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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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