Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Curran: Top 50 Patriots Under Belichick, the Top 10


JUN 27, 2021



I don’t think there’s going to be any controversy or discussion on No. 1? Good. The reality that he’s going to finish his career wearing a uniform that’s pewter and gold in a climate that’s reminiscent of a closed mouth is too damn bad. C’est la vie.


Why is Vince Wilfork No. 2 with fewer Super Bowl wins than everyone else in the top 10? Time served and league-wide excellence. Wilfork was a terrific player the minute he got here in 2004. By 2010, he was one of the best players in the league regardless of his position and he stayed that way through about 2013.


But the reason Wilfork is way up here is the intangible of culture cultivation. From learning alongside Bruschi, Vrabel and Seymour, Wilfork took on the mentor role after 2008 when all those players went away. He kind of indoctrinated the next group of high-level leaders -- Jerod Mayo, Devin McCourty, Matthew Slater -- and brought them along to where they could understand what the “program” was about and those players could then lead in their own way.


The next three in the top five are Perfect Patriots. Tedy Bruschi first because of big-game impact in each Super Bowl run (his being plunked down at MLB in the 2001 playoff run was a key move for the SB36 crew).


Julian Edelman next because he’s the second-best postseason receiver in NFL history. Troy Brown third because -- splitting hairs, but we have to -- his postseasons were more modest after 2001 and 2003 and he wasn’t as much an offensive focal point after 2002.


I battled on Rob Gronkowski. Irrespective of who was in the wrong when he got sideways with Bill Belichick beginning after the 2017 offseason and carrying through 2020, Gronk made things hard for the Patriots. He delayed his 2019 retirement decision and that kind of cost the team a shot at a free agent replacement, Jared Cook. Then when he came out of retirement to go to Tampa, he held a figurative gun to the Pats head to force the trade. But I was disabused of my Gronk hesitation (I wanted to leave him at 9) by almost every person I consulted. So up he goes to No. 6.


Matt Light and Richard Seymour came into the league next to each other as first and second-round picks in 2001. They are on this list next to each other. Seymour was obviously the more decorated player and will -- hopefully -- be enshrined in Canton. But Light was one of the league’s best tackles as well and he was another bridge guy like Wilfork, who carried the culture forward along the offensive line and handed it off to the Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly crew. But I couldn’t in good faith drop Seymour from No. 8.


Great debate to close out the top 10. McCourty has been an absolute ironman. He’s missed five regular season games in 11 seasons. He’s played in 23 playoff games. All you need to do is listen to Belichick to appreciate the innumerable ways McCourty has backboned this franchise on the field and off.


And then there’s Mike Vrabel. We got a guy who had 606 tackles, 48 sacks, 13 forced fumbles and 11 picks in 125 games over eight seasons. In 17 playoff games he was even better with eight sacks, 88 tackles, three forced fumbles, one clubbing of Kurt Warner that led to Ty Law’s SB36 pick-six and two playoff touchdown catches. He had 10 career catches, 10 career touchdowns on 13 targets. Greatest receiver of all-time? You can make the case. (Just kidding).

10.  Mike Vrabel


Years in NE: 8 | All-Pro: 1 | Pro Bowls: 1 | SB wins: 3 | SB appearances: 4 | 2015 rank: 6


In 2002, Bill Belichick was discussing Mike Vrabel’s first season with the team. I can’t find the transcript but I remember clear as day him saying, “Mike Vrabel didn’t have a single mental mistake last season.” Big brain, big skill. Maybe the best athlete in the top 10, Vrabel was a pass-rushing force, outstanding in coverage and a tremendous run-stopper. The tight end stuff was no novelty act either. Underrated for his whole career except here.


Editor's note: Tom E. Curran's Top 50 players under Bill Belichick, 2.0, will be released all this week right here on

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