Curtis Martin

Great Patriots Debates: Which draft class is the best in Patriots history?

Great Patriots Debates: Which draft class is the best in Patriots history?

If you have a nose for content, you best stay ever vigilant. So just because it’s July, just because it’s the NFL’s dead period, just because Senator Phil Perry and I were blowing a commanding lead in our golf match against Ted Johnson and big-hitting Tim Curran, that doesn’t mean I was asleep at the switch when Ted observed that the 1995 Patriots draft has GOT to be the best draft the Patriots ever had. 

“I don’t know about that,” I said. “I think there were a couple in the ‘70s where they cleaned up too. And the draft after you came in was pretty good too.” 

And that’s how you wander right into content. 

Take Ted’s statement, my pushback, do a little research, throw together another Great Patriots Debate and let the people decide. 

Which was the greatest draft in Patriots history?

There have been plenty of good draft classes over the years. And in the past decade, the ones that stand out came in 2009 (Patrick Chung, Sebastian Vollmer and Julian Edelman), 2010 (Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez), 2011 (Nate Solder, Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley and Marcus Cannon) and 2012 (Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower, Nate Ebner). 

But when we’re talking about the most impactful hauls, there are four that stand out.  

Ironically, the draft that clinched Bill Parcells’ decision to jump ship after the 1996 season is one of them. 

The first-round pick in 1996 was wide receiver Terry Glenn (7th overall), and the draft class also included safety Lawyer Milloy (36th overall) and linebacker/DE Tedy Bruschi (86th overall). Glenn, despite all his issues later in his Patriots career, helped the Patriots get to the Super Bowl that season with 90 catches for 1,132 yards. In his five seasons in New England he had 329 catches for 4,669 yards and 22 touchdowns. And that was in 63 games. 

Milloy was very much the emotional leader for the Patriots secondary from 1996 through 2002, being selected to three Pro Bowls, once being All-Pro and helping the team to its win in SB36. 

Bruschi, of course, is a Patriots Hall of Famer and was with the team until 2008, winning three Super Bowls. 

Now for 1995. And Johnson makes a damn good point. 

Ty Law was the first pick the team made, 23rd overall. He went to four Pro Bowls, was a two-time All-Pro and will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame next month. 

Johnson was a force in the middle of the defense, one of the best run-stopping linebackers in the league with 758 tackles in 125 games. 

And Martin, though his career in New England was too short-lived because of the poison-pill offer sheet the Jets signed him to in 1998, had 3,799 yards in 45 games over three seasons with 37 touchdowns (32 rushing).  

The Patriots also got a solid center, Dave Wohlabaugh, in the fourth round of that draft and a serviceable corner named Jimmy Hitchcock in the third round. 

Another Parcells draft, his first, also was stacked. The haul in 1993 included Drew Bledsoe with the first overall pick, Charis Slade (31st) and eighth-rounder Troy Brown. The team also spent second-rounders on serviceable players Todd Rucci, a guard, wide receiver Vincent Brisby and special-teamer/safety Corwin Brown.  

The other two drafts in the mix came in the mid-70s. 

Patriots Hall of Famers Raymond Clayborn (16th overall) and wide receiver Stanley Morgan (25th) were the first two picks in 1977, followed by shifty running back Horace Ivory and tight end Don Hasselbeck in the second. The latter two were bit players but talented. The first two were brilliant. 

Finally, there’s 1976. The Patriots had three first-rounders that year and they hit on all of them with cornerback Mike Haynes (fifth overall), center Pete Brock, safety Tim Fox and role-playing running back Ike Forte.

Haynes, like Martin two decades later, had the best years of his career elsewhere. But Haynes was outstanding with the Patriots from 1976 through ’82, making six Pro Bowls, picking off 28 passes and having one of the best seasons a punt returner’s ever had in ’76 with a 13.5 yard average on 45 returns and two touchdowns. Brock was the 12th overall pick and he played his entire career in New England before retiring in 1987. Fox was the 21st overall pick and he was consistently one of the league’s better defensive backs. He was a Pro Bowler in 1980 before being moved to San Diego.  

So you have 1996 with Glenn, Milloy and Bruschi as the headliners. 1995 with Law, Johnson and Martin. 1977 with Clayborn and Morgan as the headliners. And ’76 with Haynes, Brock and Fox. 

In the end, I have to agree with Ted Johnson. The 1995 draft is the best draft in Patriots history. Who do you have? 

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Two ex-Patriots among Hall of Famers demanding salary, health insurance from NFL

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NBC Sports Boston illustration

Two ex-Patriots among Hall of Famers demanding salary, health insurance from NFL

Two Pro Football Hall of Famers with ties to the Patriots -- defensive back Mike Haynes and running back Curtis Martin -- were among a group of 20 Hall of Famers who sent a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith and Pro Football Hall of Fame President David Baker, demanding health insurance and an annual salary that includes a share of the league's revenues for all members of the Hall of Fame.

If they don't receive them, they say will no longer attend future ceremonies during the league's annual induction weekend of new members at the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

"As a group, we are struggling with severe health and financial problems," they say in the letter. "To build this game, we sacrificed our bodies. In many cases, and despite the fact that we were led to believe otherwise, we sacrificed our minds . . . [It's] unjust to leave us behind while league revenues skyrocket decade after decade."

Two of the Hall of Famers who signed the letter, Deion Sanders and Kurt Warner, are technically NFL employees as they work for the NFL Network.

An interesting take on the issue from Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith can be seen here.

The complete letter: