When it comes to winning in the NFL, the New England Patriots seem to have mastered the art. In the last 16 seasons alone, they have won 14 AFC East titles. Moreover, the Pats have been able to secure 4 Super Bowl Championships during the Brady-Belichick era, with a chance to take home a 5th this Sunday. Much of New England’s success has been a result of finding the right players at the right price and one of the best ways to do this is through the NFL draft.
The NFL draft is one of the most exciting times for football fans across the globe. For some teams, it represents a chance to add the final piece to a championship roster, while others are looking for fresh faces to help rebuild their franchise. The stakes are high and so are the price tags, especially in the early rounds. If a team is fortunate enough to make the right pick in the 1st round they’ll more than likely have a superstar on their hands. Conversely, an early round bust can result in millions of dollars being wasted and a weaker overall roster.
Now that we’ve established that the New England Patriots are one of the best teams in recent NFL history, let’s take a look at how they’ve done when it comes to the all-important 1st round draft choice. Here is a list of 1st round picks; some of these names Pats fans will recognize and remember fondly, while others they would likely just as soon forget.
15 Best: Dont'a Hightower
New England selected the standout linebacker from Alabama with the 25th overall pick in 2012. At 26 years of age, he has already been a major contributor for the Patriots. It was Hightower who stopped Seahawks Running Back Marshawn Lynch at the one-yard line during Super Bowl XLIX, preventing the go-ahead score late in the 4th quarter. The next play was teammate Malcolm Butlers, now famous interception of Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, which clinched the Patriots Super Bowl victory. However, Hightower is hardly a one-play-wonder. His outstanding contributions this season resulted in his first ever Pro Bowl selection. If not for Hightower’s big stop on the one, New England may have one less Super Bowl trophy in their display case. Hightower has already proven to be a solid pick and could continue to have a major impact for years to come.
14 Worst: Eugene Chung
In 1992, Chung became the first Korean-American in NFL history to be taken in the first round. Unfortunately, for the Patriots that would be the only bit of history Chung would make during his playing career. He was able to maintain his role as a starter for nearly two seasons. However, he played in just 3 games in 1994, before losing the starting job. 1994 turned out to be his final season in New England. The offensive Lineman would never achieve stardom in the NFL. He was eventually taken by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 1995 expansion draft, after just three lackluster seasons in New England. Today Chung is an assistant coach for the Philadelphia Eagles. It’s fair to say the Patriots did not get the kind of production they hoped for from the 13th overall pick.
13 Best: Devin McCourty
The versatile defensive back was selected by the Patriots with the 27th overall pick in 2010. McCourty was twice selected to the Pro Bowl. He was also a three-time all-pro, an honor awarded to those who are considered to be the best at their position. McCourty made an immediate impact with the Patriots his rookie season, starting all 16 games while recording 82 tackles and hauling in 7 interceptions. The safety was also a member of the Pat’s 2014 Super Bowl Championship team. The organization thought so highly of McCourty when his contract was up, prior to the 2015 season, they decided to use the franchise tag in order to retain his services, before eventually settling on terms for a new contract. McCourty is also the Patriots co-captain, a title he has held for six consecutive seasons. The Rutgers product is an excellent example of a 1st round pick that lived up to the hype.
12 Worst: Chris Canty
After forgoing his final season at Kansas Sate to enter the NFL, Canty was selected by the Patriots 9th overall. When he joined the team in 1997, many in the organization thought he and fellow cornerback Ty Law would be forces to reckon with in the defensive backfield. They were only half right. While Law went on to become a superstar in the NFL, Canty turned out to be a major bust. In his two seasons with New England, Canty would record only 1 interception. He would go on to play for the Seahawks and the Saints but failed to make much of an impact with either team. The year 2000 would mark Canty’s final season in the NFL. He would spend his final years as a pro playing in the arena league for the now defunct Rio Grande Valley Dorados. As a top ten overall pick, Canty is easily among the worst draft selections in Patriots history.
11 Best: Ty Law
The former 23rd overall pick in 1995 is regarded as on the greatest Patriots defensive backs of all time. Law recorded 53 interceptions during the span of his career, which ranks 22nd all-time in NFL history. He’s been named to virtually every Patriots honorary team and was also inducted into the New England Patriots Hall of Fame. Like so many other Patriots of his era, Law has multiple Super Bowl rings, three in fact. Today the former Pro Bowler owns a chain of trampoline parks in the greater New England area. In fact, rumor has it that Law even shows up from time to time to participate in a little trampoline dodgeball. When it comes to drafting Law in the first round, it’s fair to say the Patriots have no regrets.
10 Worst: Hart Lee Dykes
Fans of college football may remember Dykes for his involvement with NCAA recruitment scandal. The scandal involved a bidding war between several big name colleges, which resulted in Dykes receiving $23,000 for his services. He was granted immunity despite being in violation of NCAA recruitment rules, due to his cooperation with investigators. Patriot fans may recall the star wide receiver was the 16th overall pick in the 1989 draft. Dykes short tenure with the Patriots was relatively productive. He had 1,344 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns in just 26 games. However, his career was cut short by injuries, leaving Patriot fans wondering “what might have been”. In Dykes case, it was more about bad luck as opposed to a lack of talent. Of course, an eye injury he sustained during a bar fight, probably didn't help matters either. That being said, getting only 26 games out of 1st round pick certainly isn’t what New England was hoping for.
9 Best: Richard Seymour
Seymour’s list of accomplishments in the NLF are so extensive, they almost warrant a separate article. The highlights include 3 Super Bowl Championships, NFL 2000s All-Decade Team, New England Patriots 50th Anniversary Team, and 7 Pro Bowl appearances. The 6 foot 6 defensive end will almost assuredly have his bust enshrined in Canton someday. The Patriots were savvy enough to grab Seymour with 6th overall pick in the 2001 draft. After 8 seasons of outstanding production in New England, the Patriots were able to trade Seymour for a first round pick in the 2011 draft. It would almost be like buying a car, driving it around for 8 years, and then trading it in for close to the same price. It's moves like that, which help the Patriots maintain their status among the NFL’s elite.
8 Worst: Chris Singleton
In the 1990 NFL Draft, the New England Patriots secured two 1st round selections via a trade involving both the Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts. With the 8th overall pick, they selected Arizona Linebacker, Chris Singleton. Singleton served as an occasional starter, in his just over three seasons with New England. There were a few bright spots for Singleton during his tenure with the Pats (including an 82-yard interception for a touchdown in 1992), though he never quite lived up to expectations. Singleton lasted for seven seasons in the NFL with both the Patriots and Dolphins and while he had a couple of solid years sprinkled in there, but he wasn’t able to come close to sustaining the type of production expected from 1st round draft pick. On a positive note, Singleton did donate his bone marrow to help save his twin brother, who was diagnosed with cancer.
7 Best: Willie McGinest
McGinest holds several NFL records including most career sacks in the postseason (16), most sacks in a playoff game (4.5) and most fumble returns for a touchdown (2). He also helped the Patriots win 3 Superbowls and in 2015 was inducted into the New England Patriots Hall of Fame. The two-time Pro Bowler remains a fan favorite amongst the New England faithful. McGinest would go on to finish his career with the Cleveland Browns, before retiring after the 2008 season, with an impressive 86 career sacks. Let’s not forget about his 582 career tackles either. When you’re the 4th overall pick the (1994) draft, expectations are sky high. McGinest was able to meet those expectations and cement his status as one of the best linebackers in Patriots History.
6 Worst: Ray Agnew
Agnew was the Patriots 2nd first round draft choice in the 1990 draft. The first was the previously mentioned Chris Singleton. The draft pick (10th overall) was also acquired via trade with the Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts. Agnew posted decent numbers in his first three seasons with New England, including 61 tackles in 1992. He was also a member of the Patriots Super Bowl XXXIV Championship squad. However, he lost his starting gig in New England by 1993. Agnew recorded only 7.5 sacks during his time with the Patriots. He went on to play for other teams but never had the career one might expect from a 10th overall draft choice. To make matters worse, the Seahawks used the pick the Patriots traded them (3rd overall) to draft Cortez Kennedy, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012. The Patriots essentially traded a shot at Kennedy for Chris Singleton and Ray Agnew. Ouch!
5 Best: Vince Wilfork
For over a decade the 300 plus pound nose tackle was a key part of the Patriots defensive line. Wilfork’s accolades include 5 Pro Bowl selections, 2 Super Bowl Championships, and being named to The New England Patriots 50th Anniversary Team. The former 21st overall pick in 2004, will likely receive Hall of Fame Consideration. Besides being an outstanding football player, it appears Wilfork is also an upstanding citizen. Following New England’s 2015 AFC Championship game Wilfork noticed an SUV turned over on the side of the road. Wilfork pulled over to assist the officer who was already at the scene. Wilfork now plays for the Houston Texans but is still remembered fondly by most Patriots fans. Vince Wilfork is an outstanding example of a 1st round draft pick that really panned out.
4 Worst: Kenneth Sims
If the Patriots ever start a Draft Bust Hall of Fame, Sims has a strong case to be the inaugural inductee. The former defensive end was the very first selection of the 1982 NFL draft. During his eight years in New England, he was only able to play one full season. Moreover, his 16 total sacks over an eight years stretch, left a bit to be desired from a number one overall pick. Sims lack of production was attributed to his lackluster effort on the practice field. To make matters worse Sims was arrested on charges of cocaine possession in 1990. He was eventually cut from the team prior to the start of the 1990 season. The Patriots could have snagged future Hall of Famers like Mike Munchak or Marcus Allen, instead... they got Kenneth Sims.
3 Best: Mike Haynes
Football experts rank Haynes among the greatest cornerbacks in NFL history. He was also an outstanding kick returner. He even scored two touchdowns off of punt returns, in his rookie campaign. In seven years with the New England Patriots he recorded 28 interceptions and started 58 consecutive games. He also racked up 1,159 yards as a return specialist. He would go to play for the (then) Los Angles Raiders, where he maintained his high level of production. The Patriots would go on to retire Haynes number 40, a rare honor reserved for the elite players in franchise history. In 1997 Haynes was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The number 5 overall pick in the 1976 draft, turned out to be one of best players the franchise has ever drafted.
2 Worst: Tony Eason
The Patriots drafted Eason 15th overall in the 1983 draft with hope he would develop into a franchise quarterback. After just one season he would go on to lose his starting job. When his replacement, Steve Grogan went down with an injury, Eason was able to help lead his team to the Super Bowl. However, the Pat's QB was unable to complete a single pass in the big game going 0-for-6, before being benched. Eason has the distinction of being the only Quarterback in NFL history, to start a Super Bowl without completing a pass. He was also sacked 59 times in 1984, which was a record at the time. Tony Eason never became the quarterback New England hoped he would and would eventually be placed on waivers.
1 Best: John Hannah
The 4th overall pick of the 1973 draft, would go on to become the first ever New England Patriot to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The offensive guard was even named NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team. He started in 183 games and spent his entire career in New England. He is considered to be the best offensive lineman in New England Patriots history. In fact, he is widely considered to be one of the greatest lineman in the history of the entire NFL. Before Tom Brady and Bill Belichick came to town, John Hannah was the standard for excellence in New England. With credentials like these, it's fair to say the Patriots got their money's worth when drafting John Hannah.