The NFL Draft is less than a week away, and the Patriots are surely doing their due diligence on all of their possible draft picks. Bill Belichick has his share of misses in the draft, but also more than his fair share of hits. With the Patriots having picks in every round but the second, let’s take a look back on New England’s best picks by round since Bill Belichick took over.
New England Patriots Best NFL Draft Picks of the Bill Belichick Era
First Round: Vince Wilfork
Bill Belichick has more than his fair share of successful first-round picks, but Vince Wilfork is the best of the best. At his peak, there was nobody in the league better at eating up double teams and freeing up space for others to make plays. Wilfork never dominated the stat sheet, but his impact was obvious during his 11-year run in New England. The former first-round pick started and finished his Patriots career with a championship before spending two years with the Houston Texans.
Second Round: Rob Gronkowski
When healthy, tight end Rob Gronkowski was the most unstoppable force in the NFL. The big tight end simply could not be covered, no matter how many defenders you threw his way. Throughout the course of his nine-year career, Gronkowski recorded 521 receptions for 7,861 yards and a staggering 79 touchdowns in just 115 games. His 2011 season was the best by a tight end in history, recording 90 receptions for 1,327 yards and a league-record 18 combined touchdowns (17 receiving, one rushing). While he wasn’t quite himself in 2018, he finished his career on the highest possible note. In Super Bowl LIII, Gronkowski caught the game-clinching reception to set up New England’s first and only touchdown of the game.
Third Round: Joe Thuney
It’s rare to find a player as good as Joe Thuney in the third round. The 2015 Patriots were ultimately undone by their woeful offensive line, and Thuney immediately came in and helped solidify the unit as a rookie. He only improved from there, getting better in each and every season and starting every game of his four-year career. He’s currently on the franchise tag, although it appears like the Patriots will entertain the idea of trading him for picks.
Honorable Mention: Nick Kaczur, Ellis Hobbs, Duron Harmon
Fourth Round: Asante Samuel
Asante Samuel had the unenviable task of replacing Ty Law in New England’s defense. While he obviously never matched that level of play, he was one of the better cornerbacks in the league during his five years with the Patriots. The former fourth-round pick had a true nose for the ball, recording a league-high 10 interceptions in 2006 and winning First-Team All-Pro honors in 2007. After he left, New England struggled to find another top cornerback prior to trading for Aqib Talib in 2012.
Fifth Round: Dan Koppen
Bill Belichick typically doesn’t draft players in the fifth round, but he made an exception for Dan Koppen. Despite his late-round selection, he managed to start in 15 of New England’s 16 games as a rookie, and play at a high level. He held on to the job for the entirety of his nine-year career in New England before suffering an ankle injury in the 2011 season opener. With Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell taking over at center, Koppen finished out his career with one season in Denver.
Sixth Round: Tom Brady
Seventh Round: Julian Edelman
Bill Belichick really has an eye for drafting late-round college quarterbacks. Considering a longshot to make the roster back in 2009, Julian Edelman carved out a role as New England’s primary punt returner and Wes Welker’s emergency backup. He was one of the best punt returners in the league during the early portion of his career, taking four punts to the house during his first six years in the league while averaging 12.2 yards per return. Of course, this is just a sidenote compared to his offensive dominance over the past seven seasons. Despite missing all of 2017, Edelman has recorded 530 receptions for 5,793 yards and 32 touchdowns since Welker left town. This doesn’t even mention his postseason heroics and how he always saves his best for the final part of the season.
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