The NFL draft is, in all honesty, a bit of a crapshoot.
Each year, players drafted in the top 10 flame out while others taken dozens or even hundreds of picks later become solid contributors or, in some cases, full-blown superstars.
Here, we’re focusing on the latter: players selected by the New England Patriots during the Bill Belichick era (so, since 2000) who outperformed their draft slot.
Here is our ranking of Belichick’s five biggest Patriots draft steals:
5. WR David Givens (seventh round, No. 253 overall, 2002)
Givens’ Patriots tenure was shorter than those of the other players on this list, but he was the leading receiver on one of the greatest teams in franchise history (2004) and a go-to guy for Tom Brady in the postseason. He played in eight playoff games over his four seasons in New England and caught a touchdown pass in seven of them, including Super Bowls XXXVIII and XXXIX. Not bad for a player chosen with one of the final 10 picks in his draft.
4. RB James White (fourth round, No. 130 overall, 2014)
The 13th running back selected in 2014, White went on to become one of, if not the best third-down back of the Belichick era. He retired with the second-most catches and receiving yards ever by a Patriots running back, trailing only Kevin Faulk, who played in 66 more career games. White was a vital security blanket during the final half-decade of the Brady era, most memorably witnessed during his record-setting performance against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI (14 catches, 110 yards, three total touchdowns).
3. TE Rob Gronkowski (second round, No. 42 overall, 2010)
Typically, players drafted in the top half of the second round wouldn’t be considered steals. But when someone taken with the 42nd pick goes on to become arguably the greatest player ever at his position, he qualifies. There wasn’t a more physically dominant combo of elite pass-catching ability and overpowering run-blocking prowess in the NFL than Gronkowski, who won three Super Bowls and made four All-Pro first teams in his nine seasons with the Patriots. He added another championship with Brady in Tampa Bay and should be a shoo-in for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
2. WR Julian Edelman (seventh round, No. 232 overall, 2009)
Following in the footsteps of other overlooked Patriots slot receivers like Troy Brown (eighth round, 1993) and Wes Welker (undrafted, 2004), Edelman landed in New England as a scrappy converted quarterback and blossomed into a franchise icon. His 620 career receptions rank second in Patriots history behind Welker, and only Jerry Rice and Travis Kelce have more catches and receiving yards in the postseason than Edelman’s 118 for 1,442. Edelman, who also was a standout punt returner and moonlighted on defense early in his career, made key contributions in three Super Bowl victories and was the MVP of Super Bowl LIII.
1. QB Tom Brady (sixth round, No. 199 overall, 2000)