1. Tom Brady, QB (2011 Topps)Do we need any explanation? As of this writing, he sits at second place in the NFL annals in passing yardage and touchdowns and fourth in passer rating. Oh yeah, and that whole deal with six rings. And all done for one franchise. This is a no-brainer.
2. Wes Welker, WR (2012 Topps Prime)Welker played a mere six seasons in New England, but those seasons were spectacular. He led the league in receptions three times, with two of those seasons falling the top 10 of league history. It only took those six seasons to become the franchise's all-time leader in catches. He was never a deep threat, but nobody moved the chains better. He made the Pro Bowl in five of those six seasons; the lone season he did not make the Pro Bowl, he led the league with 112 catches.
3. Rob Gronkowski, TE (2013 Topps Future Legends)Gronk's career was relatively short, and he often had trouble staying healthy. But when he was on the field, he was in a class by himself. His size and athleticism allowed him to become the team's all-time leader in TD receptions. In nine seasons, he made 5 Pro Bowls. He was an All-Pro in every season that he played at least 14 games (four times). I don't know that he played enough games to make the Hall of Fame, but he will certainly get consideration for utter dominance at the position when he did play.
4. John Hannah, G (1985 Topps)If it weren't for Tom Brady, I would say without reservation that John Hannah was the best player in Patriot history. That's quite a claim to make for an interior lineman, but it certainly fits. The epitome of the pulling guard, he played all 13 years of his Hall of Fame career with New England. He made the Pro Bowl in 9 of those years and was the top guard in 7. Not even Brady has that many All-Pro nods. Hannah was just head and shoulders above his peers. Perhaps the greatest measure of his dominance was the fact that he was elected to the NFL's All-Decade team for both the 1970s and 1980s, despite the fact that his career didn't span the entirety of either decade.
5. Logan Mankins, G (2011 Topps)Another interior lineman, Logan Mankins was selected in the first round of the 2005 draft. He went on to play nine years for New England, making the Pro Bowl six times in that span. In fewer than ten seasons, he racked up the fourth-highest approximate value total in team history, according to Pro Football Reference. That's impressive, considering some of the other players who have suited up for New England. One illustration of his dominance: in 2010 he missed 7 games due to injury and was still voted First Team All-Pro.
7. Andre Tippett, LB (1991 Topps)Andre Tippett spent all 12 of his NFL seasons with the Patriots. He recorded 100 sacks and 19 fumble recoveries during that span. And he is arguably the reason the Pats played in Super Bowl XX. That year, Tippett brought down the quarterback 16.5 times, but even more telling is Pro Football Reference's 19 AV for the season. That number was highest in the NFL--higher even than league MVP Marcus Allen and his 2200 yards from scrimmage and 14 total touchdowns. In football, it can be tricky to measure one single player's impact on his team, but at least one metric gave Tippett the highest share of his team's success in a Super Bowl year. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2008 and made the 1980s All-Decade team.
8. Mike Haynes, CB (1980 Topps)The Patriots took Haynes with the 5th overall pick in the 1976 draft. He did not disappoint. In his rookie season, he made the first of five consecutive Pro Bowls. In all, he totaled six Pro Bowl appearances in seven seasons with New England. He picked off 28 passes en route to a selection on the 1980s All-Decade Team and a call from Canton.
9. Ty Law, CB (1998 Fleer Tradition)Ty Law is tied for the franchise record with 36 interceptions. Of those 36 picks, he took 6 to the house. He simply had a knack for making big-time, game-changing plays. In ten years for New England, Law made the Pro Bowl four times and received 1st Team All-Pro honors twice. He led a defense that helped the team to its first 3 rings and was rewarded with a Hall of Fame induction in August for his efforts.
The big issue I faced here was what to do with Steve Grogan? He ranks 3rd all-time in team AV and he guided the franchise to its first Super Bowl appearance. However, he never had the position locked down and shared time with guys like Tony Eason. He never made the Pro Bowl. His AV is a simple matter of solid, but not spectacular production over a long career. He's the first out, Gronk the last in. Stanley Morgan was also a tough exemption. The franchise's all-time leader in receiving yards had almost double the touchdowns of Wes Welker. But, again, Morgan was never elite at his position in the league like Welker was, even it was for a shorter time. This team more than any other up to this point really tested my balance of longevity versus brief stints of stardom. Let it suffice to say that the Patriots probably have no shortage players who could fit here. That said, who would make your list?
Some notes on this series:
- This includes Super Bowl Era players only.
- The "nine" in Franchise 9 is to fill a page in a binder. There is no intent to fill a roster or even a starting lineup.
- A player can represent multiple teams.
- I tried to find a balance between steady producers with longevity and explosive players with shorter careers. Time with the team does count for something, as does impact with the team.
- For a link to Franchise 9 lists that I have already posted, click here.
- This is all subjective, so I'd love to hear whom you would choose!