Drafting successfully in the NFL is crucial to building and maintaining competitive teams. Here is look back at five of the best pre-Bill Belichick Drafts in Patriots history.
The Patriots Draft room was equipped with three first rounders – the fifth, 12th, and 21st selections. With those three picks, the Patriots chose future Patriots and Pro Football Hall of Fame cornerback Mike Haynes, center/guard Pete Brock, and safety Tim Fox. Haynes – one of the best corners to ever play the game — lifts this class to our top 5 list. Brock and Fox were productive players on several good Patriots teams.
The Patriots added two future Patriots Hall of Famers in the 1977 NFL Draft. Armed with two first round picks, the Patriots selected cornerback Raymond Clayborn 16th overall and wide receiver Stanley Morgan 25th overall. Clayborn was a legitimate top corner in the league. His keen eye for the ball is why he sits at the top of the organization’s interceptions list with 36 career picks (tied with Ty Law). Morgan turned out to be the best receiver in Patriots history. Morgan dominated every receiving statistic at the time of his retirement. In a run-first league , Morgan flourished as a speedy deep threat who averaged 19.4 yards per catch and finished his career with franchise records for receiving yards (10,352), receptions (534), receiving touchdowns (67), and 100-yard receiving games (38). The Patriots also added some key starters on offense in that Draft. Running back Horace Ivory was selected 44th overall and tight end Don Hasselbeck was taken 52nd overall. Morgan and Clayborn’s presence earns a spot on this list, but the of two other starters improve this Draft’s stock.
The Patriots had a tough choice to make with the first overall pick in the 1993 NFL Draft. It would be a quarterback, but would it be Washington State’s Drew Bledsoe or Notre Dame’s Rick Mirer? The Patriots went with Bledsoe, and in doing so, helped put the franchise on a course to success. Bledsoe led the team to the playoffs in his second season and to a Super Bowl in his fourth. At the time, Bledsoe was the best the franchise had seen. He helped lead the Patriots out of their late-80s, early 90s despair. That Draft also saw the additions of pass rushing linebacker Chris Slade, a notable leader on the Patriots Super Bowl XXXI team, in the second round, along with fellow second rounders in guard Todd Rucci and and wide receiver Vincent Brisby, all who emerged as productive starters. The steal of the 1993 Draft came in a round that no longer exists – the eighth. The Patriots selected Marshall wide receiver Troy Brown with the 198th pick. Brown went on to retire as the franchise receptions leader and was second in receiving yards, led the franchise in punt returns and return yards, and gave the Patriots a toughness and versatility that proved instrumental at the start of the dynasty. Two elite franchise players and a handful of prominent starters gives the 1993 Patriots Draft a spot on this list.
The 1995 Draft nearly earns the top spot as the best Pre-Belichick Patriots Draft in franchise history. In that Draft, the Patriots landed Patriots and Pro Football Hall of Fame cornerback Ty Law 23rd overall. The Patriots selected another gold jacket in ’95 when they chose running back Curtis Martin in the third round. Although most of his success came with the rival Jets, Martin proved to be a star in his three seasons in New England. The Patriots also added a defensive staple in tough, hard-nosed linebacker Ted Johnson in the second round, a starting cornerback in Jimmy Hitchock in the third round, and starting center Dave Wohlabuagh in the fourth. Any Draft that features a Pro Football Hall of Famer is impressive, but selecting two in the same Draft is worthy of top spot contention.
The Patriots entered the 1973 NFL Draft with three first round picks in their pocket as they looked to turn the franchise around; they did just that. The Patriots selected future Patriots and Pro Football Hall of Fame guard John Hannah fourth overall, Patriots Hall of Fame running back Sam Cunningham 11th , and star wide receiver Darryl Stingley 19th . New England then added defensive end Ray “Sugar Bear” Hamilton in the 14th round. Sure, the Pats had three first rounders, and those picks come with high expectations, but they hit on all three of them. That Draft set the stage for the team’s success through the mid-to-late-70s and early-to-mid-80s.