The New England Patriots had a two-decade long run of success that made them pretty hard to ignore.

In the middle of a six-Super Bowl run, the Patriots were routinely playing in the national window and in the public eye. That made not just the organization, but its players, subject to public opinion on their performance.

There are many players who rightfully garnered reputations as the league’s best, like Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Adam Vinatieri and others. There are also players who might have seen their stock undeservedly raised, like these guys.

Brandon Meriweather (2007-2010)
The Patriots selected Brandon Meriweather with the No. 24 overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, essentially landing the top safety prospect later in the round because of off-field concerns.

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The expectation was that he’d be able to take the reigns from Rodney Harrison and run the secondary, but all the Patriots got was a free roamer who missed more tackles than he made. That’s why, despite making back-to-back Pro Bowls in 2009 and 2010, he was released prior to the 2011 season.

Malcolm Butler (2014-2017)
There’s no doubt that Malcolm Butler will live on in Patriots history, perhaps making the best play in NFL history with his interception in Super Bowl XLIX. It all seemed to be downhill from there, though.

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Butler went from undrafted rookie free agent in 2014, to New England’s top corner in 2015. He played well that year, but saw his production slip dramatically in 2016, necessitating the arrival of Stephon Gilmore in 2017. That season would be Butler’s last with the Patriots, as he was benched for unknown reasons in Super Bowl LII. He was never relied on to cover the opposition’s top wide receiver, more often being placed on the No. 2 guy while New England bracketed the No. 1. He was never better than Gilmore, Jonathan Jones or Logan Ryan.

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Jamie Collins (2013-2016, 2019, 2021-2022)
There’s a reason Jamie Collins never stuck around.

New England made Collins a second-round pick out of Southern Miss and watched him blossom into a playmaker early on, but his free-roaming style didn’t exactly fit what Bill Belichick liked to do, so he was shipped off prior to the deadline in 2016. He returned in 2019 after an unsuccessful stint with the Cleveland Browns, played lights out in the first half, then faded down the stretch. He returned for another stint in 2021-22, but never was more than a rotational piece.

It was a rollercoaster ride that had high high’s and low low’s.

Stephen Neal (2001-2010)
If we’re talking about amateur wrestling, Stephen Neal might be the most underrated athlete of all time. The guy beat Brock Lesnar to win the NCAA heavyweight title in 1999.

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We’re talking about football, though, where he was simply an okay rotational piece. Neal couldn’t stay on the field consistently, and his replacements (Rich Ohrnberger, Dan Connolly, Russ Hochstein) were just as good, if not better in some cases.

Asante Samuel (2003-2007)
This name honestly might not have made the list if not for his blunder in Super Bowl XLII. If only Asante Samuel held onto that interception.

Alas, he did not, which was pretty symbolic of his four-year stay with the Patriots. Samuel was known for his ability to turn the ball over, but failed to do so in the biggest moment. He was a gambler, which, once again, didn’t totally fit in the Patriots’ system. Perhaps that’s why he’s spent his entire post-playing career trashing them.

Featured image via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images