By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Since we spent the better part of the last week-plus pointing out all of Bill Belichick’s misses in recent NFL Drafts, it’s only fair to point out the fact that he did have some steals over the year. And those steals have been pretty important to the franchise’s 20-year run of success.
Of course, it all starts with the steal of any draft in any sport: Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr., taken with the 199th overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft. We all know how that turned out for both parties when Brady took over for an injured Drew Bledsoe in 2001.
But there have been plenty of other draft heists pulled off by Belichick, along with Scott Pioli and Nick Caserio, over the years, and the much-criticized GM Bill deserves credit for those steals.
Tom Brady — No. 199 in 2000
Hey, anytime you can find a quarterback who will lead your franchise to six Super Bowl titles in the sixth round, you make that move. No brainer.
Of course, the Patriots didn’t really know what they had in Brady when they took him, and they passed on him six previous times before using their second sixth-round selection on a somewhat doughy QB from Michigan. Six other quarterbacks were drafted ahead of Brady, and even if you combine all of their stats over their respective NFL careers (or non-careers), they don’t even come close to Brady’s production — let alone his winning percentage.
Matt Light, No. 48 in 2001
After solidifying the New England defensive line with Richard Seymour at No. 6 overall, Belichick shored up the offensive line in the second round with Light. Not only did he serve as Tom Brady’s blindside protector for 11 years, he was also a pretty funny dude and a great leader in the locker room.
Light won three Super Bowls, was named to three Pro Bowls and was a First-Team All Pro in 2007. Not too shabby for the fifth tackle taken in the 2001 NFL Draft.
David Givens, No. 253 in 2002
An unheralded pick out of Notre Dame, Givens was awesome for the Patriots for four seasons. He was Brady’s favorite target in 2004 and led the team with 56 receptions for 874 yards. He caught just three touchdowns in the regular season, but added three more as the Patriots marched to their third Super Bowl victory in four years. Givens was a playoff stud during his New England career, hauling in 35 receptions which resulted in 21 first downs to go with seven touchdowns over eight games. He scored in each of the team’s Super Bowl victories that he was a part of.
Not bad for a seventh-round receiver.
Asante Samuel, No. 120 in 2003
Belichick traded up to get Samuel, sending a fourth- and fifth-round pick to Denver to snag the cornerback out of UCF. He appeared in all 16 games as a rookie and had a pair of picks and a touchdown, and became a starter in 2004 when Ty Law and Tyrone Poole went down with injuries. Samuel started New England’s Super Bowl XXXIX win over the Philadelphia Eagles, where he defended four passes. He wouldn’t relinquish his starting job for the rest of his time as a Patriot, and tied Champ Bailey for the league lead with 10 interceptions in 2006.
There’s one interception everyone wishes Samuel would have made at the end of his Patriots career, but finding a stud cornerback in the fourth round is a pretty good steal for Belichick and company.
Dan Koppen, No. 164 in 2003
Koppen was another steal for the Patriots in 2003, serving as the team’s starting center in 15 games as a rookie. The redhead out of Boston College snapped the ball to Brady for nine seasons, and earned a Pro Bowl nod in 2007.
Julian Edelman, No. 232 in 2009
You may have never heard this before, especially on every Patriots game on television, but Edelman was actually a quarterback in college. The Patriots converted him to wide receiver, and after a brief stint as a defensive back in 2011, he’s become one of New England’s all-timer pass catchers. He has 599 receptions and 36 touchdowns in regular season play, with another 118 catches and six total touchdowns (five receiving and one rushing) in the playoffs — not to mention a touchdown pass in New England’s epic 2014 comeback against the Ravens in the divisional round.
Somehow, Edelman doesn’t have any Pro Bowls during his career, but he has three Super Bowl rings and the Super Bowl LIII MVP trophy to make up for it.
Rob Gronkowski, No. 42 in 2010
If you redo the 2010 NFL Draft, Gronkowski would probably go in the Top 3 — assuming a non-existent St. Louis franchise would still take Sam Bradford No. 1 overall. A history of back injuries scared teams away from taking Gronkowski, and he fell to the Patriots in the second round. Belichick was happy to take advantage of other teams’ concerns and add a touchdown machine to Brady’s arsenal.
For 10 years, Gronkowski was an absolute force for the Patriots offense. He was unstoppable at times, catching 79 touchdowns in his 115 regular season games and 12 more scores in 16 playoff games. He helped the Patriots win three Super Bowls, and provided some truly ridiculous highlights as he either steamrolled or dragged defenders on his way to the end zone.
And now he’s back with Brady in Tampa, looking to add to his Hall of Fame resume after a year off from football.
James White, No. 130 in 2014
White barely played his rookie season, but has done nothing but catch passes out of the New England backfield since, racking up 315 catches over the last five years. Those receptions have moved the chains 147 times for the Patriots offense. He owns three rings and set the record for most points in a Super Bowl with 20 (three touchdowns and a two-point conversions) in New England’s epic comeback against the Atlanta Falcons, including the game-winning score in overtime. Overall, White accounted for 139 yards and had 14 receptions (also a Super Bowl record) in that victory.
Pretty good for the 12th running back selected in 2014.
Trey Flowers, No. 101 in 2015
Somehow, Flowers was the 10th defensive end taken in 2015. He probably should have been the third or fourth.
After going in the fourth round, Flowers appeared in just one game for the Patriots in 2015. Then he took over for Chandler Jones and started hitting opposing quarterbacks — a lot. Flowers produced 21 sacks over his following three full seasons with the Patriots, adding 5.5 more in the playoffs. He won two Super Bowls with New England before cashing in as a free agent in 2019.
Joe Thuney, No. 78 in 2016
Belichick has been pretty solid at finding offensive linemen in the middle rounds of the draft, and Thuney is the latest example. A converted tackle, Thuney has become one of the best guards in the NFL, playing in every game over his four-year career.
Honorable Mention: FB Patrick Pass, No. 239 in 2000; DE Jarvis Green, No. 126 in 2002; LB Tully Banta-Cain, No. 239 in 2003; K Stephen Gostkowski, No. 118 in 2006; T Marcus Cannon, No. 138 in 2011; CB Logan Ryan, No. 83 in 2013