Love or hate him, you can’t help but respect Bill Belichick and his strategic draft picks over the last 16 years. To say it seems like it’s been working out would be an understatement. Since taking the head coach position in 2000, Belichick has won four Super Bowl Championships, while appearing in a total of 6 Super Bowls and is a 13-time AFC East Champion. From first to seventh round picks, Belichick has a plan for every player, and how to utilize them to their greatest potential while playing in Gillette Stadium.
Not to say the man is perfect, because there have been some definite busts over the last 16 years, but the future Hall of Fame coach has had a steady track record for draft picks. Molding players to fit the Patriots style on and off the field (with a few party Gronk exceptions); Bill Belichick is the coach of all coaches to play for.
Regardless of what draft picks he has or doesn’t have (*cough cough* thanks, Roger Goodell), the coach of few words will once again prove the power of his coaching staff and the respect his players have for him. Here are the Top 15 Draft Picks in the Belichick Era.
15 Sebastian Vollmer
You most likely would not be able to tell by watching him play, but Sebastian Vollmer, the Germany-based football player, didn’t pick up the sport until he was 14 years old. Since his selection as a second round pick (58th) in 2009, Sebastian Vollmer has been key to keeping Tom Brady safe for all these years. Playing both right and left tackle for New England last season, Vollmer stepped up to the plate for his team when left tackle Nate Solder was out. Despite his 2011 season full of injuries and his 2013 season ending with a broken leg, Vollmer is still a big presence on the field. Standing at 6’8” and weighing in at 320 pounds, we’re sure any quarterback would feel at ease with Vollmer as their offensive lineman.
14 Nate Solder
Keeping Tom Brady safe since 2011, this offensive tackle has been a key to the Patriots success. A first round pick (17th overall), Nate Solder has had a steady career in New England thus far. After Matt Light’s retirement, Solder became the starting left tackle for the Patriots where he played 1,234 snaps in the 2012 season, the highest out of any offensive player in the league. Off the field, Solder recently battled testicular cancer and, after his recovery, started every single game in 2014. In the 2015 season, Solder was named offensive co-captain, but unfortunately tore his right bicep and missed most of the year. Currently battling a hamstring injury, Solder missed the season opener this year. But this dude is tough, so expect a big comeback in the 2016-2017 season.
13 Deion Branch
During the 2002 NFL Draft, with the 65th pick, Belichick and the New England Patriots chose Deion Branch. During his rookie season, Branch led the Patriots special teams in kickoff returns with 36 and tallied up 863 yards. During the 2003 season, Branch led New England with 803 yards on 57 catches for the season and a Super Bowl win. The next season brought Branch to a familiar place once again, the Super Bowl. Branch recorded 11 catches for 133 yards and another Super Bowl win. Deion Branch was named the Super Bowl MVP after the game, being the first receiver since 1989 to achieve the award. After a trade with Seattle in 2006, Branch then spent four seasons in Washington before returning back to the Patriots in 2010-2012.
12 Chandler Jones
The sack machine himself, Chandler Jones was, and still is, a nightmare for quarterbacks in the NFL. Selected by New England in the first round (21st overall) of the 2012 Draft, Jones was put straight to work, as he earned a starting position right out of the Patriots training camp as their right defensive end. Wasting no time, Jones was named Rookie of the Month for September in his debut season. In his time with the Patriots, Jones recorded 36 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, 2 defensive touchdowns and one interception. He was also a major part of the Patriots' 2014 defense, making a huge impact in the Super Bowl with a sack and a forced fumble. This summer, he was traded to the Arizona Cardinals due to salary cap issues. The trade was enough to move Tom Brady to tears, which shows you the impact Jones had in New England.
11 Dont'a Hightower
The 6’3”, 265 pound linebacker debuted with a fumble recovery and a touchdown for New England and, since then, many fans have been sporting Hightower on the back of their Patriots jerseys, and for good reason. Selected in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft (25th overall), Hightower’s strength and grit have been a major strength for New England. Dont'a Hightower has recorded over 340 tackles and 14.5 sacks in his four seasons with Belichick. One of the most memorable moments of his career so far came in the 2014 Super Bowl against the Seattle Seahawks, where, in the last minute of play, he stopped Marshawn Lynch at the one-yard line. That allowed the next play to be the famous Malcom Butler interception to win the game. Adding to his accolades, Hightower was named a team captain on this year's 2016 team.
10 Jerod Mayo
A humble player all throughout his career, Jerod Mayo spent his entire eight year career with Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. On draft day, Mayo wasn’t found in New York with the highly anticipated draft prospects, but in Virginia at his home, raking leaves with his family. Mayo was selected in the first round, as the 10th pick, during the 2008 Draft. During his career with the Patriots, Mayo was voted by his teammates as defensive co-captian for five consecutive seasons from 2009 - 2015. Mayo was a two-time Pro Bowl Selection, First-team All-Pro, a Super Bowl Champion and the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2008. Before his 2015 retirement, Jerod Mayo had 808 tackles, 11 sacks, 8 forced fumbles, 7 fumble recoveries, 3 interceptions and 19 pass deflections.
9 Devin McCourty
The safety for the New England Patriots, Devin McCourty is always closely watched by Belichick. And by closely watched, I mean if he drops an easy interception, he doesn’t see the field until the next game. Belichick is hard on McCourty, but for good reason. Selected in the first round (27th overall) of the 2010 NFL Draft, McCourty has proven himself to be a clutch player for New England. McCourty has been named defensive captain and co-captain of the Patriots squad for the past six years (2011-2016). Still active with the Patriots today, McCourty so far has 472 tackles, 2 sacks, 7 forced fumbles, 18 interceptions (he had 7 during his rookie season in 2010), 64 pass deflections and 837 kick/punt return yards. A two-time Second-team All-Pro and a 2014 Super Bowl Champion, McCourty doesn’t seem to mind Belichick’s close eye.
8 Stephen Gostkowski
Being drafted to a team that had a legend like Adam Vinatieri as their kicker seems like not only a daunting task, but massive shoes for any player to fill in. A fourth round pick (119th overall) in 2006, the 22-year old was selected for the Patriots after they won three Super Bowl Championships in five seasons. Since then, Gostkowski has proven himself to be one of the greatest NFL place-kickers the league has seen. Along with holding the NFL record for most consecutive extra points made (463), he is the Patriots all-time leading scorer. More of his accomplishments include being a five-time NFL season scoring leader, Second-team All-Pro, two-time First-team All-Pro, four-time Pro Bowler, Super Bowl Champion and the ESPN Kicker of the Year in 2015.
7 Jamie Collins
Going into his fourth season with New England, Jamie Collins fans are hoping for another stellar season from the young outside linebacker, who was selected in the second round (58th overall) of the 2013 NFL Draft. After a relatively quiet rookie season, Collins found his way in 2014, recording 138 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 interceptions and 4 forced fumbles. In 2015, Collins started 12 regular season games and had 5 forced fumbles and 5.5 sacks. Famously known for his leap over the Colt’s offensive line to block an extra point attempt, Collins was named to the Pro Bowl for the first time this past season and was also named a Second-team All-Pro. The Super Bowl Champion so far has 9.5 sacks, 9 forced fumbles, 13 pass deflections and 3 interceptions under Belichick and will continue to be a major part of their defense for the foreseeable future.
6 Vince Wilfork
The Univesity of Miami Alum, Vince Wilfork was a key part of the New England Patriots success from 2004-2014. Fans are still coping with the loss of the nose tackle as his presence on the field was as big as his personality. From 2008-2014, Wilfork was named a defensive co-captain by his teammates. During his ten years with the Patriots, Wilfork played in 158 games with 148 career starts, boosting a 111-31 record with him in the lineup for the Pats. Wilfork is a two-time Super Bowl Champion, five-time Pro Bowler, First-team All-Pro and three-time Second-team All-Pro. With 16 sacks, 28 pass deflections, 3 interceptions, 5 forced fumbles and 12 fumbles recovered, the 21st pick of the 2004 NFL Draft was a great choice made by Bill Belichick.
5 Julian Edelman
Famously nicknamed “Minitron” by Tom Brady, Julian Edelman is a classic case of a late draft pick gone right. Belichick and the Patriots selected Edelman in the seventh round with the 232nd pick of the 2009 NFL Draft. After conducting a private workout with him just days before the draft, Belichick saw the speed he possessed and knew how to pair it up with his star quarterback, Tom Brady. That speedy receiver currently holds the team record with four return punt touchdowns. Like a fine wine goes with cheese, Edelman goes with Brady. Minitron has been with the Patriots since the '09 draft and the Super Bowl Champion’s stat line showcases an impressive 334 receptions, 3,500 receiving yards, and 21 receiving touchdowns. Not bad at all for a seventh round pick out of Kent State.
4 Matt Light
Still a presence in the sports world today after his retirement, Matt Light is another great pick by Bill Belichick. Light spent his entire 11 year career with the Patriots following the 2001 NFL Draft, where he was selected 48th overall. From 2001 until 2011, Light was a massive force on the offensive line, protecting Tom Brady's blindside. Playing in a total of 155 games during his career, and starting in 153 of them, it was rare to not see Light out on the field (besides a few injuries here and there). During his time at Gillette Stadium, Light was a three-time Super Bowl Champion, three-time Pro Bowl Selection, First-team All-Pro, Madden's Most Valuable Protector and helped Tom Brady win the NFL MVP Award in 2007 by protecting him to a legendary season.
3 Richard Seymour
An elite defensive lineman for New England from 2001-2008, Richard Seymour certainly lived up to his first round, 6th overall selection in the 2001 NFL Draft. Seymour’s time in New England was well-served, as he was a three-time Super Bowl Champion, while appearing in the Super Bowl a total of four times, five-time Pro Bowl Selection (with the Patriots), three-time First-Team All-Pro, and was also named once to the Second-Team All-Pro. Seymour’s career stats under Belichick are 39 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 6 fumble recoveries, 2 interceptions, 29 pass deflections in 8 seasons. His last year with New England resulted in a trade where Seymour then finished out his successful career with the Oakland Raiders for four seasons prior to his retirement from the game in 2012.
2 Rob Gronkowski
Where do we begin with Rob Gronkowski, or THE GRONK as he’s well known. Probably one of Belichick's smartest draft picks over his 16 years with the Patriots, this 6’6”, 265 pound tight end is a force to be reckoned with on the field. It takes a lot to bring him down and it’s common to see him still gaining yards with three or four players trying to bring him down. The Arizona State University alum was selected in the second round (42nd overall) of the 2010 NFL Draft and teams have been regretting not picking him ever since. Named a team captain this year for the first time in his career, Gronk seems to be maturing a bit. The Super Bowl Champion is also a four-time Pro Bowl Selection, three-time First-team All-Pro, the NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2014 and The NFL receiving touchdowns leader in 2011. Along with that, Gronk has also broken 11 NFL records and has four Patriot Franchise Records. During the offseason, you can find him partying it up, chilling with David Ortiz while drinking Dunkin Donuts and on the cover of Madden ’17.
1 Tom Brady
It should come as no surprise that Tom Brady holds the number one spot on this list. He has proven that it doesn’t matter when you are selected in the draft, as you can still come out on top. Mr. 199 of the 2000 NFL Draft, the University of Michigan quarterback was just happy to be drafted. During his rookie season, as the back-up to Drew Bledsoe, Brady played just one game in the 2000 season. But after Bledsoe sustained an injury, Brady was all the Patriots and Belichick had. The most dynamic duo football has ever seen began from there and it’s hard for any Patriot fans to imagine the franchise without them. Brady and Belichick have made it to the Super Bowl six times, winning four of them. Along with that, the 38-year old Brady is a three-time Super Bowl MVP, two-time NFL Most Valuable Player, 11-time Pro Bowl Selection, two-time First-team All-Pro, two-time NFL Offensive Player of the Year, the NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2009, four-time NFL passing touchdowns leader and a two-time NFL passing yards leader. Brady has 4,953 completions, 428 touchdowns, 58,028 passing yards and his passer rating is an astonishing 96.4. Playing his whole career with the Patriots and under coach Bill Belichick, Brady is the most decorated quarterback of his generation. Not bad for Mr. 199, right?