New England Patriots: 30 greatest players in franchise history

(Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /
20 of 30

Embed from Getty Images

11. player. 47. . OT. (1987-00). Bruce Armstrong

  • New England Patriots No. 78 jersey retired
  • 6x Pro Bowl (1990-91, 1994-97)
  • 2x Second-Team All-Pro (1988, 1996)
  • New England Patriots Hall of Fame

Being a lifelong Patriot with well over a decade’s experience on the New England gridiron is a great way to make this list. Just missing out on the top-10 all-time greatest Patriots is longtime offensive tackle Bruce Armstrong. He spent his entire 14-year NFL career with New England.

Armstrong was the No. 23 overall pick by the Patriots in the 1987 NFL Draft out of the University of Louisville. He emerged as an instant starter on the New England offensive line. Armstrong spent his first three seasons starting at right tackle for the Patriots. He made the maximum 44 starts from 1987 to 1989 given the strike-shortened 1987 campaign before switching full-time to left tackle. Armstrong even earned a Second-Team All-Pro nod at right tackle in 1988.

That is where Armstrong really took off as a professional. Armstrong would start all 16 games in his 10 of 11 seasons as the Patriots’ blind side protector. Outside of missing half the year in 1992, you could just pencil in Armstrong’s name at left tackle and didn’t have to worry about it.

The switch from right to left tackle proved to be massively beneficial to Armstrong. He made back-to-back Pro Bowls in 1990 and 1991 immediately upon the move. Sure, New England was terrible at that time, but at least the Patriots had a proven commodity at left tackle. Can you even begin to imagine how many bull rushes he had to have gone up against when the Patriots trailed so often in the early to mid-1990s?

Once Bill Parcells took over the team in 1993, that’s when Armstrong finally had an offensive coach that could make the most out of his talent. Starting a rookie at quarterback in former No. 1 overall pick Drew Bledsoe, the Patriots would quickly turn it around under Parcells. Bledsoe threw for more yards than anyone in 1994. We know that Armstrong’s pass-protection prowess was a huge reason for that.

Beginning in 1994, Armstrong rattled off four straight trips to the Pro Bowl. He had no problem keeping Bledsoe upright, as both of their playing primes would coincide. Armstrong’s best year might have come in 1996 when the Patriots won the AFC. Though they didn’t win the Super Bowl over Mike Holmgren’s Green Bay Packers, Armstrong did make Second-Team All-Pro.

After the Patriots went 5-11 in the first year of the Bill Belichick era, Armstrong hung up the spikes at the age of 36 in 2000. Of course, the Patriots would win their first Super Bowl in franchise history the year after Armstrong retired.

Regardless of the poor timing, Armstrong does have his No. 78 jersey retired by the organization. In 2001, Armstrong was inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame. Though he’ll likely stay on the outside looking in, maybe Armstrong one day gets into Canton?