An NFL team can be built in various ways, the most common and economically reasonable of which is through the draft. Picking talented college players and turning them into contributors can go a long way in transforming a team into a perennial contender. The New England Patriots had plenty such drafts over the last 25 years but one – at least according to NFL.com's Marc Sessler – stands out above the rest.
Sessler recently ranked the top 10 draft classes of the past 25 years and the Patriots' 1995 haul comes in sixth. It is not hard to see why as New England, led by head coach and de-facto general manager Bill Parcells, was able to add some highly talented players to its roster that year: Cornerback Ty Law turned into a cornerstone of the team's dynastic run in the early 2000s and was voted to the Patriots Hall of Fame after his retirement.
Second-round linebacker Ted Johnson, meanwhile, appeared in 139 games for the team, while third-round running back Curtis Martin went on to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame – he did, however, only play the first three years of his career with the team. Other players like cornerback Jimmy Hitchcock or center Dave Wohlabaugh also found prolonged success in the NFL after leaving New England.
This sparks the question, if 1995's draft really is the best the Patriots have had over the last 25 years. It does have some serious competition particularly when players who were most productive outside of New England are subtracted from the equation. Let's take a look at the classes rivaling it:
Notable picks: WR Terry Glenn, FS Lawyer Milloy, LB Tedy Bruschi
Tedy Bruschi, like Ty Law, resides in the Hall at Patriot Place and played a big role on a Patriots defense that helped the team win it first three Super Bowls. Lawyer Milloy was the leader of the Patriots' secondary for seven years, while the late Terry Glenn was the team's number one wide receiver for his first five years in New England.
Notable picks: QB Tom Brady
Arguably the most important draft in Patriots history saw the team pick the player associated with the team winning five Super Bowls (so far) during the 2000s. While other drafts produced more depth, this one saw the team pick the greatest quarterback of all time in the sixth round, which makes it an all-time great draft.
Notable picks: DT Richard Seymour, OT Matt Light
Like the 2000 draft, this one did not produce the biggest depth but it brought to high-quality players to New England that turned into long-term starters on multiple Super Bowl-winning teams: Both Richard Seymour and Matt Light became Pro Bowl players over their careers with the Patriots and are currently finalists to enter the team's Hall of Fame this year.
Notable picks: DT Ty Warren, FS Eugene Wilson, CB Asante Samuel, OC Dan Koppen, LB Tully Banta-Cain
Another draft that shows just how well the Patriots drafted in Bill Belichick's first years as a head coach and general manager for the team. 2003 produced four starters in Ty Warren, Eugene Wilson, Asante Samuel and Dan Koppen and a rotational player in Tully Banta-Cain that led the team in sacks in 2009.
Notable picks: FS Devin McCourty, TE Rob Gronkowski, LB Brandon Spikes
Devin McCourty and Rob Gronkowski have been bullseye-selections by the Patriots; two players that are among the best in the NFL at what they do and future members of the team's Hall of Fame (with Gronkowski likely to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame one day too). Add a serviceable depth linebacker like Brandon Spikes and you get a solid draft haul – one that would look even better if not for the tragic tale of Aaron Hernandez.
Notable picks: DT Malcom Brown, DE Trey Flowers, OG Shaq Mason, LS Joe Cardona
Similar to the 2003 draft, 2015's produced multiple starters: Malcom Brown and Trey Flowers are mainstays of the Patriots defense while Shaq Mason is one of the better young guards in the NFL. The team also found a long-time solution at the long snapper position in Navy's Joe Cardona.
Honorable mentions: 2002 (TE Daniel Graham, WR Deion Branch, DE Jarvis Green, WR David Givens), 2003 (DT Vince Wilfork, TE Benjamin Watson), 2009 (SS Patrick Chung, OT Sebastian Vollmer, WR Julian Edelman), 2011 (OT Nate Solder, OT Marcus Cannon), 2012 (DE Chandler Jones, LB Dont'a Hightower)