The New England Patriots have, in the minds of many, cemented themselves as the team of the decade.
In that time, there have been some hallowed names to grace Gillette Stadium’s field; Tom Brady, Tedy Bruschi, and Troy Brown have no doubt become legends of New England lore, and the list obviously doesn’t stop there.
What goes up must go down, and the rule of the ying and the yang has played it's part in the formation of the first dynasty of the new millennium.
For all of the great players, there have also been some major disappointments. Belichick is the master of masking the weaknesses of his players and using each player for his strengths. As such, it may be hard to recall specific players who underachieved.
In this collaborative effort between B/R New England Patriots writers Ryan Winn and Erik Frenz, look for statistical analysis from the latter and anecdotal, further analyses from the former
This list sets out to do justice to some of the unsung zeroes of the dominating decade in New England.
10. WR Bam Childress—3 receptions, 32 Yards, 0 TD
Erik Frenz: Childress only ever played in three games, recording five catches for 39 yards, before Bill Belichick nixed him. Childress was never heard from again.
Ryan Winn: An undrafted free agent, it was hard to not root for a player with the work ethic of Childress. However, unlike the Ray Ventrone's and Gary Guyton's of the world, Belichick could not find a reason to keep him on the roster. A career practice-squad player and preseason MVP, Childress turned into one of the worst receivers in the league once the games counted.
9. WR Bethel Johnson—30 receptions, 450 yards, Four TD
Frenz: We all know Tom Brady as a quarterback who can make any receiver look pretty good. Brady had a tough time making Bethel Johnson look more than mediocre. Surely, his fade into obscurity has much, if not all, to do with his change of uniform.
Johnson was a threat in the kicking game, averaging over 28 yards per return in his rookie season, and in the mid-20’s every year after that, which is why he lands at number 10 on the list.
Winn: Johnson was a very fast athletic machine. However, it was his hands that ran him out of New England. He had his moments of glory, such as two big kickoff returns against he Colts and a touchdown catch in the playoffs against Tennessee, but he had a reputation of having stone hands and an awful work ethic.
8. FB Marc Edwards—82 carries, 237 yards, 3 TD
Frenz: Edwards was yet another player who filled in sparingly at running back during their first Super Bowl run.
A second-round pick out of Notre Dame who showed promise in his second year in the pros, the Patriots felt comfortable picking him up at the beginning of the 2001 season.
His lead blocking was never the problem; he helped open holes for Antowain Smith that put him over the 1,000-yard mark, and gave him 12 rushing touchdowns, but every time he carried the ball, he got stopped short and fumbled the ball three times on a meager 51 carries.
Winn: Edwards will always have a place in my heart thanks to his banging attitude, but there is no question he was merely a small, insignificant piece the Patriots '01 Super Bowl run.
When you have as many fumbles as touchdowns in a season (3), you deserve to be on this list.
7. SS Artrell Hawkins—65 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception
Frenz: Hawkins never had a true chance to start in his first year as a Patriot in 2005; he was a strong safety, and sat behind Rodney Harrison on the depth chart.
When his opportunity came in 2006, though, he failed to deliver. He registered a meager 54 tackles, one interception, and two forced fumbles in 12 starts. His short nine-year career came to an end immediately following that season.
Winn: I, personally, would have placed Hawkins a bit higher on this list. If I could find a stat for catches allowed, he is one of the players I would love to research. Hawkins brings no fond memories, only ones where I am shaking my head with a hand over my eyes.
Hawkins lasted only two season in New Engand, and as a veteran defensive back, you have to be pretty bad on the field to not be in Belichick's rolodex.
6. RB J.R. Redmond—164 carries, 527 yards, 3 TD
Frenz: From the late 90’s spanning into 2000, the Patriots had a bit of a controversy at running back stemming from the free agent departure of future Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin.
As a third-round pick in the 2000 draft, it was thought Redmond might help bring some consistency back to the position. Such was not to be the case, however, as Redmond average a paltry 3.2 yards per carry and one touchdown on 125 carries in his rookie campaign.
He showed no signs of promise in 2001, the team’s first Super Bowl season. After being given one more chance in 2002, he carried the ball four times for two yards, and was unceremoniously handed to the free agent guillotine without a second thought.
Winn: My only memory of Redmond was his three-straight catches on the final drive of Super Bowl XXXVI. He made a great play stretching out of bounds to stop the clock before Brady hit Troy Brown for the longest play of the drive.
That's it. Those catches are all Redmond has to his credit in a Patriots uniform. In fact, it's odd to see that Redmond, being a third-round running back, had more touchdown receptions (2) than rushing touchdowns (1) in his Patriots career.
5. LB Chad Brown—32 tackles, 0 sacks, 0 interceptions
Frenz: The expectations that Chad Brown brought with him as a career sack specialist in Pittsburgh and Seattle were monumental. A former first-team All Pro, Brown recorded at least six sacks a season for four seasons before being injured midway through 2004, and released after the season
The monumental disappointment he became was a huge surprise to everyone, especially considering the hype surrounding him. He recorded a meager 31 tackles in 15 games (five of them starts) in 2005.
After a hiatus with the Steelers, where he only played in nine games, he felt he hadn’t completely destroyed his image yet, so he made one last return effort in the undefeated regular season of 2007; in two games of work, he delivered one tackle.
Winn: Talk about a buzz kill. Looking to solidify an already strong, Super Bowl winning linebacker corps, Chad Brown, and his career 78 sacks before coming to New England, was expected to make the 2005 Patriots a scary defense.
The only thing scary was his play. Starting just five of the 15 games he played in, Brown never seemed to catch Belichick's system, and he was, thanks to the collective will of Patriots fans, cut after one season. Let's not even discuss his "comeback" attempt.
4. WR Reche Caldwell—61 Receptions, 760 yards, 4 TD
Frenz: Caldwell was a free agent pick-up that the Patriots had hoped Tom Brady would make look better. Deion Branch had recently departed, and New England was searching for his heir apparent.
He led the team in receiving yards, but only picked up a measly four touchdowns during the regular season. Then, of course, came that infamous-in-New-England-but-famous-everywhere-else AFC Championship game, where Caldwell dropped two sure catches, one of which would have been a touchdown to seal the lead and possibly the game.
New England fans will always remember his deer-in-headlights look as he approached the sideline after those drops.
Winn: Reche "Headlights" Caldwell was an interesting prospect. Despite the massive size of his eyes, Caldwell could never seem to get his hands on the ball. With the departure of Brady's best receiver and friend, Deion Branch, the Patriots needed a way to make it up to him with a great receiver.
Caldwell wasn't the answer. The good news is, after they saw a guy like Caldwell wasn't the answer, the Patriots picked up Wes Welker and Randy Moss the next offseason.
When you are most famous for what you dropped in an AFC Championship game, you have to be considered one of the worst to don a team's jersey.
3. P Ken Walter—38.6 yards per punt average, 2 punts blocked
Frenz: You’d have to be a pretty bad punter to make it onto a 10 worst players list; Walter definitely fits the bill.
In terms of yards per punt, Ken Walter’s average consistently landed him among the league’s worst; he was the second worst punter in 2003, by a slim .3 yards to dead last. His best statistical season (2001) landed him in the bottom six.
To his credit, he didn’t see very much time on the field; he ranked 31st in the league in attempts in 2001 with a meager 49, and ranked 18th in 2003 with 76 attempts. Still, his job was to give the Patriots good punts and he consistently failed to do so.
Belichick must have been content with his punter, because even in the midst of two Super Bowl runs, he never made a move at that position.
With so few weak spots on the team, one might have thought that they would address one of the few potential weaknesses that the team has. Such was not the case, and Walter served three years on the Patriots before skipping boat to Seattle.
Walter made one last return to the team in 2006, where he was miserable yet again, averaging a pitiful 36.9 yards per punt. That average was good for dead last in the league that season, and thus was the last we ever heard of Ken Walter.
Winn: Erik couldn't have said it better—Walter was probably the worst punter in this team's history. He was known best for holding for Vinatieri's game-winning kicks, but after seeing the way he punted, Patriots fans were just happy to see him not pull a Lucy-to-Charlie Brown on Adam.
He came back to fill in for the not-so-often injured position in 2006, but he had an average lower than any year in his career (36.9) that year. He signed with Seattle for a few games in 2007, but he is, rightfully so, out of football now.
2. Chad Jackson—13 receptions, 152 yards, 3 TD
Frenz: Jackson was hailed as a second coming of Deion Branch after being drafted very early in the second round. Coming out of Florida, Jackson had the sure hands and speed to go off for major yardage week in and week out. He had spent his junior year as a Gator tearing apart defenses, with 88 receptions for 900 yards and nine touchdowns.
He never panned out for the Patriots in the NFL, making only 13 receptions in 12 games in his rookie year, though three of those catches were touchdowns. In 2007, he was unceremoniously buried underneath an influx of new talent in Donte Stallworth, Wes Welker, and—of course—Randy Moss.
That was the last New England fans ever heard of Jackson; he was a victim of a desperate cap-clearing spree initiated to re-sign important defensive talent, along with Moss.
Denver picked him up in free agency, but even in the high octane passing offense that featured Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler, he still only played in four games, and recorded only one reception for 19 yards.
Winn: The name Chad Jackson gives me a flashback to draft day, 2006. My brother had called me right before I stepped into work to tell me the Patriots drafted the talented receiver out of Florida in the second round.
What a steal, I thought.
Turns out, it was Jackson who did the stealing—of everyone's time and patience.
When he made a great-dip-and-dive touchdown against the Vikings, I thought Jackson had finally broken through. I could not have been more wrong, and Jackson was not even able to grab one catch in the record-setting 2007 season.
1. Deltha O’Neal—30 tackles, 3 interceptions, 0 forced fumbles
Frenz: I can recall countless times in the 2008 season that I sat at my television screen, screaming bloody murder at Deltha O’Neal.
He possessed great speed as a cornerback in Cincinatti, but his speed diminished over time. By the time he got to New England, he was nothing more than a short and slow corner with knowledge of the game.
He was too small to provide support in the running game, too short to cover the prototype receivers in the AFC, and too slow to do practically anything else.
I remember a specific quote from Wendi Nix during the Chargers’ 30-10 drubbing of New England, where she said, “The Chargers figure they can take advantage of 6’5” Vincent Jackson being covered by 5’11” Deltha O’Neal.”
And that was the story of his entire season. He registered three interceptions, which looks respectable on paper, but people who watch the Patriots know that two of those were deflections that went off another receivers’ hands.
He doesn’t appear on the Patriots roster on NFL.com, and let’s hope it stays that way.
Winn: Seriously, could there be anyone else in this spot?
In case you were wondering, this is the other player I wish had a statline telling me how many catches he gave up. The aforementioned game against the Chargers was the absolute worst performance in the history of sports.
O'Neal was, by far, the worst defensive back during the Patriots dynasty. He was so bad, that he was benched in favor of rookie Jonathan Wilhite in the middle of last season.
After the benching, it's hard to remember if O'Neal even played. His stat sheet shows 16 games played, but, thankfully, his presence was rarely known as the playoff stretch came about.