Patriots

Great Patriots Debates: Who's the best first-round pick in Patriots history?

Great Patriots Debates: Who's the best first-round pick in Patriots history?

The NFL Draft isn't like the NBA's, where in a good year you might be able to count the success stories on two hands. It's not like Major League Baseball's, where wins and losses are determined by how well you evaluated a teenager fresh off his high school graduation.

You're supposed to hit in the NFL Draft. At least in the first round, where sure things fly off the board quickly. That doesn't always happen. But that's the expectation. And it happens often enough, which is why if you scroll through any team's draft history, you'll be able to find some all-time talents taken early.

The Patriots are no different. Even well before Bill Belichick took over the football operation in 2000, for those of us who far too often leave that period of time out of big-picture conversations, there are franchise-altering first-rounders who made their way to New England. Pro Football Hall of Famers. Team Hall of Famers. Then once the page was turned on this millennium, Belichick and his staff added to the list of all-time first-rounders.

Today's Great Patriots Debate asks, simply, who's the best first-round pick in franchise history? There are loads of options so let's pare them down.

Back in the 1970s, the draft ran long. Real long. But it didn't matter how many rounds the thing lasted, the first round was still a gold mine. In 1977, Raymond Clayborn and Stanley Morgan — both Patriots Hall of Famers — were taken with the No. 16 and No. 25 picks, respectively. Russ Francis, in the conversation for the team's Hall of Fame, went in the first round in 1975. Yet there are so many home runs for us to choose from, those three don't make the final cut.

In 1987, the Patriots took another future team Hall of Famer, Bruce Armstrong. The guy made six Pro Bowls and started for 14 seasons. Fourteen! Yet he's not really in the running for best first-rounder in franchise history, either. Same can be said for Super Bowl champions with impressive résumés like Damien Woody, Ty Warren, Jerod Mayo, Nate Solder and Chandler Jones.

Now the list is a bit more manageable, but narrowing things down to No. 1 is no easy task . . .

JOHN HANNAH

That Hannah's bust would one day reside in Canton was really never in question. He started for 13 seasons, made nine Pro Bowls, and he was a first-team All-Pro a whopping seven times. He didn't win a title, as many of the other names on this list did. And he was the No. 4 overall selection out of Alabama in 1973 so it's not as though he was a relative unknown when he was chosen. But he has to be near the top of the list of best players in Patriots history as well as best first-round choices.

MIKE HAYNES

Three years after taking Hannah, the Patriots went with Haynes, who went on to a Hall of Fame career of his own. He made six Pro Bowls with the Patriots and continued his illustrious career with the Raiders, making first-team All-Pro twice while in Los Angeles. The No. 5 overall pick out of Arizona State was named to the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 1980s.

DREW BLEDSOE

The No. 1 overall choice in 1993, Bledsoe's selection — followed soon thereafter by Kraft's purchase of the team — helped turn things around for what was at the time a moribund franchise. In terms of individual and team accomplishments, Bledsoe doesn't stack up with some of the others listed here, but when the Patriots took him . . . things changed. And they continued to change for the better. Remember, they could've gone with Rick Mirer.

WILLIE McGINEST

The Kraft family's first first-round choice, McGinest helped the Patriots to their second Super Bowl in 1996 and he remained one of the team's stalwarts through their run of three titles in four years in the early oughts. He had just two Pro Bowls to his name, but what he brought to the team as a leader — and how he helped Belichick establish a winning culture — enters him into this conversation. The No. 4 overall pick out of USC was part of the foundation of players that established the longest-running dynasty in league history.

TY LAW

Recently voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Law has an argument as the most talented player in the Belichick era not named Tom Brady or Rob Gronkowski. He was critical in New England's first two Super Bowl wins and would've only helped make things easier as the Patriots rode to Lombardi No. 3 had he not been injured. That he was the No. 23 pick in 1995 — by no means a surefire all-timer — helps establish this pick as one of the best in team history. Maybe the best.

RICHARD SEYMOUR

Belichick's first-ever first-round pick (he didn't have one in 2000) was one of his best. Seymour was the No. 6 selection out of Georgia, but he was by no means a slam-dunk selection in the eyes of some prognosticators who focused on his 1.5 sacks as a senior at Georgia. He turned out to be one of the most dominant defensive linemen of his era, earning five Pro Bowl berths with the Patriots and three first-team All-Pro selections. "I do not believe we would have won three championships without him," Belichick wrote in a letter supporting Seymour for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

VINCE WILFORK

In Belichick's letter supporting Seymour, he couldn't help but pay Wilfork — the No. 21 overall choice in 2004 — a significant compliment: "Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork are the two best defensive linemen I have coached," Belichick wrote. Wilfork won two titles with the Patriots 10 years apart, proof of his long-term effectiveness and his unique career in helping the Patriots bridge the gap from one version of their dynasty to the next. At his best, Wilfork was among the best in the league at his position, making five Pro Bowls and one first-team All-Pro nod. Like Law, the fact he was taken near the end of the first round might make his selection one of the best in franchise history.

LOGAN MANKINS

More than three decades after the Patriots took one of their toughest players of all-time in Hannah, they got another in this guard out of Fresno State. Mankins, who was taken at No. 32 overall in 2005, was the victim of some bad timing — and a helmet catch — in that he just missed being a Super Bowl champion. He was drafted after the Patriots won their third, and he was traded just before the start of the 2014 season when they won their fourth. That's no indication of his dominance, though. He made seven Pro Bowls and started every year he played in New England. 

DEVIN McCOURTY

McCourty was taken as a corner with big-time special-teams ability when he went to the Patriots with the No. 27 overall pick out of Rutgers. That began a steady stream of Scarlet Knights headed to Foxboro as Belichick continued to look for versatile, athletic defensive backs with leadership traits. McCourty was always the best of the bunch, though. He settled at safety early in his career and provided a stabilizing force in the secondary as a captain (2011-18) on defenses that won three titles. The Patriots passed on an opportunity to draft Dez Bryant by taking McCourty — a move that looks more and more prescient as time goes by.

DONT'A HIGHTOWER

Belichick is known for trading down in the draft to acquire capital and earn a few more rolls of the dice. But in 2012 he traded up in the first round . . . twice. He selected Chandler Jones at No. 21 when he dealt No. 27 and No. 93 to the Bengals. Belichick later dealt No. 31 and No. 126 overall to the Broncos move up six spots to No. 25. That's where he took Hightower, who ended up being a linchpin to his front-seven in the 2014, 2016 and 2018 Super Bowl-winning runs. Hightower doesn't have the Pro Football Hall of Fame resume others do on this list. But you'd be hard-pressed to come up with defensive players who have authored as many signature postseason moments as this Alabama product. Law is also definitely in that conversation.

If you're asking me, Hannah — who has an argument as perhaps the best to ever play his position — deserves serious consideration as the No. 1 first-round pick in team history. 

But if you're factoring in rings as well as where the player was taken in the first round, making it a more impressive pick if it came late, then the choice for you likely comes down to Law or Wilfork. I'd go with Law because of the value of the position he played, even in an age that wasn't as centered around the passing game as this one. You certainly couldn't be blamed if you went with Wilfork, though, since his longevity, leadership and level of play makes him one of the most valuable Patriots of the Belichick era.

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Tedy Bruschi names his top five Patriots linebackers

Tedy Bruschi names his top five Patriots linebackers

Linebacker has been a position of strength for the New England Patriots for most of their 20-year dynasty, and one of the big reasons they've been able to sustain such a high level of success

Tedy Bruschi was a key linebacker for New England from 1996 to 2008. A three-time Super Bowl champion, Bruschi was inducted to the Patriots Hall of Fame in 2013. There's no doubt he's one of the best LBs in Patriots history.

But on Wednesday, a humble Bruschi took on the task of naming his top five Patriots linebackers of the Tom Brady era, and he didn't include himself.

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Here's who he did name, per WEEI's "Ordway, Merloni & Fauria".

Five, I heard you guys talking about (Rob) Ninkovich and I think that was a good call, that Rob and the timely plays he made, that sort of edge presence was strong. I go with Ninkovich at five.

I go (Roman) Phifer at four. Phife is someone that people forget about. Now, Phife never came off the field, through all those three championship runs — the early ones — Phife was like that guy now that splits out and covers the guy on the slots, and he’d beat up the tight end, or he’d have to cover a back. Phife did so much for us on the punt team with me and (Mike Vrabel), that type of guy. So Phifer was definitely one of the top ones for me.

For three, I have to put Hightower at three. Dont’a just made so many big plays in so many big games. So he’d be three for me.

Two, I’d go with Vrabel. all the reasons you guys have talked about already, but Vrabel, there was also a time during that stretch where he had to play inside linebacker. Inside linebacker, outside linebacker, defensive end, those type of guys. So Vrabel is two.

And I put (Willie) McGinest at one. In terms of a d-end, and also getting up and playing outside linebacker, setting the tone in the locker room, I mean, he was there even for the ’96 Super Bowl for me when I was a rookie there, so one would be Willie for me.

That's definitely a tough top five to argue with. Of course, Bruschi probably should be in there.

Jerod Mayo, Junior Seau, and Ted Johnson all are honorable mentions. And if we're talking non-Brady era, Andre Tippett's likely in the top spot.

The Patriots lost a pair of key linebackers in free agency this offseason as Kyle Van Noy signed a four-year deal with the Miami Dolphins and Jamie Collins left for the Detroit Lions on a three-year contract.

Bill Belichick shares important message amid coronavirus pandemic

Bill Belichick shares important message amid coronavirus pandemic

As much of the world continues to adjust to life during the coronavirus pandemic, a number of Boston sports figures have delivered messages of encouragement as well as important reminders to stay home.

On Wednesday, Bill Belichick became the latest to do so. The New England Patriots head coach issued a PSA thanking medical professionals and urging the public to stay home during these difficult times.

"Hello, this is Bill Belichick. I want to reach out to you in these uncertain and unprecedented times to let you know that I, and the New England Patriots, are behind you. We are all in this together.

"Thank you to our heroic medical professionals -- doctors, nurses, medical workers, and others -- who are selflessly and courageously doing their job to take care of others in need. We have heard your stories and seen some of your great work. You are truly champions and warriors.

"We are facing a difficult opponent. It will take teamwork, discipline, and commitment to do the right things all the time. That includes staying at home. I encourage everyone to shelter in place for as long as necessary as we fight this virus together. There are plenty of things we cannot do right now, but let's focus on what we can do. We can adapt, we can adjust, and we can make better decisions right now for the betterment of the future. As I tell our team, let's keep stringing good days together, and we will get through this."

Watch below:


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Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman delivered a similar message on Friday. And after testing positive for the coronavirus, Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart has gone above and beyond in raising awareness about the importance of quarantining during the pandemic. He also will be donating plasma to the National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project.