Top 5 "What Could Have Been" players in New England Patriots history

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Top 5 "What Could Have Been" players in New England Patriots history

3. Antonio Brown

Coming off of their sixth Super Bowl win in 2019, the Patriots shocked the NFL by adding wide receiver Antonio Brown on the eve of the season after he was released by the Raiders. Brown was unavailable for the season-opening win over the Steelers but made his debut in Week Two's 43-0 win in Miami, catching four passes for a team-high 56 yards and a touchdown. However, it would be the only touchdown of his Patriots career as he would be released five days later following a second allegation of sexual misconduct.

Without Brown, the Patriots receiving corps outside of Julian Edelman struggled throughout the 2019 season. Josh Gordon only saw action in six games, rookie N'Keal Harry struggled to earn the trust of Tom Brady and the trade for Mohamed Sanu didn't quite pan out. Patriots fans were left to wonder what could've been had Brown been around for the entire season, especially after him and Brady teamed up for a Super Bowl win in Tampa Bay during the 2020 season. If Brown doesn't get released, does the team go far in the playoffs? Does it encourage Tom Brady not to leave? We'll never know.

2. Malcolm Mitchell

Both veterans (Reggie Wayne, Joey Galloway) and rookies (N'Keal Harry, Chad Jackson) have struggled to grasp the Patriots playbook so when a receiver comes along and clicks immediately, fans get optimistic. This was especially the case for wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell after the 2016 season. A fourth round pick due to a history of injuries, Mitchell came along slowly at the start of the season before taking off in Week 10.

After having seven receptions and no touchdowns during the first nine weeks, Mitchell tallied 25 receptions, 306 yards and four touchdowns down the stretch as the Patriots grabbed the AFC's #1 seed. This included a game in New York where Mitchell caught two touchdowns while matched up against Darrelle Revis, the only time Revis allowed two touchdowns in a game during his Hall of Fame career.

In the playoffs, Mitchell had his best game during the Super Bowl LI comeback against the Falcons as he caught six balls (five in the fourth quarter) for 70 yards as the Patriots won their fifth Super Bowl. Optimism was high that the Patriots had found another diamond in the rough later in the draft. However, the Super Bowl win would be the final game of Mitchell's NFL career as a knee injury forced him to retire and left fans wondering what could have been. With Mitchell in the fold, does New England have to waste a first-round draft pick on N'Keal Harry?

1. Robert Edwards

Fresh off of losing future Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin in free agency to the New York Jets, the Patriots seemed to have struck gold with their first-round pick of Robert Edwards out of Georgia. During his rookie season of 1998, Edwards picked up where Martin left off, rushing for 1,115 yards and nine touchdowns while also proving to be a three-down back adding 35 receptions for 331 yards and three touchdowns through the air. His 12 total touchdowns ranked 8th in the NFL and helped the Patriots make the playoffs for the third season in a row for the first time in franchise history. It seemed like New England had their franchise running back.

By being named to the All-Rookie team, Edwards was invited to participate in a flag football game on the beach at the Pro Bowl in Hawaii. Unfortunately, tragedy struck as Edwards injured his knee so severely it almost had to be amputated and he missed the next three NFL seasons before attempting a comeback with the Miami Dolphins. Without Edwards, the Patriots running game struggled the next two seasons as neither Terry Allen (896 yards, eight fumbles in 1999) nor Kevin Faulk (570 yards, six fumbles in 2000) came close to matching the production of Edwards and the team went 13-19. With Edwards in the mix, maybe the 1999 Patriots make the playoffs instead of limping to an 8-8 finish, costing Pete Carroll his job. That would surely have changed the franchise.