New England Patriots: 15 best free agent acquisitions of all-time

Mike Vrabel, New England Patriots. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Mike Vrabel, New England Patriots. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images) /
2 of 16
Antowain Smith, New England Patriots
Antowain Smith, New England Patriots. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images /

47. . RB. (2001-03). Antowain Smith. 15. player

  • 2x Super Bowl champion (XXXVI, XXXVIII)
  • 6,881 career rushing yards
  • 54 career rushing touchdowns
  • 3.9 yards per rush career average

Antowain Smith was one of the earliest examples of Bill Belichick’s Patriots swiping a talented player away from a division foe.

In recent years, the team has made the practice somewhat of an annual tradition, weakening the rest of their AFC East rivals, while simultaneously strengthening their own roster in the process. Wes Welker, Darrelle Revis, Stephon Gilmore and Chris Hogan are just a handful of names among these divisional defectors.

Smith, though, was one of the first to blaze the path. Originally a first-round draft pick by the Buffalo Bills in 1997, Smith came to the team at a time of major transition. Legendary quarterback Jim Kelly had just retired months earlier, and the 1997 season ended up being Hall of Fame head coach Marv Levy’s last in the NFL.

Despite the instability and change at two of the game’s most important positions, Smith didn’t do enough on the field to merit his high draft selection. His rushing average and season touchdown totals fell in all four years as a Bill. That is until he elected to join Buffalo’s arch-nemesis to the east in 2001.

The move proved to be a brilliant one, as the change of scenery paid immediate dividends for Smith. He rushed for a career-high 1,127 yards and 12 touchdowns during the regular season, and finished with his best rushing average since his rookie year.

Just as impressively, Smith rumbled for 204 more yards in the playoffs, including 92 yards on 18 carries in a victory over the then-St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.

His encore performance in 2002 wasn’t quite as spectacular, though he still managed to run for six touchdowns and finished just 18 yards shy of posting his second consecutive 1,000-yard season.

Smith helped the Patriots win their second Lombardi Trophy by beating the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII. He rushed for 83 yards on 26 carries in that contest, and added a touchdown, before electing to join the Tennessee Titans the following offseason.

Even though he was a bit overshadowed by his successor in Corey Dillon, Smith should not be forgotten for his contributions to the early days of the Patriots dynasty.