Finding star players in the NFL Draft is an inexact science. But the Patriots have had their share of draft success over the years. Examine the best selections in team history (Also see: the worst draft picks in Patriots history):
1. Tom Brady
Selected: Sixth round, No. 199 overall, in 2000
Brady is the most important and most accomplished player in franchise history. And the Patriots found him in the sixth round! If, 85-plus years from now, someone ranks the biggest NFL draft bargains of the entire 21st century, it’s likely Brady will still be near the top of the list. There were 198 players selected before him in 2000, a fact that probably makes all the other NFL decision-makers bang their heads off their tackling dummies.
2. John Hannah
Selected: First round, No. 4 overall, in 1973
The goal when a team has the fourth overall pick is to find a can’t-miss prospect. The Patriots didn’t miss in Hannah, who would play every game of his career in New England before being elected to the Hall of Fame in 1991. He was the best guard in the NFL over his career and earned 10 straight All-Pro honors.
3. Drew Bledsoe
Selected: First round, No. 1 overall, in 1993
Drafting the quarterback may look like it was an easy decision now. But at the time, there was significant debate over whether the Patriots should take Bledsoe or Rick Mirer, the Notre Dame quarterback who had a lot of support. But New England correctly opted for Bledsoe to pair with new coach Bill Parcells, and Bledsoe became a catalyst who helped transform the Patriots into one of the NFL’s premier franchises. Mirer, who went No. 2 to Seattle, would become a journeyman backup.
4. Curtis Martin
Selected: Third round, No. 74 overall, in 1995
On paper, it looks great when your third-round pick has a career that lands him in the Hall of Fame. In reality, though, you want those Hall of Fame credentials to be built in your uniform. In Martin’s case, he paved his path to Canton wearing a Jets jersey after leaving as a free agent following his third year in New England. At least the Patriots were the beneficiaries of the first three of his 10 straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
5. Andre Tippett
Selected: Second round, No. 41 overall, in 1982
Tippett was the second of two straight Patriots picks in the second round of the 1982 draft. While the Patriots got little out of the No. 40 overall pick, running back Robert Weathers, they found a gem in Tippett. The linebacker harassed a generation of NFL quarterbacks and ultimately won election to the Hall of Fame. His 100 career sacks are most in Patriots history.
6. Ty Law
Selected: First round, No. 23 overall, in 1995
Law had a huge impact in New England and became arguably the franchise’s most accomplished cornerback. He picked off 36 passes in his 10 seasons with the Patriots (tied for the franchise lead with Raymond Clayborn). He was on four Super Bowl teams in New England and was a key member of the champion squads in 2001 and 2003.
7. Mike Haynes
Selected: First round, No. 5 overall, in 1976
Haynes’s standout rookie season helped turn the Patriots from a laughable 3-11 to an 11-3 playoff team. And it wasn’t just his eight interceptions. The cornerback was also a standout punt returner, taking two back for touchdowns as a rookie. He picked off 28 passes over seven seasons in New England before spending the second half of his Hall of Fame career with the Raiders.
8. Troy Brown
Selected: Eighth round, No. 198 overall, in 1993
It would have been easy to project Brown as a player who was more likely to filter out of football than to become the Patriots’ all-time leader in receptions. He was drafted in the eighth round, then cut at the end of the preseason before being re-signed later in the season. In his first two seasons, he caught just two passes. But over the next decade-plus, Brown became one of the most dependable players on the Patriots. He caught 557 career passes and was a key contributor to the Super Bowl-winning teams in 2001, 2003, and 2004.
9. Logan Mankins
Selected: First round, No. 32 overall, in 2005
Many were surprised — even Mankins was — when the Patriots spent a first-round pick on the Fresno State product. But the selection paid off as Mankins went on to become a fixture of the offensive line for the next decade. He would be a Pro Bowl regular and proved especially durable as he didn’t miss a game over his first five seasons.
10. Ray Hamilton
Selected: 14th round, No. 342 overall, in 1973
Today Hamilton would have been an undrafted free agent (the draft is capped at seven rounds). But in 1973, he emerged from the 14th round to become a defensive line mainstay for the Patriots for almost a decade. Hamilton recorded seven sacks as a rookie and 54 over his career (the NFL didn’t officially begin counting them until 1982). His 110 straight starts set a team record.
• Steve Nelson: Four picks after they found a bust in Steve Corbett at No. 30 in 1974, the Patriots drafted a 14-year starting linebacker in Nelson.
• Raymond Clayborn and Stanley Morgan: Drafted together in 1977 at No. 16 and No. 25, Clayborn (a cornerback) and Morgan (a wide receiver) would become part of the Patriots’ backbone for 13 seasons.
• Mosi Tatupu: A workhorse running back and a star on special teams, Tatupu became a fan favorite in Foxborough for 13 seasons after being chosen 215th overall in the eighth round of the 1978 draft.
• Ronnie Lippett: He came from the eighth round (214th overall pick) in 1983 to be an eight-year starter at cornerback.
• Bruce Armstrong: Chosen at No. 23 in 1987, the left tackle would miss only 12 games over 14 years.
• Ben Coates: The fifth-round tight end (picked 124th overall) was nearly unstoppable — as evidenced by the number of defenders it often took to bring him to the ground — once he blossomed under Bill Parcells.
• Marty Moore: He was “Mr. Irrelevant” as the 222d and last pick in the seventh round in 1994. But Moore stuck around for seven-plus NFL seasons (six in New England) as a role-playing linebacker and special teamer.
• Vince Wilfork: The big defensive tackle arrived as the 21st overall pick in 2004, won a Super Bowl his first season, and then became an anchor along the defensive line.