No, it’s not the 2014 draft class. At least not yet. Maybe someday Dominique Easley will outshine Jadeveon Clowney and Jimmy Garoppolo will morph into the next Tom Brady, but we are a long way from any of that coming to fruition.
The Patriots’ best draft class of all time must consist of players who have already played the bulk of their careers, or at least enough to compare them to Hall of Famers like Nick Buoniconti (Patriots’ draft class of 1962) and Andre Tippett (class of 1982). Thus, the last seven draft classes will not be included in this analysis. And while we’re at it we might as well make it eight, seeing as how the only player of interest in the entire ‘07 draft class was Brandon Meriweather. Yikes.
Looking beyond eight years into the past, the Patriots have participated in 46 drafts. Some good, some bad (still looking at you, 2007). What constitutes the “best” draft is up for debate, but for the sake of argument I’m looking at which draft class had the greatest impact on the field over the course of their respective careers. In other words, drafting Tom Brady in 2000 is awarded more points than drafting Robert Edwards, Tebucky Jones, Rod Rutledge, and Greg Spires all in 1998. Evaluations will still take depth into account as well as elite talent, but it would be hard to argue that Edwards’ 28-game career and Rutledge’s one career TD catch contributed to more Patriots’ victories than Brady’s HOF career.
The other consideration here is how to compare the current draft format with drafts of years past. The Boston Patriots drafted Fran Tarkenton with the 34th pick of the 1961 AFL Draft, but he never even signed with the team. He signed with the Minnesota Vikings, who picked him in the 1961 NFL Draft.
There also used to be fewer teams and more rounds than there are now. In that same 1961 draft, the Pats picked 29 players, culminating with George Hultz as the 234th pick in the 30th round. In 1963 they drafted 32 players. Even as recently as 1992 they drafted 17 players. Therefore, individual draft classes will be evaluated based on what they got with what they had. The fewer (and later) the picks, the higher they will be weighted.
Also, Fran Tarkenton doesn’t count.
So without further ado, the top ten:
2003 is an example of a successful draft class due more to depth than elite talent. Namely, the Pats uncovered cornerback Asante Samuel in the fourth round and center Dan Koppen in the fifth. Those turned out to be two of the best value picks in the Belichick era. The selections in the first two rounds didn’t pan out quite as well, although defensive lineman Ty Warren at #13 overall isn’t too shabby. Eugene Wilson, Bethel Johnson, fan-favorite Dan Klecko, and Tully Banta-Cain round out the contributors in the deep class of ‘03.
This was the year the Patriots drafted Andre Tippett in the second round. That alone is almost enough to garner a top ten ranking; however, they didn’t stop there. The Pats found a gem in Fred Marion in the fifth round. Marion was an All-Pro in 1985, helping the team win the AFC Championship. On the other end of the spectrum, the class of ‘82 is ultimately impaired by the fact that they had the #1 overall pick that year – and used it to draft Kenneth Sims. Ouch.