The New England Patriots have been the greatest NFL franchise in the 21st century. Here are the 30 best players to have played for the Patriots all-time.
No team has been more impressive this century in the NFL than the New England Patriots. With 15 AFC East titles, eight AFC Championships and five Super Bowl championships since 2001, there’s simply no argument that the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick marriage has been anything less than stellar over the last 17 seasons.
While New England is seen as the gold standard in the NFL today, the Patriots weren’t always the crown jewel of the AFC. In fact, New England was arguably one of the most pitiful organizations in all of football before owner Robert Kraft bought the team in the mid-1990s.
New England had managed just six playoff appearances (one in the AFL, five in the NFL) before Kraft purchased the football team in 1994. The Patriots have their roots as the Boston Patriots during their first decade as a franchise in the 1960s. The “New England” part of the team name came in its early years in the NFL in 1971 to be more regionally inclusive.
But even when the Patriots weren’t as dominant as they are today, they had some incredible players. Four former players have been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame due in large part to their time with the franchise. In the not-so distant future, many great players from this current dynasty will certainly gain Canton enshrinement.
Without further ado, here are the 30 greatest players in Patriots franchise history. From their humble beginnings in the AFL in Boston to their current status of AFC elite in Foxborough, let’s get down to it!
Honorable Mentions: Tony Addison, Houston Antwine, Deion Branch, Malcolm Butler, Raymond Clayborn, Jim Colclough, Tony Collins, Marv Cook, Sam Cunningham, Julian Edelman, Larry Eisenhauer, Kevin Faulk, Russ Francis, Irving Fryar, Larry Garron, Leon Gray, Steve Grogan, Rodney Harrison, Dont’a Hightower, Brian Holloway, Curtis Martin, Jim Nance, Babe Parilli, Matthew Slater, Damien Woody
- 3x Super Bowl Champion (XXXVI, XXVIII, XXXIX)
- First-Team All-Pro (2007)
- 3x Pro Bowl (2006-07, 2010)
- 155 games, 153 starts at left tackle for Patriots
Matt Light‘s skill set as a blind set protector was evident during his time in college in the Big Ten. He played on many of those solid Purdue Boilermaker teams headlined by soon-to-be Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees. Purdue still hasn’t matched anywhere close to that level of success, but has been a breeding ground for tough NFL talent this century.
New England used a second-round pick to draft Light out of Purdue. Right away, he was asked to contribute. Light started 12 of 14 games at left tackle for the Patriots as a rookie in 2001. Interestingly, that would be the beginning of the Brady/Belichick era in Foxborough.
Light protected Brady’s blind side in the upset victory over the heavily favored St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans. While the Patriots failed to reach the playoffs in 2002, Light became the undisputed left tackle for the Patriots for the next decade that season.
He would win three Super Bowls in his first four seasons as a professional out of Purdue. New England would be victorious over the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl XXVII in Houston and the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXIX down in Jacksonville.
While Light achieved great team success in his early years with the Patriots, individual success would only come in the back-half of his NFL career. Light earned his first of three career trips to the Pro Bowl in 2006 as an injury replacement for future Pro Football Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden of the Baltimore Ravens.
It may not have seen like much, but that Pro Bowl nod would catapult Light into his best season as a professional the following year. Yes, Light was a major factor in the 2007 Patriots getting all the way to Super Bowl XLII unscathed.
While that all-time classic in Glendale didn’t yield the result New England fans wanted, Light earned his second Pro Bowl nod and his only First-Team All-Pro designation of his NFL career. Light would play four more seasons with the Patriots, earning his last trip to the Pro Bowl in 2010.
His last game as a professional came in Super Bowl XLVI versus the frustrating Giants, which was sadly another tough loss for the Patriots. Light hung up the spikes for good after the 2011 NFL season to pursue a career in NFL media. He ended up playing in 155 games for the Patriots, starting 153 at left tackle in 11 NFL seasons, all with New England.