Bill Belichick will be known as one of the most brilliant football minds to ever live so long as the National Football League exists and is part of our society. Belichick earned multiple Super Bowl rings serving as a defensive coordinator, and he has hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy five times as a head coach as of May 2017. The perception that exists today is that Belichick can do little, if any, wrong as it pertains to building a roster capable of contending for a championship. In fairness, he has a long history of finding great value in drafts and also signing quality free agents. One can only wonder where the Patriots would be at the end of the current decade if not for both Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady.
No entity is perfect, of course, and even a brilliant strategist such as Belichick has gotten plenty wrong throughout his illustrious career. He and his staffs have, over the years, drafted and signed players who failed to contribute much of anything to Patriots teams, and some of those decisions ended up costing New England opportunities to win titles. With that said, Belichick routinely gets more right than wrong, and it’s why the Patriots continue to be the model franchise in a league that is supposed to be all about parity and giving every club an equal opportunity to find success. It’s possible, maybe even likely, they’ll never again be as great a coach as Belichick in the NFL.
20 Worst: Terrence Wheatley
Back in 2008, Belichick and the Patriots grabbed defensive back Terrence Wheatley in the second round of the NFL Draft. Wheatley impressed while playing his college football at Colorado, and he was given a chance to learn as a rookie serving as a reserve. An injury slowed him during his first season with the Patriots, however, and that proved to be only the first hurdle he would encounter in the NFL.
Per Pro-Football-Reference, Wheatley played in only 11 total games with the Patriots, making one start along the way, before the club gave up on the experiment in 2010. He went on to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but he made little impact for the Jags or for any other team before his NFL career ended.
19 Best: Asante Samuel
Unlike with Wheatley, Belichick and the Patriots acquired an absolute gem when the club selected Asante Samuel in the fourth round of the 2003 NFL Draft. Samuel quickly found a home in what was already an impressive secondary, and he nabbed a career-high ten interceptions during the 2006 campaign. Best of all, Samuel won a pair of Super Bowl titles while playing with the Patriots.
Despite all of the success he enjoyed as a member of the Patriots, some New England fans may mostly remember Samuel because he dropped what could have been a game-clinching interception late in Super Bowl XLII. While that one memory may haunt some, it doesn’t take away from the fact that he was one of Belichick’s best value picks.
18 Worst: Dominique Easley
Belichick and the Patriots grabbed Dominique Easley with the 29th pick of the 2014 NFL Draft, and the thought at the time likely was that Easley would eventually become a long-term replacement for veteran Vince Wilfork. That never happened, though, as Easley was slowed by an injury during his rookie campaign. Little did anybody know at the time that knock would prove to be the beginning of the end of his New England career.
Easley made only three starts across two seasons for the Patriots until the club surprisingly elected to cut him after the 2015 campaign. He went on to sign with the Los Angeles Rams, and he may find more success there considering he's still a relatively young athlete. Nevertheless, this was a bad pick for the Pats.
17 17: Best: Matt Light
Offensive linemen do the dirty work up front during games, but they often fail to receive the credit they deserve from fans and casual viewers because they do not make flashy plays featured on national television shows and highlight reels. Belichick and the Patriots acquired offensive tackle Matt Light in the second round of the 2001 NFL Draft, and Light became a vital protector for Tom Brady during Brady’s early seasons in the NFL.
Light won three Super Bowl titles during his career, one that he spent with only the Patriots until he retired following the 2011 campaign. It may take some time, but fans shouldn’t be surprised if Light one day earns a trip to Canton and induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
16 Worst: Joey Galloway
Belichick and the Patriots probably should have known better when the club took a chance on veteran wide receiver Joey Galloway in the spring of 2009. Galloway had a solid NFL career earlier in the decade, but he was a shell of his former self and in his late 30s when the Patriots acquired his services.
Galloway made little impacts in games playing in the New England passing attack, as he started in only a pair of contests for the club. In fact, the Patriots decided in October of his only season with the team that he was surplus to requirements, and New England released him at that time. Galloway remained in the NFL up through the fall of 2010, although he never again found the end zone as a pro.
15 Best: Stephen Gostkowski
Stephen Gostkowski is the first of two well-known New England kickers mentioned in this piece. Belichick and the Patriots selected Gostkowski in the fourth round of the 2006 NFL Draft, which is a bit high for any team to take a player who is only on the field a handful of plays each game.
As usual, though, Belichick proved to be the smartest man in the room regarding this move, as Gostkowski became a starter his rookie season. He has not given up that role as of the spring of 2017, and he's a two-time Super Bowl Champion. Perhaps most impressive is that Gostkowski is currently the club’s all-time scoring leader. In the end, he has been worth even more than a fourth-round pick.
14 Worst: Jermaine Cunningham
The Patriots acquired multiple stars during the 2010 NFL Draft, including defensive back Devin McCourty, tight end Rob Gronkowski and linebacker Brandon Spikes. Unfortunately for Belichick and company, Jermaine Cunningham never evolved into a meaningful player while in the NFL. Cunningham made 11 starts as a rookie, but he was largely an afterthought who made little impact as part of the New England defense outside of a single sack.
In November 2012, Cunningham received a four-game ban from the NFL after he allegedly violated the league’s anti-doping policy. He went on to play for the San Francisco 49ers and New York Jets after parting ways with the Patriots in 2013, and he's one of the worst draft picks Belichick has made over the years.
13 Best: Richard Seymour
NFL teams must find ultimate value with first-round picks, and that is exactly what Belichick did when he added defensive lineman Richard Seymour to the roster with the sixth overall pick of the 2001 NFL Draft. Seymour is considered one of the best defensive players of those New England squads that dominated the decade, as he was a three-time first-team All-Pro from 2003 through 2005. He was on each of the three New England teams that won Super Bowl Championships from 2000 through 2010, and Belichick even elected to use him on offensive plays earlier in his career.
There should be little doubt Seymour will eventually be added to the Pro Football Hall of Fame for all he achieved during his time with the Patriots.
12 Worst: Jonathan Fanene
The problem with knowing where to mention Jonathan Fanene in any list of worst New England players during the Belichick era is that he technically was never a player for the Patriots. Fanene dealt with injury woes during his time with the Cincinnati Bengals, but the Patriots still signed him to a three-year deal in 2012.
However, it did not take long for Fanene’s new employer to learn he was not fit to take the field against NFL competition. A knee injury sidelined him during the team’s first two preseason games in August, and that was enough for Belichick to release him for “failure to disclose physical condition.” New England fans will remember Fanene as one of the club’s biggest free agency busts.
11 Best: Julian Edelman
Some out there may be surprised to learn Julian Edelman played quarterback while attending Kent State University. While he couldn’t land a roster spot in the NFL as a signal-caller, the Patriots acquired him via the seventh round of the 2009 NFL Draft and then converted him to wide receiver.
That ultimately proved to be the best move for all involved. Tom Brady received a new weapon in his passing game, the Patriots turned a seventh-round selection into a first-rate wide receiver and Edelman ended up signing a contract worth millions of dollars years into his pro career. Edelman is a two-time Super Bowl Champion, not to mention one of Brady’s most reliable receivers during the second half of his days with the Patriots.
10 Worst: Chad Jackson
As great a find as Julian Edelman has been for Belichick throughout the receiver’s career, Chad Jackson was a miscue and a decision that never should have been made. The Patriots not only used a second-round pick to take Jackson in the 2006 NFL Draft. New England actually traded up with the Green Bay Packers in order to turn this draft card in.
Jackson started one whole game during his forgettable New England career, but he did manage to score three touchdowns. Green Bay, meanwhile, ended up getting a guy named Greg Jennings. For all the good decisions and right moves Belichick has made since taking the New England job, this ranks right up there with his worst and one he hopes we can all forget about.
9 Best: Adam Vinatieri
Adam Vinatieri is a unique individual among the best and worst Patriots to play under Belichick because Vinatieri joined the club in 1996 and before New England hired the five-time champion coach. Vinatieri nevertheless deserves to be mentioned here because of all that he did for Belichick in the 2000s. The kicker delivered a walk-off field goal to win Super Bowl XXXVI for the Patriots, and he matched that feat when he booted a game-winning field goal in the final seconds of Super Bowl XXXVIII.
He also played a big role in the Patriots defeating the Philadelphia Eagles 24-21 at Super Bowl XXXIX. Fans and analysts often debate if kickers deserve to get into the Hall of Fame, but it’s hard to imagine Vinatieri won’t eventually have his day in Canton.
8 Worst: Chad Ochocinco
There is so much one could like and dislike about Chad Johnson, the wide receiver who went by the name Chad Ochocinco when the Patriots acquired him in the summer of 2011. Ochocinco was known for his celebration dances, promos he would cut while speaking with reporters and also for being a dynamic player during his days with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Unfortunately for Belichick and his staff, Ochocinco made more noise away from the lineup than he did during games while with the Patriots. Ochocinco finished the season with only a single touchdown, and he was a total non-factor in New England’s Super Bowl XLVI loss to the New York Giants. The Patriots released him in June 2012 after his one lackluster side with the club, making him a regrettable signing.
7 Best: Vince Wilfork
The argument could be made Vince Wilfork is the best overall defensive player to ever feature for the Patriots underneath Belichick. New England was able to select the defensive tackle with the 21st overall pick of the 2004 NFL Draft, and he proved his worth to the club beginning in his rookie year.
Wilfork helped the Patriots win a Super Bowl that year before becoming a starter, but it wasn’t until a few years later -- 2007 to be exact -- before he was named to a Pro Bowl squad, the first of five times he earned that honor during his career. There is little doubt Wilfork will be added to the Pro Football Hall of Fame not long after he officially calls time on his playing days.
6 Worst: Adrian Klemm
It's a good thing Belichick wasn’t immediately judged for his initial draft class, because he essentially wasted his first ever draft pick as the head coach of the Patriots. Yes, it’s true Adrian Klemm remained with the club for four seasons, meaning he was part of three different Super Bowl teams.
Do not be fooled by that one statistic, though. Klemm started in only ten games across four seasons with the Patriots, and he didn’t play a down of meaningful NFL football after the 2005 campaign. While Klemm was a second-round pick taken 46th overall, Belichick obviously could’ve found better value at multiple positions. We guess it’s a good thing he got this one out of his system early, the onto the next one approach was well done in this case.
5 Best: Rob Gronkowski
Imagine getting the man who is, physically speaking, the most dominant tight end of his generation with a second-round draft pick. Belichick was able to pull this off by acquiring Rob Gronkowski with the 42nd overall selection in the 2010 NFL Draft. Even casual fans who dabble in fantasy football leagues know what a beast Gronk has been during his time with the Patriots.
What’s even more astounding is that the two-time Super Bowl Champion and four-time first-team All-Pro will likely never reach his high ceiling because of the multiple injury setbacks he’s faced this decade. We love his character and personality, but don’t forget a fully-healthy Gronkowski is a Hall-of-Famer and one of the best to ever play the position.
4 Worst: Aaron Hernandez
Any and all discussions about talent must be left aside when discussing Belichick and the Patriots taking tight end Aaron Hernandez in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Numerous character concerns and red flags hovered over Hernandez heading into that draft, but the Patriots nevertheless selected him and then helped him become a Superstar offensive player.
We now know trouble followed Hernandez to the NFL and in his personal life, as he was arrested on murder charges in June 2013. He was eventually found guilty of shooting former friend Odin Lloyd, a crime that earned him a sentence of life in prison. Sadly, Hernandez took his own life when he hung himself in prison during April 2017. He was only 27 years old at the time of his death.
3 Best: Randy Moss
In a way, it’s almost a shame Randy Moss never won a Super Bowl Title while playing under Belichick with the Patriots. New England acquired the outspoken, yet talented, wide receiver via a trade with the Oakland Raiders in 2007, and Moss became part of a prolific passing attack that set records playing alongside quarterback Tom Brady.
While the Patriots finished the regular season undefeated that year, New England lost Super Bowl XLII to the New York Giants, in part because Moss was unable to reel in a deep pass late in the contest. Moss never again had quite as good a season in New England, but his 2007 campaign may be the finest had by any receiver in the history of pro football.
2 Worst: Adalius Thomas
A post on Mass Live once referred to Adalius Thomas as the “gold standard for free agent busts in New England.” The Patriots signed him to a five-year deal, one reportedly worth $35 million, and he seemed to be worth every cent of that contract throughout his first year with the Patriots. He landed in Belichick’s doghouse during the 2009 campaign, most notably after he showed up late for a meeting. Regardless of the talent that he flashed while with the Patriots, Belichick and the club gave him his marching orders in the spring of 2010.
Belichick is probably relieved he didn’t have to pay out Thomas’ salary even if he would privately admit this is one of the worst personnel decisions he’s made with the Patriots.
1 Best: Tom Brady
You probably have the story of quarterback Tom Brady memorized by now because you’ve heard and read it so much. Brady was the 199th overall pick of the 2000 NFL Draft, and he went on to become arguably the greatest QB in the history of the league. Brady is a five-time Super Bowl Champion, four-time Super Bowl MVP and probably the best draft pick in NFL history and maybe in the history of North American pro sports, in general.
We don’t know where either Belichick or Brady would be without each other, but the football fates deemed that they would join forces to make the Patriots the NFL team of the first two decades of the century. It’s hard to even fathom a season where Brady and Belichick aren’t working together. May we never see the day.