Patriots Top 10 Draft Classes

Ty Law, circa 1999 (Getty Images)

The 2011 NFL Draft is here. Now's a good time to look back on all of the Patriots Draft classes to see how the team fared. Kevin Saleeba shares his Top 10 best Patriots Drafts of all time.

Top Ten Patriots Draft Classes
By Kevin Saleeba

     Last season was one of the best draft classes the Patriots had in recent years The Patriots hit on seven of 12 picks, including All Pro cornerback Devin McCourty, standout tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and punter Zoltan Mesko, who averaged over 40 yards per punt

     Good as it was, and it may prove to be great in the long run, it's not the best draft class in team history Throughout its 50-plus years in existence, the New England Patriots have had several great draft classes that could rival any in the history of the NFL

     The following is the top 10 best draft classes in Patriots franchise history:

#10 – Draft Class of 1988


With the Patriots up for sale in 1988, the Patriots front office drafted a couple of stud players to help create a foundation for the eventual winning teams of the mid 90s

John Stephens, RB, 1st round (17th overall), Northwestern (La ) St
Stephens would go on to play five seasons from 1988-1992 for the Patriots As a rookie, New England felt his impact immediately when he rushed for 1,168 yards and was selected to the Pro Bowl and named the NFL Rookie of the Year in 1988 Stephens was a powerful, bruising back who showed flashes of speed and finesse Stephens had seven 100 yard rushing games and led the team in rushing from 1988 to 1990, before injuries finally slowed his production down He finished his Patriots career ranked seventh on the team's all-time rushing list with 3,249 rushing yards, averaging 3 6 yards a carry and scoring 17 touchdowns

Vincent Brown, LB, 2nd round (43rd overall), Miss Valley St
Brown led the Patriots in tackles at inside linebacker five straight seasons from 1990 to 1994 During his eight seasons with the Patriots, he played 123 games, finishing with 737 tackles, 16 5 sacks and 10 interceptions, including one pick returned 95 yards for a touchdown He also had six fumble recoveries and one fumble return for a touchdown Brown was selected as a member of the Patriots All 90s team

Tim Goad, NT, 4th round (87th overall), North Carolina
Goad became an immediate starter at nose tackle for the Patriots his rookie season He would go on to play 109 games for the Patriots, starting 105 games over seven seasons He had 11 5 sacks at nose tackle, four fumble recoveries, including a 19 yard fumble return for a touchdown against the Chiefs in 1992 He finished with 434 tackles, an average of 48 tackles per season

Sammy Martin, WR/KR, 4th round (97th overall), LSU
Martin is eighth on the Patriots all-time kickoff return list with 88 returns for 2,012 yards, including a 95 yard return for a touchdown against the Colts during his rookie year (the sixth longest in team history) In 40 games with the Patriots, he also had 21 receptions for 345 yards and a touchdown He led the Patriots three straight years in kickoff return yards (1988-90) and he averaged 22 9 yards per return

#9 – Draft Class of 1982

The most interesting part about the 1982 Draft class for the Patriots, it included one of the biggest draft busts in franchise history and a Hall of Fame linebacker

Ken Sims, DE, 1st round (First overall), Texas
Sims is the grand-daddy of all draft disappointments in Patriots history He could never quite live up to the expectations of being the first overall pick in the 1982 NFL Draft He only played one full season in eight total seasons with the Patriots His best year came in 1985 when the Patriots went to the franchise's first Super Bowl when he had 5 5 sacks He finished with only 16 sacks in his career To follow up his lack of production, Sims was arrested and charged with possession of cocaine in Austin, Texas during the summer of 1990 The Patriots released Sims shortly after the arrest just prior to the 1990 season when he came to camp overweight and out of shape

Andre Tippett, LB, 2nd round (41st overall), Iowa
Ironically, the Patriots drafted Hall of Fame linebacker Andre Tippett during the 1982 draft It only took the Pats 40 picks after taking Sims before they got one right From 1984 to 1988, Tippett was one of the most feared outside linebackers in the game He is a member of the NFL's 1980s all-decade team Tippett holds the Patriots' franchise record with 100 career sacks He also owns the top three single-season sack performances in Patriots history (18 5 in 1984, 16 5 in 1985 and 12 5 in 1987) He ranked seventh on the all-time sacks list, and third among linebackers, at the time of his retirement following the 1993 season Over his career, Tippett recorded 100 sacks in 151 games, an averaged more than a half a sack a game The mark currently ranks fourth in NFL history among linebackers Tippett is the fourth Patriots player to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2008

Cedric Jones, WR, 3rd round (56th overall), Duke
Jones, a sure-handed third down possession receiver, was often overshadowed in the ‘80s by Stanley Morgan and Irving Fryar at the wide receiver position He played nine seasons in New England from 1982 to 1990 and ranks 18th on the franchise all-time receiving list Jones had 191 receptions for 2,703 yards (14 2 yards per catch) and 16 touchdowns He was a member of the 1985 AFC Championship team

Fred Marion, DB, 5th round (112 overall), Miami (FL)
Marion played 144 games in his career at safety, all in a Patriots uniform Marion led the Patriots in interceptions four times in his career with seven picks in ‘85, four in '87, four in '88, and four in '90 He was named AP All-Pro honorable mention in 1988   He was also selected to the Patriots 35th Anniversary team in 1994, the Patriots Team of the Century in 2000, and the Patriots 50th Anniversary team in 2009 As a Pro Bowl selection in 1985, Marion helped lead the Patriots to their first Super Bowl berth when he intercepted seven passes for 189 yards to lead the team He's tied for second (Roland James and Ron Hall) on the all-time Patriots interception list with 29 picks

#8 – 1977 Draft Class of 1977

The draft class of 1977 proved to be a strong foundation for winning teams in the late 70s and mid 80s  

Raymond Clayborn, DB, 1st round (16th overall), Texas
Clayborn was one of the most dominant cornerbacks in Patriots team history He exploded onto the football field in stellar fashion setting five Patriot kickoff return records as a rookie Clayborn returned a kickoff for 101 yards against Baltimore for a touchdown, which was the NFL's longest of the year He also had a 100 yard and 93 yard returns that year, finishing the season with 869 kickoff return yards, second best in NFL in '77 He was later named to Pro Football Weekly's All-AFC and All-Pro squads as a kickoff returner The next year, Clayborn earned the starting role at corner for all 16 games, the beginning of a streak of 161 straight starts that ended due to a knee injury in 1987 Clayborn finished his career with 36 interceptions (a franchise record tied with Ty Law), which he returned for 555 yards and a touchdown He also returned 57 kickoffs for 1,538 yards and 3 touchdowns, and recovered 4 fumbles Clayborn is fifth all-time on the Patriots games played list with 191 He led the Patriots in interceptions four times (1979-80, '84, '88), and he was selected in 1994 to the Patriots 35th Anniversary Team He was a three-time Pro Bowler (1983, '85-86); he was also selected to the Sporting News' 1st Team All-NFL squad (1983); he was chosen the UPI 2nd team all-conference twice (1985, 1988); and he was Pro Football Weekly's 1st team All-NFL in 1986

Stanley Morgan, WR, 1st round (25 overall), Tennessee
Morgan played 180 games from 1977 to 1989 and caught 534 receptions (second all-time) and still remains the franchise record holder with 10,352 receiving yards (19 4-yards per catch) and 67 touchdowns Morgan had 38 career 100-yard games in his career He was selected to four Pro Bowls (1979, 1980, 1986, and 1987) He was a key receiving threat that helped the Patriots win the AFC Championship in 1985 and the AFC East title in 1986 He's a member of the Patriots 35th Anniversary Team in 1994, the Patriots Team of the Century in 2000, and he was inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame in 2007

Horace Ivory, RB, 2nd round (44th overall), Oklahoma
In five seasons with the Patriots, Ivory showed he was an elusive runner with an ability to change speeds on the field He rushed for 1,336 yards on 329 carries and 14 touchdowns He became the Patriots primary kickoff returner in 1980 and finished with 45 kickoff returns for 1,191 yards, including a 98 yard return for a touchdown against the Baltimore Colts in 1980 He also had 49 receptions for 433 yards and two touchdowns

Don Hasselbeck, TE, 2nd round (52), Colorado
Hasselbeck played 86 games in seven seasons in New England He had 99 receptions for 1,444 yards (14 6 yards a catch) and 15 touchdowns

#7 – Draft Class of 2003

The 2003 NFL draft class was a jackpot with the Patriots selecting several key contributors to two Super Bowl Championships in 2003 and 2004 The Patriots selected:

Ty Warren, DT, 1st round (13th overall), Texas A&M
In seven seasons in New England, he's played 105 regular season games and 15 playoff games Warren had 373 tackles (252 solo), 20 5 sacks, six fumble recoveries and four forced fumbles during that stretch He was a key member of three Super Bowl teams, including two championships

Eugene Wilson, CB, 2nd round (36th overall), Illinois
Wilson played five seasons with the Patriots In 62 regular season games, and 10 playoff games in New England he had 10 interceptions for 74 yards and one touchdown and recovered four fumbles He was a starting safety on two Super Bowl Championship teams (XXXVIII and XXXIX)

Bethel Johnson, WR, 2nd round (45th overall), Texas A&M
Johnson is fourth on the Patriots all-time kickoff return list with 102 kickoff returns for 2,557 yards and two touchdowns He was a member of two Super Bowl Championship teams (XXXVIII and XXXIX) and has 30 receptions for 450 yards and four touchdowns in 30 regular season games

Asante Samuel, CB, 4th round (120th overall), Central Florida
Samuel has 22 interceptions for 313 yards during five seasons with the Patriots He started 55 of 75 games during that time with three interception returns for touchdowns He is ranked 10th on the Patriots all time interceptions list In 14 playoff games in New England he also had three interception returns for touchdowns He helped the Patriots win two Super Bowls in 2003 and 2004 and was selected to the 2007 Pro Bowl

Dan Koppen, C, 5th round (164 overall), Boston College
Koppen has started 119 of 120 games at center in his Patriots career In eight seasons, he has helped the Patriots win six division championships, three conference titles and two Super Bowl championships He was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2007 and was also selected second team All-Pro that same season

Tully Banta-Cain, LB, 7th round (239 overall), California
Banta-Cain has 250 career tackles and 23 sacks (25th all-time) in New England He led the team in sacks with 10 in 2009 and he was a member of two Super Bowl Championship teams (XXXVIII and XXXIX)

#6 – Draft Class of 1996

The 1996 NFL Draft proved to not only be a good draft, but one of the most controversial in franchise history With then head coach Bill Parcells wanting to draft a pass rusher with the seventh overall pick, owner Bob Kraft went over his coach's head to draft receiver Terry Glenn instead The rift between coach and owner proved to culminate into Parcells leaving the Patriots to coach the rival Jets the following season This draft also spawned the now famous Parcells quote, "They want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries," a reference to the team drafting Glenn against his wishes The
Patriots selected:

Terry Glenn, WR, 1st round (7th overall), Ohio State
Despite the controversy, Glenn was a very productive player for the Patriots In six seasons, Glenn had 329 receptions for 4,669 yards for 22 touchdowns As a rookie, he caught 90 balls for 1,132 yards and six touchdowns to help the Patriots reach Super Bowl XXXI He was selected SI Rookie of the Year and was selected to the Pro Bowl in 1999 and 2000 Glenn is ranked seventh on the Patriots all-time receiving list

Lawyer Milloy, DB, 2nd round (36th overall), Washington
Milloy made a huge impact on the Patriots as a player and leader on the field He helped the Patriots reach two Super Bowls (XXXI and XXXVI), winning the franchise's first championship in 2001 In seven seasons in New England, Milloy had 19 interceptions for 123 yards and a touchdown in 112 games He also had seven sacks and seven fumble recoveries He was selected as a Pro Bowl safety in 1998, 1999, 2001, and 2002 for the Patriots

Tedy Bruschi, LB, 3rd round (86th overall), Arizona
During Bruschi's 13-year Patriots career, he has been a part of nine playoff seasons, eight division championships, five conference titles and three Super Bowl titles He played in 189 regular-season games for the Patriots, more than any other linebacker in team history Bruschi has played in 22 career playoff games, the highest total in Patriots history Bruschi has played in five Super Bowls, tying the NFL's second highest Super Bowl appearance total, trailing only Mike Lodish (six Super Bowls with Buffalo and Denver) Bruschi's five Super Bowls ties the NFL record for a linebacker From 2002-07, Bruschi averaged 105 tackles per season He led the team in regular-season tackles in 2006 (124) and 2007 (99) and also led the team in playoff tackles both years Bruschi was a defensive captain for seven straight years until he retired in 2009 He finished with 30 5 sacks and 12 picks, including four consecutive interceptions returns for touchdowns, an NFL record

#5 – Draft Class of 2002

With only six draft picks, the Patriots hit on four players during the 2002 NFL Draft All four players were integral parts of two Super Bowl Championships in 2003 and 2004 The Patriots selected:

Daniel Graham, TE, 1st round (21st overall), Colorado
Graham's best year came in 2004 with 30 receptions and seven touchdown catches He was also considered by many as arguably one of the best blocking Patriots tight ends in the last 10 years

Deion Branch, WR, 2nd round (65th overall), Louisville
Considered to be one of Tom Brady's top go-to receivers, Branch went on to become Super Bowl XXXIX MVP after tying a Super Bowl record with 13 receptions in the game Branch is currently 10th on the Patriots all-time receiving list with 261 receptions for 3,450 yards and 19 touchdowns

Jarvis Green, DE, 4th round (126th overall), LSU
Green started seven games and had two sacks in 2003 and during the AFC Championship game against the Colts, he set a career high with 2 5 sacks of Peyton Manning and six tackles He also played in all 16 games in 2004, starting all three playoff games, including Super Bowl XXXIX He has 232 tackles, 28 sacks and nine forced fumbles in eight seasons with the Patriots

David Givens, WR, 7th round (253rd overall), Notre Dame
Givens had 158 receptions for 2,214 yards and 12 touchdowns in four seasons and 53 regular season games with the Patriots He scored at least one touchdown in seven straight playoff games and was on two Super Bowl Champion teams

#4 – Draft Class of 1995

C  Martin, Patirots RB
C Martin evaded a lot of defenders while carrying the ball for New England as pictured here in 1996   (Photo: Allsport)
With seven picks, much like 2002, 1995 proved it was quality over quantity With just seven picks, the Patriots made five outstanding selections that helped propel the Patriots to the franchises second Super Bowl and the championships that followed in the early part of the next decade

Ty Law, CB, 1st round (23rd overall), Michigan
Law ranks tied for first on the Patriots' all-time interceptions list with 36 career picks His most memorable pick was a 47-yard interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XXXVI, the sixth interception returned for a touchdown in Super Bowl history It was the longest interception return in Patriots postseason history Law played in three Super Bowls for the Patriots

Ted Johnson, LB, 2nd round (57th overall), Colorado
Johnson played in 125 regular season games with 757tackles to help the Patriots make four Super Bowls in 10 years, while winning three of them

Curtis Martin, RB, 3rd round (74th overall), Pittsburgh
Martin won the Offensive Rookie of the Year with 1,487 yards rushing He made two pro bowls, rushed for a franchise record 166 yards and three touchdowns in his first career playoff game against the Steelers; rushed for 42 yards, caught three passes for 28 yards, and scored a touchdown in Super Bowl XXXI He finished fourth on the all-time Patriots rushing list with 3,799 yards He's ranked 16th on the club's all-time scoring list (226 total points); he's sixth in rushing attempts (958); fifth with 32 rushing touchdowns; and he was tied for third with a 4 0 average yards per rush

Jimmy Hitchcock, CB, 3rd round (88th overall), North Carolina
Hitchcock played in 36 games during his three seasons with the Patriots (1995-97) and totaled 120 tackles and four interceptions He still holds the franchise record for the longest interception return, 100 yards vs Miami (11/23/97)

Dave Wohlabaugh, C, 4th round (112th overall), Syracuse
Wohlabaugh started 57 games at center for the Patriots over four seasons before leaving for free agency He also started for six playoff games, including Super Bowl XXXI

#3 – Draft Class of 1993

From 1990 to 1992, the Patriots became the joke franchise of the league and New England was in danger of losing their franchise to St. Louis In an effort to turn the franchise around Bill Parcels was hired as head coach and he lead the Patriots into one of the most important drafts in team history

Drew Bledsoe, QB, 1st round (1st overall), Washington St
Bledsoe had 2,544 completions for 29,657 yards and 166 touchdowns in nine seasons and 124 regular season games with the Patriots He was selected to the AFC Pro Bowl three time (1994, 1996, and 1997) He help lead the Patriots to the team's second Super Bowl as a starter in 1996 and was a member of the 2001 Super Bowl XXXVI Champion Patriots Together, Parcels and Bledsoe helped save the franchise from leaving New England

Chris Slade, LB, 2nd round (31st overall), Virginia
Slade played in 127 regular season games and proved to be a dominant linebacker for the Patriots in the 90s with 51 sacks, leading the team in sacks for three seasons (1993, 1994, and 1997) He also started seven playoff games, including Super Bowl XXXI

Todd Rucci, OL, 2nd round (51st overall), Penn State
Rucci played offensive guard for seven seasons for the Patriots, including seven playoff games and Super Bowl XXXI He started 75 of the 85 games he played

Vincent Brisby, WR, 2nd round (56th overall), NE Louisiana
Brisby played seven seasons in New England with 217 receptions for 3,142 yards and 14 touchdowns He also played in six playoff games and was a member of the Patriots' Super Bowl XXXI team

Corwin Brown, DB, 4th round (110th overall), Michigan
Corwin Brown started 12 games his rookie year with 56 tackles He played 61 games for the Patriots, including four playoff games and Super Bowl XXXI

Troy Brown, WR, 8th round (198th overall), Marshall
Troy Brown became the Patriots all-time reception leader with 557 catches for 6,366 yards and 31 touchdowns in 15 seasons with the Patriots He played in 192 regular season games and 20 playoff games, including four Super Bowls and three Super Bowl Championship teams He not only was a Pro Bowl wide receiver in 2001, but he was kickoff and punt returner and returned two punts for touchdowns and he played defensive back and has three interceptions for 22 yards

#2 – Draft Class of 1973

John Hannah, OG, 1st round (4th overall), Alabama
Hannah became the first Patriots player to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame He was selected as a Pro Bowl guard nine times and is arguably the best offensive lineman in league history He played in 183 regular season games, seven playoff games, including Super Bowl XX

Sam Cunningham, RB, 1st round (11th overall), Southern Cal
Cunningham played in 107 games from 1973-79 and 81-82 for the Patriots with 5,453 career rushing yards and his 43 rushing touchdowns are second all-time behind Jim Nance (45) Cunningham averaged 3 9 yards per carry in his career He was the Patriots leading rusher for six seasons and was selected to the Pro Bowl in 1978 after totaling 1,065 combined yards He had 768 rushing yards with 297 yards on 31 receptions That same year, he was the main reason the Patriots set the NFL record for most rushing yards in a season with 3,165 total yards His 49 overall touchdowns are third in team history He ranks eighth on the Patriots all-time scoring list with 294 points

Darryl Stingley, WR, 1st round (19th overall), Purdue
Stingley had 110 receptions for 1,883 yards and 14 touchdowns in 60 regular-season games for the Patriots He also had 28 carries for 244 yards and two touchdowns, 19 punt returns for 136 yards and eight kickoff returns for 187 yards He finished his career with 2,450 combined yards rushing, receiving and returning both punts and kickoffs

Ray Hamilton, DT, 14th round (342nd overall), Oklahoma
Hamilton played in 132 regular season games over nine seasons and two playoff games for the Patriots He tallied 54 career sacks, ranking him fifth all time in franchise history He's also recovered 14 fumbles, one for a touchdown, and blocked two field-goal attempts in his career

1 – Draft Class of 1976

Mike Haynes, DB, 1st round (5th overall), Arizona State
In seven seasons in a Patriots uniform, Haynes had 28 interceptions (six all-time) in 90 games at cornerback and was named to six Pro Bowls Haynes was the first Patriot to return a punt for a touchdown and is currently fourth on the Patriots all-time punt return list with 111 returns for 1,159 yards and two touchdowns Haynes is the third Patriots player to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Pete Brock, C, 1st round (12th overall), Colorado
Pete Brock was one of the most versatile offensive linemen to ever wear a Patriots uniform He was the starting center 78 times, starting left guard 3 times, starting left tackle 6 times and the starting right guard once in the 154 regular season games that he played for New England Brock is sixth on the Patriots all-time games played list during his 12 year career with New England Brock contributed on one of the most potent rushing attacks in NFL history He played on the offensive line when the team was the NFL's second best rushing club in '76 with 2,948 yards with an amazing 5 0 average yards per rush and 24 rushing touchdowns He also helped the Patriots become the AFC's third best rushing attack in '77 with 2,303 yards rushing with 3 8 yards per carry and 13 touchdowns

Tim Fox, DB, 1st round (21st overall), Ohio State
Fox played six seasons in New England In 91 regular season games at safety, Fox had 17 interceptions (14th all-time) for 215 yards He recovered seven fumbles, four sacks, blocked an extra point against Green Bay in 1979 and recorded a safety against the Bills in 1978 He was selected to the 1980 AFC Pro Bowl squad when he had his most productive season as a Patriot with four picks for 41 yards He was selected as a member of the Patriots All-70s team

Honorable Mention

The criteria to make the top 10 draft classes in team history came down to a minimum of three impactful picks in the draft class For instance, the 2000 Draft class, which included Tom Brady in the sixth round (199th overall), was kept off because Brady was the only impactful player in that class who had any real significant importance or interest Patrick Pass and J R Redman were part of the draft class with Brady, but failed to have much of an overall career impact as some of the other draft classes

Kevin Saleeba is a frequent contributor and columnist to Patriots Insider. A former beat writer for local media, Kevin has extensive knowledge of the team and experience covering the Patriots. Share your thoughts on this article, or send your questions to Kevin (here. )

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