’01. During his tenure with the team he made the Pro Bowl three times and was part of three Super Bowl–winning teams. Although he retired at 33, Light spent his entire career with the Patriots. He was a major part of the core that built the dynasty.
11. Tedy Bruschi
A middle linebacker, Tedy Bruschi is yet another Patriots legend. He played 13 years with the team after being drafted in the third round in 1996. Bruschi made just one Pro Bowl in 2004 but served as an anchor of the defense. He survived a stroke at the age of 31 to return to the playing field. Unfortunately, he wasn’t the same quality of player afterward. Bruschi played three more years and then retired in 2008. His stat line included 675 career tackles, 30.5 sacks, and three Super Bowl rings.
10. Logan Mankins
The left guard might not be traditionally as important as the left tackle. However, that doesn’t change just how great Logan Mankins was at his job. Drafted by New England in the first round of the 2005 draft, Mankins quickly established himself as the best left guard in the game.
In his nine seasons with the Patriots, he made the Pro Bowl six times. Mankins helped lead the team to the Super Bowl twice in 2007 and 2011 — losing both times to the New York Giants. He moved on to play two final seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before retiring in 2015.
9. Adam Vinatieri
Adam Vinatieri, or “Automatic Adam” as he became known, is probably just one of a handful of kickers who might make it into the top 15 in any franchise’s history — much less the prodigious Patriots. That’s a testament to just how good he was.
Vinatieri was a rookie in 1996, going to the Super Bowl with Bledsoe. He was along for the ride with Brady later on; he played the first 10 years of his career in New England and collected three Super Bowl wins — kicking game-winning field goals in two of them. Vinatieri later played for the Indianapolis Colts for 11 seasons, where he won another Super Bowl.
8. Wes Welker
At the age of 25, Wes Welker had developed into a nice slot receiver for the Miami Dolphins. They traded him to the New England Patriots for second- and seventh-round draft picks, and he became one of the best in the game. Welker immediately meshed with Brady, leading the league in receptions in three of his six seasons in New England and going over 100 catches in five of his six years. Welker was a Pro Bowler five times and is No. 1 on the Patriots’ all-time receptions list.
7. Bruce Armstrong
In 2001, the Patriots drafted left tackle Light to replace legendary left tackle Bruce Armstrong. Taken in the first round of the 1987 draft, Armstrong played through the end of the ’80s and through the ’90s with the Patriots. He protected Bledsoe’s blind side and helped lead the Pats to the Super Bowl in 1996. Armstrong was a six-time Pro Bowler. Unfortunately, he retired in 2000 at the age of 35; New England won their first Super Bowl a year later.
6. Vince Wilfork
By the time Bruschi’s play began to decline before his inevitable retirement, another defensive stud, nose tackle Vince Wilfork, showed up and became the backbone of the Patriots’ defensive unit. Drafted in the first round in 2004, Wilfork forged his way into the regular starting lineup by his second season in the league and developed into a Pro Bowler by his fourth year.
During his 11-year run with the Patriots, Wilfork made the Pro Bowl five times and finished with 16 sacks and 355 tackles. His solid performance opened things up for New England’s defensive ends and linebackers to make big plays.
5. Troy Brown
Ranking wide receiver Troy Brown this high is all about his longevity with the team and less about how great he was overall. Brown’s best year was in 2001, when he made the Pro Bowl for the only time in his career and caught 101 passes with a career-best 1,199 receiving yards. That all came in his ninth season with the team. Overall, Brown caught 557 passes — second in franchise history — over 15 seasons and played on four Super Bowl teams, winning three rings.
4. Mike Haynes
Mike Haynes is a former Patriots cornerback who spent seven years with the team and is in the Hall of Fame. Drafted No. 5 overall in the first round in 1976, Haynes played with the Pats until 1982, making six trips to the Pro Bowl in his seven seasons in New England. He collected 28 interceptions over the course of that time, becoming a true star in the secondary. Haynes played seven more years with the Oakland Raiders, winning a Super Bowl in 1983 before retiring in 1989.
3. Andre Tippett
Another Hall of Fame player on the list: former Patriots linebacker Andre Tippett. Unlike Haynes, Tippett stayed with New England throughout his entire career. He was drafted in 1982 and played until 1993, making the Pro Bowl five times and being a First-Team All Pro twice in his career.
Tippett finished his playing days with exactly 100 sacks, setting a Patriots record in 1984 with 18.5 sacks and following it up the next year with 16.5. Tippett helped lead the team to the Super Bowl against the Chicago Bears in 1985. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008.
2. John Hannah
Yet another Hall of Famer from the New England Patriots is left guard John Hannah. He played his entire career with the Pats, from 1973–85. His final season with the team was the year New England lost to the Bears in Super Bowl XX, leaving Hannah without a championship in his career. But that shouldn’t take away from his greatness. He was legitimately the best at his position during his time in the NFL, making nine Pro Bowls and seven First-Team All-Pro selections during his 13-year career.
1. Tom Brady
Could there possibly be anybody else as No. 1? Brady has played 17 seasons with the New England Patriots, winning five Super Bowls and taking his team to the game seven times. He nearly had a perfect season in 2007, going 16-0 in the regular season before losing to the Giants in the Super Bowl.
He has won two MVPs, led the NFL in touchdown passes twice, and even set the single-season passing touchdown record in ’07 with 50 — before Peyton Manning broke the record in 2013. There’s no other way to slice it, Brady will go down as one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game.