No team in the history of the NFL has enjoyed the level of success that the New England Patriots have in the franchise's history. Thanks to the dynasty spearheaded by Bill Belichick and Tom Brady that spanned over two decades, the club has been able to climb atop the record books and become the gold standard for winning. New England has the most playoff wins out of any franchise in league history, their .564 winning percentage during the regular season is fourth all-time, and, of course, their six Super Bowl titles are tied for the most all-time.
That level of success doesn't come without generational players putting on the uniform for a time and producing at a high level. In that spirit, I've put together a Frankenstein's monster version of the Patriots' roster. We're basically taking the cream of the crop of the franchise's most legendary players and fit them together inside a 53-man roster.
Before we get to the list, here were some of the toughest calls and things that stuck out as this list came together:
- No Malcolm Butler or James White: These two may be favorites for the fan base right now -- and rightfully so given each's Super Bowl heroics -- but both tenures are simply too short to really solidify themselves for this team. Butler will always be held in fond regard thanks to his championship-clinching interception against the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX, but his tenure with the club only lasted four seasons and the cornerback list for the Patriots is too competitive to squeeze him in just for that moment alone. As for James White, he could eventually land on here when his career is over. He already has a Super Bowl MVP worthy performance under his belt during the Patriots' comeback win over the Falcons in Super Bowl LI and if he continues on the path he's on, he could be considered one of the greatest backs to ever play in Foxborough.
- Adam Vinatieri over Stephen Gostkowski: Despite Gostkowski being the team's franchise leader in points, it was a rather easy decision to roll with Vinatieri here. During his time with the Patriots, he made money kick after money kick and booted New England to its first championship in 2001. He's the most clutch kicker in league history and edges out Gostkowski on that attribute.
- No Darrelle Revis: While we are picking the best of the best to ever play for the Patriots for this 53-man roster, I did heavily factor in how long players tenures were to give the list a bit more prestige and respect to the players who battled for the franchise. Now, there are some exceptions, but Darrelle Revis isn't one of them and is why you won't find him on this roster, despite being on the Super Bowl XLIX-winning team and being considered one of the greatest corners ever. The lone season with the club takes him out of consideration here for me.
- Only seven Hall of Famers: When you're putting a 53-man roster together that represents the best a franchise has to offer, you'd expect to see Hall of Famer after Hall of Famer. That's not the case here with New England as there are only seven members on this team that are currently in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. While that may be the case now, there are a number of players (Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Matt Light, Logan Mankins, Vince Wilfork, Richard Seymour, etc.) that will boost those numbers in short order.
- Head coach: Bill Belichick. Duh.
With all that out of the way, let's get right to it.
* denotes players that are members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame
Let's start off with the offensive line because it was definitely the most complicated. Truth be told, I did kind of cheat placing Bruce Armstrong at right tackle as he spent the bulk of his career with New England blocking the left side. That said, I wanted to get him in the starting lineup and he wasn't going to unseat Matt Light at the left tackle spot, so I decided to bring him back to the position he played for the first three years of his career.
Having Leon Gray as my swing tackle also feels like cheating, even though it isn't. Gray was dominant alongside John Hannah during their playing days for the Patriots, helping the franchise rush for 3,165 yards in 1978, which was an NFL record up until the Baltimore Ravens broke it last season. Gray was named to two of his four Pro Bowls while a member of the Patriots and, in the event Light gets hurt during this imaginary season, he could jump back into the starting lineup and reform one of the greatest tackle-guard duos of the 1970s.
As for the rest of the line, Hannah was an easy selection, as was Jon Morris. Right guard hasn't been particularly prolific for the Patriots, which is why I'm buying in on Shaq Mason, despite his career in the NFL still taking place. I thought about going with Stephen Neal as a possible backup option, but I like the 6-foot-4, 305-pounder in Dan Connolly for his return abilities, which were on full display against the Packers on Sunday Night Football in 2010 in what is one of the greatest highlights in NFL history.
Under center, Tom Brady is the obvious choice, so I won't go too far into his greatness, but I did want to point out that I am keeping three quarterbacks on the roster, ensuring that both Drew Bledsoe and Steve Grogan make the list. Bledsoe gets the nod over Grogan on the depth chart based on talent, but it was close.
At the skill positions, Rob Gronkowski and Ben Coates were no-brainers at tight end and I decided to pick running backs from different eras to round out my backfield. Kevin Faulk was a clutch option for Tom Brady en route to three Super Bowl titles, Sam Cunningham is the franchise's leading rusher, and Curtis Martin was arguably the most talented back to ever put on a Pats uniform, which is why he gets the starting spot.
Meanwhile at wide receiver, Troy Brown, Randy Moss, and Julian Edelman form a dream starting trio for Tom Brady. Had he had each of them at his disposal in their primes, this Patriots offense would have blown 2007 out of the water. I will say that Moss was admittedly tough to place because he did only play about three-and-a-half seasons in New England, but his numbers were so mind-boggling that he was a shoo-in. Welker, Stanley Morgan, and Branch are fantastic depth, while Cappelletti gives me both a receiving option and a backup placekicker behind Vinatieri. Matthew Slater makes it on the roster as a wide receiver but is really here because he's arguably the greatest gunner of all time.
Jim Lee Hunt
|RCB||Mike Haynes*||Stephon Gilmore|
|SS||Rodney Harrison||Lawyer Milloy||Patrick Chung|
I built this defense starting with Vince Wilfork, which is why we're looking at a 3-4 front, instead of a 4-3. He was the anchor in the middle of New England's defense for 11 years and was able to bookend his tenure with two Super Bowl titles. He did that while ascending as one of the greatest nose tackles of all time. That fact that Bob Dee, who has No. 89 retired in New England, is forming a one-two punch with Wilfork is simply lethal. Richard Seymour and Jim Lee Hunt were easy calls to start beside Wilfork along the defensive line, while Ty Warren and Houston Antwine give strong depth.
While the secondary is, in my mind, the backbone of this defense, I love the collection of linebackers here. Starting on the outside, having the combo of Willie McGinest and Andre Tippett is essentially a death sentence for opposing offensive lines and quarterbacks. They are No. 1 (Tippett, 100) and No. 2 (McGinest, 78) on the franchise's all-time sack list and are two of the most feared pass-rushers in the history of the NFL. Not only that, but Tippett and McGinest are tone-setters and culture-creators. Having those two as the stars at linebacker will give this defense a championship mindset. Behind them, I have two No. 50s in Vrabel and Ninkovich, who both epitomized The Patriot Way and were key pillars to multiple championships.
Two fan favorites make up the starting spots at inside linebacker in Tedy Bruschi and Jerod Mayo. Bruschi was part of the heart and soul of the early dynasty years with the Patriots and helped hand the torch over to Mayo when he came into the league in 2008. Both were defensive captains during their time in New England along with providing elite production. I went old school behind both Bruschi and Mayo, adding Steve Nelson and Nick Buoniconti to the interior linebacker group. Nelson was similar to Bruschi as he was the heart of the Patriots defense from 1974-87. He is considered to be one of the greatest Patriots of all time and has his No. 57 retired after three Pro Bowl seasons in Foxborough. Dont'a Hightower rounds out the group as he has been a clutch figure in multiple Super Bowl victories as well.
The secondary, meanwhile, make up a who's who of Patriots legends. At the starting corner spots, I have two Hall of Famers in Ty Law and Mike Haynes. Law is tied with Raymond Clayborn for the franchise record for interceptions (36) and was a true shutdown corner that literally changed how the game is played. As for Haynes, he was a Pro Bowl player right out of the gate for the Patriots and held that honor for all but one of his seven seasons with the club. His No. 40 is retired in New England and he is a member of the Patriots Hall of Fame. As for Raymond Clayborn, he was also a shutdown corner for the Patriots while setting the interception standard before Law came along. He played 12 seasons with New England and was named first-team All-Pro thrice. Stephon Gilmore is still ascending as a Patriots legend, but at the rate he's going his spot on this team will grow even stronger.
At the safety spot, Devin McCourty is the best free safety in franchise history and has been a leader in the locker room over the course of his tenure, while Lawyer Milloy and Rodney Harrison give the strong safety position some elite talent and swagger. Milloy was a member of New England's first Super Bowl title team and was a four-time Pro Bowler during his tenure. He's a member of the franchise's All-1990s and All-2000s teams. Harrison, meanwhile, was aboard for two Super Bowl championships and was inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame in 2019.
As I mentioned above, the real debate on special teams was whether or not I was going to go with Vinatieri or Gostkowski. Because of Vinatieri's postseason heroics, kicking through the snow during the Tuck Rule game and booting the winners in both Super Bowl XXXVI and Super Bowl XXXVIII, he was the obvious candidate to make the list. He's also only second on the team's all-time scoring list behind Gostkowski, which makes the selection even more palatable. Gino Cappelletti, meanwhile, gives this unit even more depth as he netted 176 field goals over the course of his career.
At punter, I went a bit more modern with Ryan Allen as he was surprisingly key in the Patriots winning Super Bowl LIII against the Rams and he did spend six seasons with the club, winning a total of three Super Bowls. Kevin Faulk and Troy Brown, meanwhile, get the starting nods at kick and punt return as each of them are the current franchise return yards leaders in those respective categories.