The 25 Greatest New England Patriots in the Bill Belichick Era

James DiMaio@@JamesDiMaioCorrespondent IMay 24, 2013

The 25 Greatest New England Patriots in the Bill Belichick Era

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    Since becoming the head coach in 2000, Bill Belichick has turned the New England Patriots into one of the most successful teams in the NFL and has coached a cast of special NFL players.

    Under his command, the Pats have won three Super Bowls and appeared in five, all while dominating the AFC East.

    As we all know, you can't have a good team without good players.

    Here's a look at the Top 25 New England Patriots who played under Belichick.

25. Dan Koppen, C, 2003-2011

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    After joining the team in 2003, Dan Koppen shortly became a staple in the Patriots offensive line as the starting center.

    Koppen has two rings with the Pats and was named All-Pro in 2007 after the Patriots went 16-0 and fielded one of the best offenses in the history of the league.

    Not bad for a fifth-round draft pick.

24. Aaron Hernandez, TE, 2010-Present

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    With his ability to play tight end, wide receiver and even running back at a high level, Aaron Hernandez is one of the most unique players to play under Bill Belichick.

    Though hampered a bit by injuries, Hernandez has already made his mark in the NFL as a playmaker as one of Tom Brady’s favorite targets.

    Overshadowed by the performance of his counterpart, Rob Gronkowski, Hernandez has yet to make a Pro Bowl, but there’s little doubt that he will make one soon, especially if he can get through all 16 games.

23. Jerod Mayo, LB, 2008-Present

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    Jerod Mayo entered the league with a bang after being named Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2008.

    Since then Mayo has become one of the best linebackers in the NFL, being named All-Pro in 2010 after leading the league in tackles (175) and making the Pro Bowl twice in 2010 and 2012.

    Mayo, a team captain since his second year in the league, has become the commander of an up-and-coming Patriots defense and figures to be a pivotal part of the team for years to come.

22. Asante Samuel, CB, 2003-2007

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    The Patriots found a gem in the fourth round when they drafted Asante Samuel, who would go on to be one of the best ball-hawking corners in the NFL.

    After his 10 interceptions in 2007, Samuel was named All-Pro.

    While with the team, Samuel won two Super Bowls and three AFC Championship Games.

21. David Givens, WR, 2002-2005

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    He never eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving in a regular season, but David Givens was a monster in the playoffs for the Patriots.

    Currently, Givens is the Patriots' record holder in postseason touchdown receptions with seven.

    Givens caught a touchdown pass in both Super Bowl XXXVIII and XXXIX wins.

20. Drew Bledsoe, QB, 1993-2001

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    Drew Bledsoe was only the starting quarterback under Bill Belichick’s regime for one full season in 2000—a 5-11 season.

    However, it was easy to see how athletically gifted and talented Bledsoe was. He had a rocket arm and provided the Patriots with a potent offensive attack through the air.

    Bledsoe also played his part in the team’s first Super Bowl run when he filled in for an injured Tom Brady in the AFC Championship Game against the Steelers. He led the troops on a scoring drive that sealed a 24-17 win and bought a ticket to the big show.

19. Logan Mankins, OG, 2005-Present

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    Known for his nastiness in the trenches, Logan Mankins has been the best offensive lineman on a very good offensive line for a long time now.

    It hasn’t gone unnoticed.

    Mankins has been named All-Pro the last three seasons straight (as well as in 2007) and has made the Pro Bowl five times.

    He has yet to win the big one, but has made two Super Bowl appearances.

    Once he gets that ring, he’ll without a doubt go down as one of the greatest.

18. Kevin Faulk, RB, 1999-2011

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    Kevin Faulk never won any prestigious awards, but he was as clutch as they come—he always came through when the team needed him most.

    This guy converted third downs like Tim Tebow steals headlines.

    Run the ball? Check.

    Catch the ball? Check.

    Return punts? Check.

    Faulk has more all-purpose yards than anyone in Patriots history with 12,410.

    If you ever watched the guy play, you know how special he was.

17. Lawyer Milloy, S, 1996-2002

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    Lawyer Milloy was a beast for the Patriots, making the Pro Bowl four times during his time with the team.

    He brought a certain toughness to the secondary that elevated the play of his teammates.

    He played a huge part in the franchise's first Super Bowl win.

16. Corey Dillon, RB, 2004-2006

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    Easily the best running back the Patriots have had in the Belichick era, Corey Dillon absolutely exploded when he joined the team in 2004, rushing for a career-best 1,635 and 12 touchdowns.

    Dillon played a huge role in the Patriots' Super Bowl run in 2004, as he averaged nearly 100 yards per playoff game that season.

15. Willie McGinest, DE/OLB, 1994-2005

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    Willie McGinest was a terror for quarterbacks during his time with the Pats, and man did he show up in big games.

    McGinest holds the NFL record for playoff sacks with 16.

    He's second in team history with 78 sacks and had at least nine sacks in a season four times.

    The guy was a sack master who helped lead the team to four Super Bowl appearances and three titles.

    One of the best to put on the Flying Elvis, for sure.

14. Richard Seymour, DE, 2001-2008

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    After being drafted No. 6 overall in the 2001 draft, Richard Seymour was used all over Bill Belichick's 3-4 defensive front.

    Whether he lined up at tackle or end, it didn't matter, Seymour completely dominated offensive lineman on the regular.

    He was terrific against both the run and the pass, made five Pro Bowls and was All-Pro four times during his stay with the Patriots.

    While his time in New England ended with an ugly trade to the Oakland Raiders, Seymour is a big reason why the Patriots have three banners hanging at Gillette Stadium.

13. Mike Vrabel, LB, 2001-2008

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    Mike Vrabel could do it all.

    Whether it was terrorizing quarterbacks (12.5 sacks in 2007) or chasing down running backs, Vrabel did everything exceptionally well and was one of the best defenders on a very good defense.

    Heck, Vrabel could even play offense, evidenced by his eight receptions for eight touchdowns with the club.

12. Rob Gronkowski, 2010-Present

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    In just three seasons in the NFL, Rob Gronkowski has already been named All-Pro twice.

    He also had the best season for a tight end in NFL history in 2011 when he had 90 catches for 1,327 yards and a league-leading 17 touchdown receptions.

    If Gronk can stay healthy, he's going to find himself in the Hall of Fame one day.

11. Vince Wilfork, DT, 2004-Present

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    Though he played a big role, Vince Wilfork was just a rookie when the Patriots won Super Bowl XXXIX.

    Since then he has been a rock in the middle of the Patriots defensive line and has become perhaps their most important player on that side of the ball.

    Big Vince demands double-teams on a regular basis and makes it nearly impossible for teams to run up the middle on the Pats.

    This big man was named first-team All-Pro after an incredible 2012 season, has been second-team All-Pro four times and has five Pro Bowl berths to his name.

    Without a doubt, No. 75 has become one of the best defensive tackles in all of football and at 31, he is still playing at the very top of his game.

10. Matt Light, LT, 2001-2011

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    After a shaky rookie season, Matt Light blossomed into one of the NFL's finest offensive tackles, protecting No. 12's blind side for a decade.

    Light reached five Super Bowls with the Patriots and won three.

    He made the Pro Bowl four times (2006, 2007, 2010, 2011) and was named All-Pro in 2007.

    If not for Light, Tom Brady may have never become Tom Brady.

9. Adam Vinatieri, K, 1996-2005

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    There’s only one kicker in the Hall of Fame (Jan Stenerud), but Adam Vinatieri may very well end up there one day.

    Bill Belichick once said the Vinateiri was one of the best kickers he’s ever seen, according to Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston.

    He’s been named All-Pro twice, led the league in field-goal percentage twice and has made some of the most clutch kicks in the history of the game.

    Vinatieri’s foot is as responsible for the franchise’s three titles as Tom Brady’s right arm.

8. Rodney Harrison, S, 2003-2008

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    Rodney Harrison was the ultimate enforcer in the back end of the Patriots defense.

    Known for his aggressive style of play and devastating hits, Harrison made New England's secondary a feared one.

    It wasn't a hard decision putting this four-time All-Pro selection (two with the Patriots, 2003 and 2004) and two-time Super Bowl champion in the top 10.

7. Deion Branch, WR, 2002-2005, 2010-2012

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    Deion Branch was Tom Brady's binky for a long time, and at times it appeared that the two shared the same brain; they were always on the same page.

    That synergy showed up big time in the biggest of games.

    In two Super Bowls, Branch reeled in 21 receptions for 276 yards and a touchdown, and was named MVP of Super Bowl XXXIX.

6. Randy Moss, WR, 2007-2010

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    Oh Randy, we hardly knew thee.

    Though Randy Moss only played in New England for three full seasons (one of which didn't include Tom Brady in the lineup) his time here was electric—particularly the 2007 season when he broke the NFL record for touchdown receptions.

    Moss burned double-teams on a regular basis for the Patriots.

    I don't think anyone would argue against the notion that Moss was the most talented receiver to ever play for the team.

5. Ty Law, CB, 1995-2004

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    Ty Law was the best cornerback Bill Belichick ever coached.

    Law shut down some of the league's best wide receivers on a weekly basis for the team and played a pivotal part of three Super Bowl championships.

    This five-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro selection is indisputably one of the best Patriots defenders of all time.

4. Wes Welker, WR, 2007-2012

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    No one in the NFL caught more footballs than Wes Welker while he was in a Patriots uniform, literally.

    During his stay in New England, Welker averaged 112 receptions and 1,243 yards per season, and was voted to the Pro Bowl or named All-Pro in each.

    'Nough said.

3. Troy Brown, WR, 1993-2007

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    No. 80 would never wow you with his athleticism, but was there anything this guy couldn't do?

    Catch footballs, return punts, play cornerback; you name it, Troy Brown could do it.

    And he did everything well.

    Brown is the Patriots' all-time leading punt returner with 252 returns for 2,625 yards and three touchdowns. He is second all time in Patriots history in receptions (557) and second all time in receiving yards (6,366).

    Heck, he had three interceptions in 2004 when he played extended time at cornerback after some injuries.

    He could do it all, and he did it all while helping the Pats earn three Super Bowl titles.

2. Tedy Bruschi, MLB, 1996-2008

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    Tedy Bruschi was the epitome of a New England Patriot.

    He did his job, and he did it well.

    He was only voted to the Pro Bowl once in his career, but was a seven-time team captain and a fearless leader of a Patriots defense that helped bring home three Lombardis.

    Bruschi played his heart out on every single play and always showed up big when the team needed him to.

1. Tom Brady, QB, 2001-Present

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    You knew No. 12 was No. 1 before you clicked this article, but I'll tell you why for good measure.

    After three Super Bowl rings, five appearances, two league MVP awards, while also owning NFL records like the most touchdown passes in a season, Brady is not only the best Patriot of all time, he may very well be the best quarterback to play the game when all is said and done.