The 50 Greatest New England Patriots of All Time

Sean KeaneCorrespondent IOctober 28, 2010

The 50 Greatest New England Patriots of All Time

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    After 50 full seasons of NFL play, most New Englanders know Patriots legends like John Hannah, Tom Brady, Andre Tippett and so on.

    In honor of the 50 seasons past, here is a collection of the team's 50 greatest players ever, many of whom came to the field each week with far less fanfare than the current 5-1 model.

    Most of these players will be familiar faces, and some won't, but all of them were standout performers during their time with the team.

50: Robert Edwards, RB

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    This is more of an honorary ranking than anything else. Edwards will always be a sad reminder of what might have been.

    The Patriots selected Edwards, a running back from the University of Georgia, with the 18th pick in the draft after Curtis Martin followed Bill Parcells to the New York Jets. As a rookie, Edwards racked up 1,446 total yards and 12 total touchdowns. The sky was the limit for the up-and-coming star.

    Then he blew out his knee playing a game of flag football on the beach at the Pro Bowl. There was some talk of amputation.

    The Patriots kept him on the team while he endured a lengthy and grueling rehab process (who says they're cheap?) and released him once he was healthy enough to seek work with another team.

    He caught on with Miami, but it was clear he never really recovered.

49: Doug Flutie, QB

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    The stat hounds will argue that Flutie doesn't belong here. They might be right; I won't argue with their argument.

    Actually, Flutie wasn't very good with New England. He didn't fit the bill as a quality quarterback until he became one in Buffalo.

    So yeah, maybe Flutie only made the list because we all root for the little guy.

    Or maybe I remember the way people used to talk about Flutie. You know your friend at the bar who's had one too many Jack and Cokes and can't stop talking about the girl that got away? That's how people used to talk about Flutie.

    It's the only time I can remember people pining after a former quarterback.

    He might not be high in the record books, but he certainly is in the hearts of fans.

48: Tony Collins, RB

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    Collins played seven seasons with the Patriots from 1981-1987. He was named to the Pro Bowl in 1983 when he rushed for 1,049 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 4.8 yards per carry.

    He is the team's third leading rusher all-time.

47: Brian Holloway, OT

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    The left tackle had a dominant stretch from 1983-1985 when he made three straight Pro Bowls.

46: Ron Hall, DB

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    Hall played seven seasons with the Patriots. He made the Pro Bowl in 1963 and was named to the All-Pro Team in 1964, when he had 11 interceptions.

    He ranks fifth on the team's career interception list with 29.

45: Bob Dee, DE and 44: Jim Hunt, DT

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    I never saw these guys play, and I don't know much about them. They played before sacks were an official stat.

    Dee was an original Patriot in 1960. He scored the first touchdown in AFL history when he recovered a fumble in the end zone, and he started 112 games in a row for the Patriots. He was named to the AFL All-Star team four times.

    Hunt is also an original Patriot and a four-time AFL All-Star. He is the AFL record holder for fumble recoveries.

    Both players had their numbers (No. 89 and No. 79 respectively) retired by the team.

43: Craig James, RB

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    His time with the Patriots was brief, only 52 games, but he was a key piece of the 1985 AFC champions. In his lone Pro Bowl season, James rushed for 1,227 yards and five touchdowns en route to a Super Bowl appearance.

42: Jim Colclough, WR

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    Colclough was another original Patriot.

    He led the team in receiving three times from 1960-1963 and made the AFL All-Star team in '62.

    All told he played nine seasons, all with the Patriots, and never missed a single game.

41: Ted Johnson, MLB

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    Johnson was the team enforcer in the middle, and he was damn good at it. It's a shame concussions and other injuries derailed his promising career.

    In 10 seasons he is unofficially the team's fifth leading tackler.

40: Russ Francis, TE

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    Drafted by the Patriots in 1975, Francis never put up eye-popping numbers, but he was named to three straight Pro Bowls from '76-'78.

    He is second to Ben Coates on the team's all-time reception list by a tight end.

39: Steve Nelson, MLB

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    Nellie was at the heart of the 1985 defense that made it to the franchise's first Super Bowl. They ran into the unstoppable Bears, but that doesn't diminish Nelson's career.

    He played 14 seasons, all with the Patriots. He was a three-time Pro Bowler and still is a popular figure locally.

38: Irving Fryar, WR

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    Fryar was mostly a disappointment during his time with the Patriots. Expectations were high after the team drafted him No. 1 overall in 1984. He then made the Pro Bowl in 1985 as the Patriots surged to the Super Bowl.

    It was mostly downhill from there. That was his only Pro Bowl with the team, and his only 1,000-yard season in New England didn't come until 1991.

    Fryar went on to make four more Pro Bowls with the Dolphins and Eagles before finishing his career with the Redskins.

37: Steve Grogan, QB

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    His numbers aren't that great—26,886 yards, 182 TDs, 208 INTs over 16 seasons—but he was a gritty leader and a fierce competitor.

    In 1979 he led the NFL with 28 touchdown passes.

36: Dan Koppen, C

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    Koppen has been one of the most underrated linemen in the NFL for most of his career.

    He made the Pro Bowl in 2007 when the team set all those records on offense, but he's been a durable, reliable blocker for Brady and co. ever since he joined the team in 2003.

35: Chris Slade, OLB

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    Slade never broke the 10-sack barrier, but he averaged nearly eight sacks per season from 1993-1997. He was a disruptive force in the passing game and a sound tackler against the run. He was one of the key players on the 1996 Super Bowl team.

34: Terry Glenn, WR

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    Glenn stepped in as a rookie and had an instant connection with quarterback Drew Bledsoe.

    The two connected for a (then) rookie-record 90 receptions. He was the team's best threat downfield for most of his time with the team and made the Pro Bowl in 1999.

    He became the first of many high-profile players who drew Bill Belichick's ire in 2001 and was jettisoned before he had a chance to win a Super Bowl.

33: Jim Nance, RB

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    In 1966 he set a club record that would last for 30 years. He rushed for 1,458 yards and added 11 touchdowns.  He was named All-AFL that year and in '67 as well when he chipped in another 1,216 yards and seven touchdowns.

    He is the team's second leading career rusher.

32: Deion Branch, WR

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    Branch is popular in New England at the moment, but let's not get too carried away. He's never had 1,000 yards receiving, and his career high in catches was 78 in 2005.

    He's been a great player for the Patriots when it counts most though. In two Super Bowls he recorded 21 receptions for 276 yards and a touchdown and was named MVP of Super Bowl XXXIX.

31: John Morris, C

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    Morris was an AFL All-Star for the first six years of his career, including first team All-AFL in 1966. When the Patriots joined the NFL in 1970 he made the AFC Pro Bowl team, the first Patriot to do so.

    He is second all-time to John Hannah for most All-Star game or Pro Bowl appearances by a Patriot.

30: Sam Cunningham, RB

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    Cunningham only had one 1,000-yard rushing season, yet he is the team's all-time leading rusher.  He was consistently good over his 10 years with the team from '73-'82 and made the Pro Bowl in 1978.

    He retired with 5,453 rushing yards.

29: Lawyer Milloy, SS

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    Milloy played seven seasons with the Patriots from 1996-2002 and was named to the Pro Bowl four times in that span. He was first team All-Pro in 1999, when he had 91 tackles and four interceptions.

    He was one of the team's best players on defense in 2001 when they won their first ever Super Bowl. His final season in New England was also his final Pro Bowl.

28: Gino Cappelletti, K, WR, DB

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    Gino, now better known for his color commentary on Patriots radio, was an original Patriot in 1960.  He was a do-it-all type of player, a 1960s version of Troy Brown, if Troy Brown was a kicker.

    For 10 years Gino was the best kicker in the AFL. He also amassed 4,595 yards from scrimmage as a receiver after coming into the league as a defensive back.

    He is second on the team's all-time scoring list with 1,130 points scored.

27: Vito "Babe" Parilli, QB

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    The three time AFL All-Star and 1964 All-AFL first team quarterback played seven seasons with the Patriots. In his tenure he totaled 16,747 yards and 138 touchdowns passing.

    His career highs in the major passing categories: 55.3 completion percentage, 3,465 yards, 31 touchdowns, 27 INTs, 91.5 QB rating.

26: Raymond Clayborn, CB

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    Clayborn is tied for the team lead in all-time interceptions with 36. He played 13 seasons with the Patriots from 1977 to 1989 and was named to three Pro Bowl teams in a four-year span from '83-'86.

    His career high in interceptions was six in 1985.

25: Houston Antwine, DT

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    Antwine played 10 seasons for the Patriots from 1961-1970.

    He was named to six consecutive AFL All-Star teams, including a first team All-AFL nod in 1963.

    He is a member of the Patriots All-Decade team from the '60s, as well as the All-Time All-AFL Team.

24: Asante Samuel

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    Samuel would actually be ranked higher if he'd spent more time with the team. The Patriots elected to let him walk as a free agent during the prime of his career.

    The Pats could sure use him now.

    Samuel won two Super Bowl rings (he started in the Super Bowl as a rookie in 2003) plus an AFC Championship with the Patriots. During his five seasons with the team he made the Pro Bowl and was named All-Pro once, in 2007.

    His career high in interceptions is 10 in 2006.

23: Vince Wilfork, NT

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    Big Vince is the best defensive tackle in football right now. Teams know it, they game-plan for it and they still can't stop it. I imagine five years from now he'll be considerably higher on this list, but as it stands now he hasn't done it for long enough.

    Wilfork is in his seventh season, but he's really come into his own over the past four seasons. Since 2007 Wilfork has made two Pro Bowls and is well on his way to All-Pro this year.

22: Mike Vrabel, OLB

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    Now we're talking! No more AFL old-timers.

    The run of Samuel, Wilfork and Vrabel here definitely signifies coming out of the team's Dark Ages and into the enlightened era of Super Bowl champions.

    Vrabel was there when the magic began in 2001, but by 2003 he was announcing his presence loud and clear. As one of the premier pass rushers on the team he registered 9.5 sacks.

    He was All-Pro in 2007 as the leading sacker on a 16-0 team. He posted a career-best 12.5 sacks and also caught two touchdown passes as a tight end.

    In fact, in eight seasons with New England he caught eight passes for eight touchdowns. Oh yeah, and he also racked up 48 regular season and nine postseason sacks.

21: Corey Dillon, RB

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    Based on his career body of work, I'd like to rank Dillon higher, but the fact is he wasted most of his prime years with the Bengals.

    He saved his best for New England though. In 2004 Dillon set personal highs with 1,635 yards and 12 touchdowns. The yards are also the franchise record.

    For that one season he was the best running back the Patriots ever had, and he was a major reason why they repeated as Super Bowl champions.

    He was injured and less effective the following years but still managed to score 12 touchdowns in '05 and a career-high 13 in '06.

20: Wes Welker

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    Another player who would rank higher if he'd been with the team longer.

    Welker is coming off a torn ACL, so it remains to be seen how his career will play out, but he's far from finished. Even if he never played another snap, he would still be assured a spot in Patriots lore.

    In three seasons with the team he's made the Pro Bowl twice and was All-Pro in 2009 when he caught a franchise-record 123 passes despite missing two games due to injury.  He has the top three single-season receptions totals in team history.

19: Willie McGinest, DE/OLB

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    McGinest is second on the team's all-time sack list with 78. He played 12 seasons in New England, played in four Super Bowls, won three of them, had at least nine sacks four times and made the Pro Bowl twice.

    His veteran leadership helped steer the team during the dynasty years, and he did most of his damage in the biggest games.

    He owns the NFL all-time record for playoff sacks with 16 in 10 games and had at least one sack in each of them.

18: Rodney Harrison, SS

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    Harrison played six seasons with the Patriots, the last four of which were cut short by injuries. In '03 and '04, however, he brought new blood and a new attitude to the defensive backfield.

    He was a tackling machine and had a nasty habit of separating receivers from footballs. His physical, aggressive play was a major contributor to the Colts famously whining enough to invoke a new rule: illegal contact.

    Harrison was All-Pro in 2003, and the two-time Super Bowl champion easily could have been in 2004 as well.

17: Kevin Faulk, RB

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    Faulk never made the Pro Bowl because there's no spot on the roster for a player like him.

    He only led the team in rushing once, but he's No. 5 on the all-time list with 3,550 yards. He never led the team in receiving, but he's No. 4 all-time in catches and No. 10 in yards. He ranks No. 6 all-time in punt return yards and is the team's top all-time kick returner by more than 1,000 yards.

    He has the most all-purpose yards in team history with 12,140.

    He's also the best player I've ever seen turn a delayed handoff into a first down on 3rd-and-8, or throw just enough of a block for his QB to hit him with a screen pass on third down, or catch a 4-yard pass and turn upfield for the extra two yards on 3rd-and-6. Sensing a common theme here?

    The man converts third downs better than any Patriot ever.

16: Adam Vinatieri, K

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    To those who say this is too high for a kicker, I say nine times out of 10 you're right. This is the one time you're not.

    Vinatieri's exploits are well known in New England. In case you're not up to date, here's a brief rundown.

    All-Time leading scorer in team history.

    Two-time All-Pro.

    Twice led the NFL in FG percentage.

    Now it gets good...

    With the Patriots trailing 13-10 in the fourth quarter of the 2001 Divisional Playoff vs. Oakland, he nailed a 45-yarder through the driving wind and snow to tie the game—arguably the greatest kick in NFL history. He put the finishing touches on a miracle comeback by hitting the game-winner in overtime.

    Then, as time expired during Super Bowl XXVI, he kicked a 48-yard field goal to win the game and help the Patriots pull off the biggest upset in Super Bowl history—also arguably the greatest kick in NFL history.

    He provided the margin of victory in all three Super Bowl wins.

    Greatest kicker in NFL history? No argument here.

15: Bruce Armstrong, LT

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    Armstrong played 14 seasons in the NFL, all with the Patriots. From 1987-2000 he was among the best left tackles in the business.

    He was a major reason franchise quarterback Drew Bledsoe was able to set so many team records. Armstrong made six Pro Bowls during an eight-year stretch from 1990-1997.

    The years he didn't make it? 1992 and 1993, when he missed eight games thanks to a knee injury and was working to get back into top form. He rebounded to make four straight Pro Bowls starting in '94.

    He was a fixture on the blind side for the Patriots and was inducted into their Hall of Fame immediately following his retirement in 2001.

14: Tedy Bruschi, MLB

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    Bruschi only made one Pro Bowl during his 13-year career, but he was one of the most underrated players in all of football during that time.

    He was the unquestioned defensive leader of the Patriots' Super Bowl teams and had all the intangibles that can't be measured or found on a stat sheet. He was always in position to make a big play, and he seemed to always make them.

    After making the Pro Bowl in 2004, he suffered a stroke, and his career was in doubt. He returned after missing seven games and played one of his finest games, earning AFC defensive player of the week honors. He brought a passion to the game that fans in New England have rarely seen before or since.

13: Ben Coates, TE

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    Big Ben was another reason Bledsoe was so prolific through the air. The best tight end in team history was a devastating run blocker and an impossible matchup in coverage.

    He made five straight Pro Bowls from 1994-1998, twice named first team All-Pro. He set the record for most receptions by a tight end in '94 with 96 catches, 1,174 yards and seven TDs.

12: Drew Bledsoe, QB

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    Bledsoe had the skills to be a truly great quarterback. He never quite made that leap, but he came tantalizingly close.

    In nine seasons with New England he gave the franchise its first legitimate aerial attack in recent memory. He rejuvenated a downtrodden franchise and led the team to the Super Bowl in 1996. He made three Pro Bowls as a Patriot and twice threw for over 4,000 yards.

    He's No. 2 in team history with 29,657 yards passing, No. 3 in touchdowns with 166 and No. 4 in passer rating (75.9).

    He also earned a Super Bowl ring in 2001. After missing most of the season thanks to a ruptured blood vessel in his chest, Bledsoe came off the bench in the AFC Championship Game and led the Patriots on a scoring drive and eventually to a victory.

11: Richard Seymour, DT/DE

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    Seymour joined the team as a rookie in 2001. His impact was immediate, and he helped a 5-11 team win 11 games and its first ever championship.

    He was a monster on the defensive line, playing tackle and end and doing both well. He wasn't asked to pass rush very often, but when he did, he was great at it. He was mostly responsible for disrupting blockers along the offensive line, and for eight years he was one of the best at it.

    He made five straight Pro Bowls from '02-'06 and was first team All-Pro three times. His strength and versatility along the line was one of the biggest reasons allowing Belichick to employ his exotic defenses.

10: Nick Buoniconti, LB

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    Buoniconti may be better remembered for his role in the Dolphins' 1972 undefeated season (he was one of the leaders of the "No Name Defense"), but the Hall of Famer played well for New England too.

    In seven seasons with the Patriots he was named an AFL All-Star five times.

    He is a member of the All-Time All-AFL Team and the Patriots' All-Decade Team for the '60s.

9: Ty Law, CB

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    Law was one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL for most of his career. He's tied with Raymond Clayborn for the franchise lead in interceptions with 36.

    In 10 years with the Pats he made four Pro Bowls and was twice named first team All-Pro. He was a crucial player for four Super Bowl teams, three champions.

    He did his best work in the playoffs, returning an interception for a touchdown against the Rams in the Super Bowl and nabbing three interceptions against Peyton Manning in the 2003 AFC Championship Game.

8: Curtis Martin, RB

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    Yet another great player who either left too soon or arrived too late to move higher up the list.

    Martin is a no-doubt Hall of Famer, but he only played three seasons with the Patriots, as opposed to eight with the Jets.

    Martin burst onto the scene as a rookie in 1995, and despite only playing with the Pats until 1997, he ranks No. 4 on the career rushing list. His 32 rushing touchdowns are also No. 5 all-time. As a rookie he set the franchise record for rushing yards with 1,487 (since broken by Dillon), and he still has the two highest single-season rushing touchdown totals with 14 apiece in '95 and '96.

7: Randy Moss, WR

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    This one may be unpopular with Patriot Nation right now, but the dude's got skillz.

    Seriously, despite playing only three full seasons in New England, Moss is still the team's No. 9 leading receiver in terms of yards and is tied with Coates for second all-time in touchdown catches.

    If you break it down by single season, well, we all know how that story ends—with Moss giving the Patriots their best offensive weapon ever and shattering records in the process. Randy Moss posted the greatest season ever by a WR in 2007 when he caught 98 passes for 1,493 yards and an NFL-record 23 touchdowns.

    He was the kind of player who made the whole crowd hold their breath in anticipation. It usually went something like this...

    Brady drops back. After two or three seconds the crowd realizes he's looking deep. Every set of eyes in the stadium fixes on Moss as Brady uncorks a bomb, as the ball's in the air you hear "Ooooooooooooo" and then, "Randy Moss!!"

    Double coverage? Didn't matter. Triple coverage? No problem.

    He made the spectacular seem routine, and the routine seem downright insignificant.

6: Troy Brown, WR

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    On pure talent there's no way Brown outranks Moss. Luckily this list isn't about talent; it's about greatness.

    Moss put up baffling statistics, but he never won a ring. Troy Brown won three. For all his talent, Moss was still a one-dimensional player. Troy Brown's game had more dimensions than a space-age sci-fi comic.

    Fair or not, real or imagined, Moss has the perception of being a problem child. Brown never said a word unless it had to do with his next opponent.

    I'm not trying to disparage Moss, or as Mark Antony said in Julius Caesar, "I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke, but here I am to speak what I do know."

    I do know that Brown was one of the most reliable players at any position I've ever seen.

    Troy Brown was everything Patriots fans love; a down to earth, hard-working overachiever who maximized his talents by giving max effort and finding new ways each week to help the team win.

    He is the team's all-time leader in receptions, second in yards and seventh in touchdowns. He only made the Pro Bowl once, but like Kevin Faulk his worth to the team couldn't be measured by awards.

    If one game encapsulates a player's entire career, it would be the 2001 AFC Championship Game in Troy Brown's case.

    Despite being the team's best WR and finding points hard to come by against a tough Steelers defense, Brown instead changed the game on special teams. He scored the game's first touchdown on a punt return, and later he recovered a blocked field goal and then lateraled to Antwan Harris, who ran the rest of the way for a score. 

    Even later in his career when he began being phased out of the offense, he found ways to contribute. Rather than pout and mope, Brown worked harder than ever and undertook the challenge of learning to play defense. It paid in a big way in 2004 when injuries ravaged the Patriots secondary. Brown played cornerback on numerous occasions, including during the Super Bowl, and tallied three interceptions.

    Not bad for an eighth-round pick that Bill Parcells once cut from the team.

5: Stanley Morgan, WR

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    Three wideouts in a row in the top 10? I guess New England's playmakers haven't been as historically bad as we all thought.

    Stanley Morgan played 13 seasons in New England from 1977-1989 and made four Pro Bowls. He is the all-time franchise leader in receiving yards (10,352), yards per catch (19.4) and touchdowns (67) and is second in receptions.

    His YPC average shows that, as crazy as it sounds, he was an ever better deep threat than Moss. He isn't really (Moss is the best deep threat ever), but with those stats he joins some elite company.

    He's earned his spot in the Patriots Hall of Fame.

4: Mike Haynes, CB

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    Haynes electrified the NFL as a cover corner and return man, a la Deion Sanders.

    Fans from a generation older than me say Haynes was the most gifted player they ever saw. They say there wasn't a receiver in the league who could outrun him or a quarterback in the league who could throw on him.

    They may be right. In seven seasons with the Patriots, Haynes made six Pro Bowls. The only year he didn't was in 1981, when he only played eight games due to injury.

    We all get caught up in Revis Island fever nowadays, but Haynes was a true shutdown corner. He made the Pro Bowl in 1980 with just one interception, simply because teams knew better than to throw in his direction.

    Haynes was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997.

3: Andre Tippett

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    Tippett is the franchise leader in sacks (100) and fumble recoveries (19) and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2008.

    He played 11 seasons with the Patriots, making five straight Pro Bowls from 1984-88, twice named first team All-Pro. He had 18.5 sacks in '84, a franchise record, and added another 16.5 the following season.

    He is without a doubt the best pass rusher, playmaker and overall defensive presence in team history

2: John Hannah, G

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    Widely regarded as the best offensive lineman in the history of the NFL, Hannah was a rock on the line for New England for 13 seasons.

    He was named to nine Pro Bowls, the most in team history, and seven All-Pro teams, also the most in team history. He made eight straight Pro Bowls from 1978-1985 and until fairly recently was the only player in the Hall of Fame who played exclusively for the Patriots.

    It's unlikely the NFL will ever see another lineman who can even approach Hannah's level of play.

1: Tom Brady, QB

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    It's not often a list of all-time greats is topped by an active player, but if Brady retired today he would still be the greatest player in team history.

    He's got a legitimate case as the best quarterback of all time. With three Super Bowl wins, a perfect regular season, an NFL-record 50 touchdown passes in a single season, and a career rating of 93.5, Brady has the best winning percentage of any QB in the Super Bowl era and the best TD:INT ratio of any QB ever.

    He is the face of the team's 2000s dynasty and the biggest reason for its turnaround following a 5-11 season in 2000.

    He won titles with little to no help from his receivers and made pedestrian players like David Patten, David Givens and Deion Branch look like superstars.

    Simply put, without Brady, the Patriots would never have won a single Super Bowl, much less three.