Patriot fans have had it pretty good for the past 20 years with nine trips to the Super Bowl, winning six Lombardi trophies along the way. However, like every other franchise in the NFL, the Patriots have had their share of bad luck when it comes to wondering "what could have been" with some players. Here are the top five in franchise history.
Top 5 "What Could Have Been" players in New England Patriots history
5. Darryl Stingley
Darryl Stingley was a first-round pick of the Patriots out of Purdue in 1973 and played wide receiver for the team for five seasons. In an era where the Patriots, like most of the NFL, relied on a sound running game, Stingley did not make much of an impact in the passing game during his first four seasons before breaking out in 1977 posting career-highs with 39 receptions, 657 yards and 5 touchdowns.
At only 26 years of age, Stingley was poised to help the Patriots passing attack in 1978 alongside Stanley Morgan before tragedy struck during a preseason game in Oakland. While going out for a pass, Stingley was hit by Raiders safety Jack Tatum suffering a broken neck which paralyzed him from the neck down. Without Stingley, the Patriots were able to march towards the playoffs in 1978 but struggled afterwards, making just one playoff appearance between 1979 and 1985. While Morgan had a borderline Hall of Fame career, you wonder what kind of dynamic duo Stingley and Morgan could've been in the late 70s and early 80s.
4. Jim Plunkett
The Patriots have had the #1 pick in the NFL draft four times with the first selection coming in the 1971 draft where they selected quarterback Jim Plunkett out of Stanford. Plunkett was immediately inserted as the starting quarterback and led the team to a 6-8 record a year after going just 2-12 in 1970. Plunkett threw for 2,158 yards and 19 touchdowns (the Patriots quarterbacks in 1970 threw for only seven touchdowns) and was named UPI Rookie of the Year. In 1974, Plunkett led the Patriots to a 7-7 record, their first non-losing season since 1968 but it would be his final complete season in New England.
Plunkett suffered a separated shoulder early in the 1975 season and was traded to San Francisco prior to the 1976 NFL Draft. While Plunkett's regular season numbers were mediocre during his career, he made his mark in the playoffs as a member of the Raiders where he went 8-2, winning two Super Bowls and being named Super Bowl XV MVP. The Patriots made the playoffs in 1976, 1978 and 1982 but failed to win a game. Maybe Plunkett could've have gotten them over the top in the postseason.