When I did this list back in 2015, I had Ty Law seventh. Since then, he’s been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Hopefully, he is the first of a crop of 2000-2020 Patriots to go in.
But "The Great ..." Ty Law as former longtime Providence Journal beat writer Ed Duckworth always called him is dropping. Law drops because Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski and Devin McCourty joined the top 10 and I didn’t want to move Richard Seymour down from No. 8.
But when we talk about pioneer Patriot players -- Lewis and Clark guys, as Christian Fauria described them -- Law is that. His swagger (I don’t love the word either, but it fits), physicality, personality, talent and boldness was reflective of that team.
Meanwhile, the buy-in to Bill Belichick’s brilliance while at the same time retaining a non-robotic sense of individuality all made Law singularly incomparable. Plus, he was the best corner in the league for a stretch.
11. Ty Law
Years in NE: 11 | All-Pro: 2 | Pro Bowls: 4 | SB wins: 3 | SB appearances: 4 | 2015 rank: 7
He had the five years under Belichick -- 2000 through 2004 -- then went to the Jets. And he didn’t play after the seventh game of the 2004 season thanks to a blown ACL in Pittsburgh. So the two active Super Bowls and relatively brief time under Belichick the head coach were the tiebreaker.
The next four -- Willie McGinest at 12, Dont’a Hightower at 13, Rodney Harrison at 14 and Adam Vinatieri at 15 -- were a fun debate.
12. Willie McGinest
Years in NE: 12 | All-Pro: 0 | Pro Bowls: 2 | SB wins: 3 | SB appearances: 4 | 2015 rank: 12
13. Dont'a Hightower
Years in NE: 8 | All-Pro: 0 | Pro Bowls: 2 | SB wins: 3 | SB appearances: 3 | 2015 rank: 45
14. Rodney Harrison
Years in NE: 6 | All-Pro: 1 | Pro Bowls: 0 | SB wins: 2 | SB appearances: 3 | 2015 rank: 11
Hightower saved SB49. He jumpstarted the SB51 comeback. He was unblockable in SB53. But McGinest from the age of 29 in 2000 through 34 was a more consistent and productive player. Eighty-seven games, three picks, six forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries, three picks, 38.5 sacks, 238 tackles and 60 TFL in the regular season in six years. Hightower has 25 regular season sacks from 2012 to 2019, one pick, two forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries in eight years. But those huge plays in the biggest games means he jumps from 45 on the 2015 list all the way to 13.
Harrison? He put the paddles to the chest of the Patriots in 2003 when a lot of players were -- quite honestly -- getting a little Belichick fatigue after the 2002 season. They don’t win those Super Bowls without him. Plus, he was a brilliant player in his six seasons here. But three Super Bowls trumps two as does length of service. So he’s behind Willie and Hightower.
Speaking of length of service, two special teamers come next. One will be a Hall of Famer. The other could be, perhaps?
15. Adam Vinatieri
Years in NE: 10 | All-Pro: 2 | Pro Bowls: 2 | SB wins: 3 | SB appearances: 4 | 2015 rank: 10
Adam Vinatieri is at 15 followed by Matthew Slater. Vinatieri’s headed for the Hall of Fame for his overall body of work but it was those landmark kicks in the snow in January 2002, the one in New Orleans to end SB36 and the game-winner in SB38 that made his legend.
16. Matthew Slater
Years in NE: 13 | All-Pro: 2 | Pro Bowls: 9 | SB wins: 3 | SB appearances: 4 | 2015 rank: 34
Slater? A special teams player at 16? Yup. When we talk about carrying the culture forward from one generation of players to the next, there are a few who helped do that. But Slater helped advance it. Hard to say there has been any one individual Patriot more respected, beloved and vital to the heart of the team over the Belichick Era. Plus, he’s been the best at his important and oft-overlooked job his entire career.
Next up, Kevin Faulk. And you only need to listen to the testimonials provided by his teammates to understand why he’s here at 17.
17. Kevin Faulk
Years in NE: 13 | All-Pro: 0 | Pro Bowls: 0 | SB wins: 3 | SB appearances: 5 | 2015 rank: 15
Drafted by Pete Carroll, he was the human life preserver for the Patriots offense in so many games. He was at 15 in 2015 so he drops a bit, but the Faulkian Legend isn’t told by numbers but by teammates and his coach.
Right behind Faulk is James White. Like Faulk, he made a drastic improvement in his game from the time he was drafted in 2014 to when he became a major part of the Patriots offense in 2016 and then put together a legendary Super Bowl performance against the Falcons scoring 20 points on his own (three TDs including the overtime game-winner, a must-have two-point conversion and 14 catches).
18. James White
Years in NE: 7 | All-Pro: 0 | Pro Bowls: 0 | SB wins: 3 | SB appearances: 4 | 2015 rank: N/R
White is where he is because of his Super Bowl performances. Same with Deion Branch, who not only was a force in the 2003 and 2004 Super Bowl wins (and sparked the 2004 AFCCG blowout at Pittsburgh with a 60-yard touchdown reception), but because of his performance when he came back in 2010. Randy Moss went out, Branch came in and the Patriots offense got its mojo back.
19. Deion Branch
Years in NE: 7 | All-Pro: 0 | Pro Bowls: 0 | SB wins: 2 | SB appearances: 3 | 2015 rank: 17
20. Stephen Gostkowski
Years in NE: 14 | All-Pro: 1 | Pro Bowls: 4 | SB wins: 3 | SB appearances: 5 | 2015 rank: 19
Rounding out the top 20 is the guy who had the game-winning kick in Super Bowl 53 against the Rams, Stephen Gostkowski. Gostkowski was here for 14 years and is one of the best kickers in NFL history. He had to fill the cleats of arguably the greatest kicker there ever was and -- even though he never had the chance to deliver the seismic, indelible kicks Vinatieri did -- he did so better than he was ever given credit for.
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.