The New England Patriots were easily the best team of the last decade, and they couldn’t have done it without hitting on a high percentage of their draft picks. Bill Belichick excels at exploring all possible avenues to build a team, so his drafts aren’t the only reason for New England’s sustained success. That said, without these draft picks, the Patriots would have struggled to win even one of their three Super Bowls over the decade.
Note that this list only factors in player contributions from their time with the Patriots. Jimmy Garoppolo turned out to be a solid quarterback and an absolute steal in the second round, but he only started two games for New England. For that reason, he is not on this list. Also note that the value of the pick is also included. Marcus Cannon is on this list over Nate Solder because it’s a lot harder to find a franchise tackle in the fifth round than it is in the first round. Lastly, players from the 2018 and 2019 drafts are not included, since it’s too early to know how their careers are going to turn out.
The Best New England Patriots NFL Draft Picks of the 2010’s
10. Trey Flowers (4th Round, 2015 NFL Draft)
Trey Flowers being the 10th-best draft pick in the 2010’s just goes to show how great some of the Patriots picks have been. After missing essentially all of his rookie season to injury, Flowers became a key defensive contributor in each of the next three seasons. His best game with New England arguably came in the biggest moment. Flowers recorded 2.5 sacks in Super Bowl LI, including a key one that pushed the Falcons out of field goal position. Without that sack, Atlanta probably wins that Super Bowl. Flowers was far more than a one-game wonder, as he was easily New England’s best all-around edge defender in each of the next two seasons. Following another championship campaign in 2018, Flowers left the Patriots to sign a massive deal with the Detroit Lions.
9. Marcus Cannon (5th Round, 2011 NFL Draft)
It’s been quite the adventure for former fifth-round pick Marcus Cannon. After successfully winning a battle with cancer, the TCU product spent the early part of his career as a swing tackle behind Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer. He made a handful of starts here and there, with inconsistent results. However, starting in the 2016 season, Cannon became the guy at right tackle. He certainly answered the call, winning Second-Team All-Pro honors in 2016 while helping the Patriots win their fifth Super Bowl in franchise history. After battling injuries in 2017, Cannon returned in 2018 to help create one of the best offensive lines in the league. Once again, the Patriots won the Super Bowl, with the offensive line being one of the biggest reasons for the success.
8. Jamie Collins (2nd Round, 2013 NFL Draft)
The 2013 NFL Draft is one of the worst in recent memory, and finding Jamie Collins in the 2nd round is one of Belichick’s best moves. The athletic linebacker out of Southern Mississippi spent the majority of his rookie season learning the ropes but showed flashes of the player he could be. In the 2013 AFC Divisional Round, Collins recorded one sack, one interception, and two tackles-for-loss against the Indianapolis Colts. This turned out to be a sign of things to come, as Collins became one of the NFL’s most dangerous linebackers in 2014 and 2015.
The Patriots traded him away in 2016 for a third-round pick only to bring him back for a bargain in 2019. After another strong season, Collins signed a massive deal with the Detroit Lions. As things currently stand, losing him in free agency should give the Patriots a compensatory fourth-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
7. Chandler Jones (1st Round, 2012 NFL Draft)
The Patriots knocked it out of the park with both of their 2012 first-round draft picks. Chandler Jones came out of the gate strong, recording six sacks as a rookie before hitting the double-digit mark in 2013. Injuries hampered him in 2014, but he came back to play a big role down the stretch for the eventual Super Bowl champions. He recorded a career-high 12.5 sacks in 2015 before Belichick traded him to the Arizona Cardinals for a second-round pick. Eventually, that second-round pick turned into Joe Thuney and Malcolm Mitchell. Jones, of course, only got better with time, recording 60 sacks and two First-Team All-Pro nods in four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals.
6. James White (4th Round, 2014 NFL Draft)
Where would the New England Patriots be without James White? Following the departure of Kevin Faulk, New England never committed to one pass-catching specialist for more than a handful of years. Danny Woodhead did the job from 2010 to 2012 before handing the reigns over to Shane Vereen. However, White has developed into somebody you can’t just replace. Since first earning his opportunity in 2015, the Wisconsin product has developed into one of Tom Brady’s favorite targets in the passing game.
He’s always there when you need him and has a knack for saving his best work for the playoffs. White was arguably the most important non-Brady player in Super Bowl LI, recording 14 receptions for 110 yards and a touchdown while adding another 29 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. For good measure, he also converted a key two-point conversion to keep the comeback alive.
5. Joe Thuney (3rd Round, 2016 NFL Draft)
Joe Thuney was exactly what the New England Patriots needed in the 2016 NFL Draft. After dealing with an atrocious offensive line in 2015, Thuney helped solidify the left guard position from Day 1. A 16-game starter as a rookie, Thuney played a big role in New England winning their fifth championship. He steadily improved on a year-by-year basis and became one of the best guards in the league by 2018. Even though the Patriots are already paying big money to Shaq Mason, New England decided that Thuney was too good to lose. The Patriots currently have him under control of the franchise tag, although he could sign a long-term extension any day now.
4. Shaq Mason (4th Round, 2015 NFL Draft)
Shaq Mason was a powerful run blocker coming out of college, but nobody knew what he could do in the passing game. Mason spent his collegiate years blocking in a triple-option offense, so he essentially had to learn pass blocking from the ground up. He met and exceeded all reasonable expectations, developing into a top-five guard in all of football. Mason, along with Joe Thuney and David Andrews, combined to form arguably the best interior offensive line in all of football from 2016 to 2018. If Thuney sticks around and Andrews returns to health, this trio should remain one of the NFL’s best in 2020.
3. Dont’a Hightower (1st Round, 2012 NFL Draft)
There is a case to be made that Dynasty 2.0 wouldn’t exist without Dont’a Hightower. The Alabama product started his career behind Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes but became “the guy” after Mayo suffered a season-ending injury in Week 6 of the 2013 season. After a brief adjustment period, Hightower proved a worthy heir to Mayo’s throne. Of course, you can’t talk about Hightower without mentioning his Super Bowl heroics. In Super Bowl 49, he tackled Marshawn Lynch one yard short of the goaline, setting up Malcolm Butler’s iconic interception. In 2016, he blew past Devonta Freeman to sack Matt Ryan, causing the fumble that turned the tide of Super Bowl 51. Lastly, Hightower recorded two huge drive-killing sacks in Super Bowl 53.
2. Devin McCourty (1st Round, 2010 NFL Draft)
Even though the Patriots didn’t win their fourth Super Bowl until 2014, Dynasty 2.0 unofficially began with the selection of Devin McCourty. Initially drafted as a cornerback, McCourty had a solid rookie season lining up on the outside. However, after a bad 2011 and the 2012 acquisition of Aqib Talib, the Patriots moved McCourty to safety. The move paid wonders, as the speedy Rutgers product developed into one of the best free safeties in the league. He’s everything you want from a football player, both on and off the field, and is one of the biggest icons in franchise history.
1. Rob Gronkowski (2nd Round, 2010 NFL Draft)
What can be said about Rob Gronkowski that has not already been said? When healthy, the big tight end was the most unstoppable force in the league. Blessed with unparalleled size and speed, teams simply didn’t have an answer for Gronkowski, especially in the red zone. He was instrumental to two of New England’s wins (he missed 2016 with a back injury) and Brady was notably better when he had Gronkowski with him on the field. While he was clearly hindered in 2018, he ended his career on the highest note possible. Gronkowski went out a Super Bowl champion, with his last reception being the one that sealed the 13-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams.
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