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Assembling the Patriots All-Millennium team

A team of the best players of the Bill Belichick era.

Syndication: Palm Beach Post Bill Ingram via Imagn Content Services, LLC

As I’m sure you’ve seen by now, the great Tom E. Curran of NBC Sports Boston, and subsequently every New England Patriots fan and analyst, has released their Top 10 players of the Bill Belichick era. If you have tried this, you will have found out that it is a fool’s errand, as there are at least 15 to 20 players that deserve to be on the list.

For that reason, I decided to mix it up a little bit, and make it a team, instead of just a list from one through 10. Mostly because on my podcast, which you can listen to right here, I made such a list that I kind of hated. What is also convenient is that Belichick took over in 2000, which means, instead of calling this the Belichick All-Time team, I can call it something much cooler. So, without further ado, I present to you the Patriots All-Millennium team.

Quarterback

  • First team: Tom Brady
  • Second team: Drew Bledsoe
(020215 Glendale, AZ) New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady signals the win at the end of the game as the New England Patriots take on the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale, AZ. (Monday,February 2, 2015). Staff Photo by Nancy Lan Photo by Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images

The greatest player in NFL history, with no equal in perhaps all of sports is clearly the quarterback here. There could be some debate over the second team, but I went with Bledsoe because he was the only other QB to start a full season for Belichick (remember Matt Cassel didn’t start Week 1 in 2008). The other, more important, reason is that, without his support of Brady publicly and in the locker room in 2001, the Patriots wouldn’t have won Super Bowl XXXVI. Of course, Bledsoe wasn’t happy that he wasn’t playing, but he could’ve ripped that locker room apart, and he didn’t. For that, he gets the second-team nod.

Running Back

  • First team: James White, Kevin Faulk
  • Second team: Corey Dillon, LeGarrette Blount
Super Bowl LI: New England Patriots Vs. Atlanta Falcons At NRG Stadium Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

You only need to look at the list to figure out what the Patriots’ style is at running back. They love pass-catchers who are great at making plays in big-leverage situations. You don’t need to be an every-down, bell-cow back. New England wants someone who can pass-block, catch the ball out of the backfield, and take the occasional carry. White and Faulk fit that mold perfectly. Faulk is one of the best third-down backs in history. Everyone in the stadium would know he was getting the ball on third, he’d get it, and still get the first down. Not to mention the clutch plays in big games, like the two-point conversion in Super Bowl XXXVIII. And White will always be remembered for his performance in Super Bowl LI, where he scored 20 points by himself. He, of course, has done more than that, being a very reliable back for the Patriots since 2015.

The second team was tough, but I went with two bruising backs. Dillon is still the single-season leader in rushing yards for the Patriots, after his dominant 2004 season. Blount ended up playing on the roster twice, in parts of four seasons, and during the final season he rushed for 18 touchdowns. Dion Lewis just missed the cut here.

Fullback

  • First team: James Develin
  • Second team: Marc Edwards
New England Patriots v Miami Dolphins Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

Develin wins this in an absolute bloodbath. One of the most-liked Patriots of the last decade, and a force on the field. He cleared the way for New England’s running game during their stretch of four Super Bowl appearances in five seasons. Develin always did the dirty work, and never wanted or needed credit for it. Being in New England, he got plenty of it anyway, as fans and players alike loved him.

Edwards makes the list simply because he was a solid contributor on the way to the franchise’s first Super Bowl victory, and there are really no other qualified candidates on the list.

Offensive Tackle

  • First team: Matt Light, Nate Solder
  • Second team: Sebastian Vollmer, Marcus Cannon
Baltimore Ravens v New England Patriots Photo by Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images

Light is definitely the best player on this list. A Patriots Hall of Famer who protected Drew Brees in college, and then Brady in the NFL. He is one of the most-liked Patriots players of all time, still active in the community, and a super talented and reliable left tackle. As for Solder, he has struggled on the field after leaving New England, but was a very good left tackle during his tenure. Solder wasn’t the best in the league, but he too was reliable. He has dealt with a lot with his son having cancer, and he had cancer as well, but he has always approached the game with professionalism and class. Solder also left in free agency to become the highest-paid offensive lineman in the league at the time, meaning at least one other team thought he played at an extremely high level.

Vollmer was a very good right tackle for the Patriots for a number of years, and deserves to be on this list. Cannon, whose stock dropped in the draft after his combine physical revealed he had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, wound up being a very good player for the Patriots. Cannon looked like he would be a bust initially, but found a bit of a renaissance after he signed a two-year contract extension after the 2014 season. He was the starting right tackle on both the 2016 and 2018 Super Bowl champion teams, and was a second-team All-Pro in 2016.

Guard

  • First team: Logan Mankins, Joe Thuney
  • Second team: Shaq Mason, Joe Andruzzi
New York Giants v New England Patriots Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Mankins is the most talented offensive lineman that has played for the Patriots since 2000. He was absolutely dominant, and also played the majority of the 2011 season with a torn ACL. Mankins gets forgotten about a little because, even though he played in two Super Bowls, he never won one with the Patriots. Thuney isn’t far behind as far as talent is concerned. The North Carolina state product has consistently been one of the best guards in the league since joining the Patriots in 2016. Thuney may not have the accolades of some, but he has been as dominant of a guard as an organization could hope to roster.

Mason is another fantastically talented guard. He and Thuney helped the Patriots dominate the line of scrimmage over the last five years. Mason has a chance to eventually beat out Thuney and end up on the first team of this list in a few years. And Andruzzi was a consistent contributor to New England offensive line for the first three Super Bowls, and a leader on and off the field. He is still an active member of the community, raising funds for cancer, and helping victims from the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.

Center

  • First team: David Andrews
  • Second team: Dan Koppen
Super Bowl LIII - New England Patriots v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Andrews, originally an undrafted free agent out of Georgia, has been arguably the most important player on the offensive line since stepping in as a rookie starter in 2015. As evidenced by the line being a mess when he had to miss the 2019 season with blood clots in his lungs. Thankfully, Andrews is healthy, and back with the Patriots to help them dominate the line once again.

Koppen was drafted in 2003 out of Boston College, and became an instant starter. He would be Brady’s center until 2013 (he also missed 2011 to injury). Koppen was an integral part of the Patriots’ offensive line for nine seasons in all, and is deserving of a spot on the second team.

Wide Receiver

  • First team: Julian Edelman, Randy Moss
  • Second team: Troy Brown, Wes Welker
New England Patriots v New York Jets Photo By Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images

To me, Edelman is an easy choice, because he was Brady’s favorite target for so long. Then, when you factor in what he was able to do in the playoffs, plus his Super Bowl LIII MVP, and it’s a no-brainer that he makes the team. Moss could be up for debate for some, but he is arguably the most physically gifted receiver in NFL history, and, he still has caught the second-most TDs from Brady in his career, even though he played with him for such a short amount of time.

The second team is two guys who changed the way football was played in New England. Troy was an amazing slot, and was Bledsoe’s favorite target before he was Brady’s. He only played for a short period of time after Belichick came, but the slot position doesn’t exist the way it does in New England without Brown. Speaking of dominating from the slot, Welker played with the Patriots for six seasons, and finished with over 100 receptions in all of them except for 2010, when he came back in nine months after tearing his ACL. He was insanely reliable, and because he never won a championship during his stay, I think people forget how good he truly was.

Tight End

  • First team: Rob Gronkowski
  • Second team: Ben Watson
Super Bowl LIII - New England Patriots v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Gronk is Gronk. He’s the best TE in NFL history, so of course he makes this team. The second team was a harder decision, as the Patriots haven’t exactly been stocked with great tight ends since Belichick took over as head coach. Watson, however, played seven total seasons in New England, and was a leader and a solid player, as well. He’s not making the Patriots Hall of Fame, but he’s the best of the rest at the position.

Defensive End

  • First team: Willie McGinest, Richard Seymour
  • Second team: Trey Flowers, Ty Warren
Super Bowl X McGinest

The first team was as easy of a choice as there is on here. McGinest is arguably my favorite player ever, and one of the most important players in the first dynasty. On the field, he was great, but in the locker room, he defined what it meant to be a Patriot. I remember Brady telling stories about trying to get in at 5 a.m. just to beat Willie in. He was one of the biggest leaders, and a constant reminder of the attitude and work ethic you needed to play in New England. Oh, he’s also the all-time playoff sack leader, no big deal. Seymour is probably going to be the first Patriot drafted by Belichick to make it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and he is incredibly deserving. Seymour was one of the best defensive linemen in football from the moment he entered the league in 2001. If only they had considered taking Michigan wide receiver David Terrell, like so many people wanted them to.

The second team of Flowers and Warren is incredibly strong. Flowers missed his rookie season with an injury, but was a force for the Patriots for the next three campaigns. Adding to his regular-season prowess, he finished his time with the Patriots with 5.5 sacks and 22 QB hits in the postseason, including one of the most important sacks in Patriots history. Warren was another prototypical Patriot. He wasn’t flashy, didn’t put up crazy numbers, but he was always reliable and did his job at a high level.

Defensive Tackle

  • First team: Vince Wilfork
  • Second team: Lawrence Guy
Super Bowl XLIX - New England Patriots v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

I believe that Wilfork is the best true nose tackle in NFL history. He was as dominant of a player on the interior of the defensive line as you will ever see. Vince would eat up space, and allow others to get the glory, but we all knew how good he was. To add to that, he was a charismatic guy, who the media and fans adored. He also has more career interceptions than safety Jamal Adams, so he has that going for him, too.

Guy being on this list is a combination of lack of other options and solid play from him. Guy has been an underrated player from the Patriots since coming here as a free agent in 2017. He’s a great example of what the Patriots are looking for in a defensive tackle. Not a super flashy player, but controlling his gaps and making life easier for his linebackers.

Linebacker

  • First team: Tedy Bruschi, Dont’a Hightower, Mike Vrabel, Jerod Mayo
  • Second team: Rosevelt Colvin, Kyle Van Noy, Roman Phifer, Rob Ninkovich
Super Bowl LI - New England Patriots v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

The four linebacker spots are filled by four of the most important defensive players in Patriots history. Bruschi is a guy who simply didn’t have elite traits, and worked his way into a great player. An undersized defensive end became a great middle linebacker. It still seems crazy to say. I didn’t even mention the impact that he had on the locker room, his comeback from a stroke, and what he meant to this team. Belichick called him the “perfect player.” That’s enough for me. And Hightower has made massive plays in each of the three Super Bowl wins of the second dynasty. He stopped running back Marshawn Lynch on the goal line before the Malcolm Butler interception, strip-sacked quarterback Matt Ryan, and had two sacks, a pass deflection, and three QB hits against the Los Angeles Rams. Truly one of the most important players in this second run. Vrabel was a guy who did everything. Coming over from Pittsburgh in 2001, no one knew he would become the player that he did. He finished his Patriots career with 48 sacks, 13 forced fumbles, 11 interceptions and, of course, 10 receiving touchdowns. All Mayo did was win defensive rookie of the year in 2007, and then be the quarterback of the Patriots’ defense for nine seasons, making two Pro Bowls and an All-Pro team. Even when Mayo was injured later in his career, he remained a vocal leader in the locker room, and that has translated as part of the coaching staff.

The second team is loaded with important players, as well. Phifer was supposedly washed up when he came to the Patriots, but he was a vital piece to the first two Super Bowl championships and was here for the third as a veteran presence. Colvin came as a high-priced free agent and missed his first year with a broken hip, but he was a solid contributor who ended his Patriots career with 26.5 sacks and seven forced fumbles. Ninkovich is the best of the bunch, in my opinion. A forgotten player when he signed as a free agent who turned himself into a force on defense. He was an incredibly important player on two Super Bowl champion teams and finished his career with 46 sacks, 12 forced fumbles and 14 fumble recoveries. Not bad for a guy who had recorded six career tackles before coming to New England. Van Noy is the last guy on the list, and he’s another forgotten player. Originally drafted in the second round by the Detroit Lions, he fell out of favor, was traded, and balled out. He earned himself a big contract with the Miami Dolphins after a stellar playoff performance in 2018, but is now back in New England with a chance to add to his legacy.

Cornerback

  • First team: Ty Law, Stephon Gilmore
  • Second team: Malcolm Butler, Asante Samuel
Super Bowl XXXVI - New England Patriots vs St. Louis Rams - February 3, 2002 Photo by Nancy Kerrigan/Getty Images

Starting with Law, because he was a lockdown corner who dominated some of the best quarterbacks and wide receivers in the NFL for a long time. Peyton Manning still has nightmares about him. Law is already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He played with such swag and always seemed to make a big play in the biggest moments. Gilmore has been that for these Patriots the last few years. He obviously won Defensive Player of the Year in 2019, and was still pretty dominant in what was considered a down year in 2020. Belichick decided to sign him to a five-year contract in 2017 instead of giving Butler a big extension, and that moves has really paid off. I assume Gilmore will get a chance to add onto his Patriots resume, because I think both sides will find a way to get a new deal done.

The second team was difficult at cornerback, because players like Darrelle Revis and Aqib Talib were lockdown corners for the Patriots. And Revis, in particular, changed the way the Patriots played defense. Their tenures were a little too short for my liking though, so I ultimately went with Butler and Samuel. Two Pro Bowl corners who played for the Patriots for multiple seasons. They, of course, are known best for two very different reasons: Malcolm for a great pick to win a Super Bowl and Asante for a dropped interception that would’ve clinched a Super Bowl. That drop doesn’t destroy Samuel’s whole legacy, however, and his 27 interceptions with the Patriots (five of which came in the playoffs) are enough to get him on this team.

Safety

  • First team: Devin McCourty, Rodney Harrison
  • Second team: Patrick Chung, Lawyer Milloy
Super Bowl XXXIX Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images

If you look up “New England Patriot” in the dictionary, there’s a good chance you’ll see McCourty’s picture. McCourty was a Pro Bowl corner his rookie year who made the transition to safety just a couple years later. He is consistently one of the most under-appreciated defensive backs in the league and has been New England’s vocal leader for quite some time. I have no idea where the Patriots would be right now without McCourty, and I’m not looking forward to finding out. As for Harrison, it took him all of three games to become my favorite player on the 2003 team. He ran around like a missile waiting to explode on an opposing ball-carrier or receiver. He played with such competitiveness and fire that opponents labeled him dirty, which he wasn’t. One of the biggest crimes in the NFL is that he isn’t even in consideration for Canton right now. He is, in my mind, a top-five safety in NFL history and deserves his recognition for that. Two players in have 30 career sacks and 30 career interceptions: Ray Lewis and Harrison. He had eight interceptions and nine sacks during his regular seasons with the Patriots. Put him in the Hall. Thank you for coming to my “Ted Talk.”

The second team was a pretty easy decision for me. Chung went from second-round bust to one of the most important players on the defense after a season away with the Philadelphia Eagles. He was a chess piece that Belichick deployed all over the field for six years, and four of which ended in Super Bowl appearances. And Milloy was simply one of the coolest players to ever wear a Patriots uniform. Everything he did was cool, and he also happened to be an elite safety. Belichick famously cut him before the 2003 season, but his three years with Belichick were enough to earn him a spot on this team.

Punter

  • First team: Ryan Allen
  • Second team: Jake Bailey
Super Bowl LIII - New England Patriots v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Anyone that follows me on Twitter knows that my love for Bailey knows no bounds. He is a weapon. Allen, however, was in the conversation for Super Bowl LIII MVP. Being the punter for all three of the Patriots’ recent Super Bowls counts for quite a bit, and that’s why Allen is on the first team. Bailey beats out Ken Walter, who was such a good holder that the Patriots pick him back up after cutting him for his responsibilities on field-goal attempts.

Kicker

  • First team: Adam Vinatieri
  • Second team: Stephen Gostkowski
Oakland Raiders Vs. New England Patriots At Foxboro Stadium Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

What needs to be said here? Vinatieri is the greatest kicker in NFL history, hit the hardest field goal in history, and the Patriots won all three of their first Super Bowls by three points. He deserves to be inducted into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

If Gostkowski had played for almost any other team, he would be considered the best kicker in that franchise’s history. He was never fully appreciated here because of the player he took over for, but Gostkowski was a reliable, and historically accurate, kicker for over a decade.

Special Teams

  • First team: Matthew Slater
  • Second team: Larry Izzo
New England Patriots v Buffalo Bills Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

Slater is the best special-teamer in NFL history. He is beloved by every teammate and fan, and it seems at least once a game he makes a play that makes you simply shake your head and marvel at his skill. Slater is destined for the Patriots Hall of Fame, and the nine-time Pro Bowler and five-time first-team All-Pro deserves serious consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Izzo signed with the Patriots in 2001 and was a core special teamer with them until 2008. Izzo also intercepted Bledsoe in the end zone in the final game of the 2003 season, preserving a 31-0 lead. After losing by a score of 31-0 to the Buffalo Bills to open the season, it was an amazing way for New England to end the season. Izzo, like Slater, simply made plays on special teams and was a beloved teammate, as well. To go seamlessly from Izzo to Slater as your core special-teamer is pretty special, and the Patriots have been lucky enough to have done just that.

Pat is a host of The Patriot Nation Podcast. Interact with him on Twitter @plane_pats.