There’s a reason why fans and the media in New England get so excited over Patriots undrafted free agents. The team has an impressive track record of signing rookies off the street and turning them into key role players or starters.
With the success of the current crop of rookie free agents, including tight end Jacob Hollister, wide receiver Austin Carr, linebacker Harvey Langi, defensive tackle Adam Butler and cornerbacks Kenny Moore and D.J. Killings, we began to think about the best Patriots undrafted free agents in the Bill Belichick era.
To limit the pool, we’re only including players originally signed by the Patriots. That leaves out guys like Larry Izzo, Matt Chatham, Jermaine Wiggins, Adam Vinatieri, Wes Welker, Kyle Arrington, Dan Connolly, Joe Andruzzi, Danny Woodhead, Danny Amendola, LeGarrette Blount and Justin Coleman.
So, without further ado, here are the 10 best Patriots undrafted free agents that Belichick originally signed:
10. RANDALL GAY, CB
Gay was kind of the original Malcolm Butler (we’ll get to him soon). He went undrafted in 2004 and eventually earned a big role in a Patriots Super Bowl victory. He started Super Bowl XXXIX and made 10 tackles, broke up one pass and forced one fumble.
Gay struggled with injuries during his Patriots career but started 14 games in four years at cornerback while also working at safety and in the slot. He intercepted five passes and recorded 74 tackles with 14 pass breakups.
Gay went on to sign a four-year, $17.8 million contract with the Saints.
9. RYAN ALLEN, P
Allen has provided a steady presence at punter since beating out Zoltan Mesko during training camp in 2013. While Belichick might prefer Allen’s college teammate, Los Angeles Rams punter Johnny “The Weapon” Hekker, Allen certainly hasn’t been shabby, averaging 45.7 yards per punt with the Patriots. Allen ranks 11th in NFL history in yards per punt.
8. LONIE PAXTON, LS
Here’s a fun and possibly unexpected stat: Paxton ranks sixth in games played with the Patriots under Belichick with 155. Only Tom Brady, Stephen Gostkowski, Vince Wilfork, Matt Light and Kevin Faulk have played more games under Belichick with the Patriots.
It’s tough to assess a long snapper, but he was good enough to anchor the position for nine seasons. He left the Patriots in 2009 after signing a five-year, $5.3 million contract with the Denver Broncos.
7. BRANDON BOLDEN, RB
Bolden has had to wear many hats during his five-year career with the Patriots, rushing for 845 yards with six touchdowns, catching 46 passes for 366 yards with two touchdowns and making 19 tackles on special teams.
Bolden has provided the Patriots with security at multiple running back roles while playing special teams at a high level, and he’s earned two Super Bowl rings.
6. MIKE WRIGHT, DT
Wright has become a bit of a forgotten man since he played on the Patriots in the era between Super Bowl victories, signing in 2005 and retiring after the 2011 season. Wright’s career was plagued by concussions, and while he started just 22 games, he was a disruptive presence in the middle of the Patriots’ defense as an interior pass rusher. Wright recorded 15 sacks with 99 tackles in seven seasons.
5. RYAN WENDELL, OL
Wendell had a bit of a strange career with the Patriots, starting 49 games but never really nailing down a guaranteed role.
Wendell bounced between guard and center and helped the Patriots solidify their offensive line early in their 2014 Super Bowl XLIX championship season, when he took over right guard duties from Jordan Devey (why Devey ever was starting over Wendell is one of the biggest mysteries in Patriots history).
He was named a captain in 2015 but played just two games, starting none, before being placed on the non-football illness list.
4. DAVID ANDREWS, C
It was a tough task to rank Wendell and Andrews on this list. While Wendell played longer, Andrews possesses a more solid standing as the team’s starting center than Wendell ever appeared to have. Both players are undersized offensive linemen who ultimately get and got the job done despite their small stature.
Andrews signed a three-year, $9 million contract extension earlier this year that will keep him on the Patriots through the 2020 season.
3. BENJARVUS GREEN-ELLIS, RB
Only five running backs have recorded 1,000-yard seasons under Belichick with the Patriots, and Green-Ellis is one. He carried the ball 229 times for 1,008 yards with 13 touchdowns in 2010. He added another 11 touchdowns in 2011 and, perhaps most importantly, never fumbled during his four-year Patriots career before leaving for the Cincinnati Bengals.
2. STEVE NEAL, G
Neal might be the proudest project of Belichick’s coaching career. The coach brings up Neal whenever he’s asked about a player having to learn a new position on the fly.
Neal was an All-American college wrestler and didn’t play football at Cal State Bakersfield before the Patriots signed him in 2001. He played in two games, starting one, in 2002 then didn’t play again until 2004 because of a shoulder injury. He went on to start 80 regular-season games and 12 playoff games, including Super Bowls XXXIX and XLII.
1. MALCOLM BUTLER, CB
This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Butler not only made the game-clinching play in Super Bowl XLIX, but he also went on to become an All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection. Butler now is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL after he initially signed with the team as a tryout player.
Thumbnail photo via Isaiah J. Downing/USA TODAY Sports Images
Powered by WordPress.com VIP