When the clock hits midnight, the Patriots second straight decade of dominance will come to an end (As in the decade will end, not necessarily the dominance). In those 10 years, they posted an NFL best record of 141-42, including a 16-7 record in the playoffs, en route to five Super Bowl appearances and three more Lombardi Trophies. So many great players contributed to that run, its easy for some names to get forgotten over time. Yes, the Patriots will release their all-decade team at the end of the season, but since the decade *technically* ends tonight, I’m going to get a jump and release mine now. And as a plus, it’s got both first and second team all-decade squads, with honorable mentions for a few select positions, as a way to get more names into the conversation.
Note-This is solely based on a players performance this decade. For instance, if a guy was on the Patriots from 2005-2011, I only factored in those last two seasons.
First Team-Tom Brady (2010-2019)
Second Team-Jacoby Brissett (2016)
Not much to say about the first guy other than the fact that for the second decade in a row, he was the best quarterback in the NFL. As for the second team, I’m sure a number of you Jimmy G fanboys have smoke coming out of your ears. But, here’s the reality…Garoppolo and Brissett each won a game and a half for the Patriots during the decade. Jimmy beat what ended up being a sub-.500 Cardinals team, while Jacoby beat a playoff-bound Texans team (with a broken thumb, no less). Also, if you’re a ‘quality over quantity’ kind of person, there’s an argument to be made that the Patriots got a better return for Brissett than they did for Garoppolo.
Honorable Mention: Jimmy Garoppolo (2014-2017)
FEATURE RUNNING BACK
First Team-LeGarrette Blount (2013-2016)
Second Team-Dion Lewis (2015-2017)
Before you freak out about James White, I’m splitting this into ‘Feature’ running back and ‘Receiving’ running back, so just be patient. Now then, for all the criticism he gets in New England, LeGarrette Blount was a crucial part of a pair of Super Bowl winning teams. When the Patriots offense was at its peak, they’d often need a reliable running back ground out yards and time off the clock, and Blount was the ideal option. He also stepped up big in the playoffs on numerous occasions.
The second team choice here was probably the most difficult of the entire list. Stevan Ridley has the numbers, BenJarvus Green-Ellis has the reliability factor, and Sony Michel has a monster playoff run. But at the end of the day, it had to go to Dion Lewis, who’s the most talented of the bunch. He couldn’t always stay on the field, but when he did he was a constant game-changer.
Honorable Mentions: Stevan Ridley (2011-2014), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (2010-2011), Sony Michel (2018-2019)
RECEIVING/3RD DOWN RUNNING BACK
First Team-James White (2014-2019)
Second Team-Shane Vereen (2011-2014)
James White’s tenure in New England has been Kevin Faulk-esque, and that guy has a red jacket. Among all Patriots during this decade, White ranks fourth in catches (320) and receiving yards (2809), and third in touchdowns (24). He has been a central piece of the Pats offense since his first full year in 2015 and often functioned as the third option behind a pair of hall of famers in Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman.
As for Vereen, while his time with the Patriots was short, he proved to be a mismatch for defenses week in and week out. In his final game in a Patriots uniform he recorded 11 catches for 64 yards in the Super Bowl XLIX win over the Seahawks.
Honorable Mention: Danny Woodhead (2010-2012)
First Team-James Develin (2012-2019)
Second Team-Elandon Roberts (2019)
Few players on this list have held down their spot as securely as James Develin. The Patriots didn’t have a true fullback on the roster in 2010, used Lousaka Polite sparingly (he played in one regular season game) in 2011, then again went without a fullback for the majority of 2012 after Spencer Larsen was injured during training camp. James Develin was called up from the practice squad late in the year and appeared in one game this season, and neither he, nor the team ever looked back.
Fast forward to 2019, and we were introduced to the fullback version of Elandon Roberts, running through people’s faces and what not. That quote alone earns him the second team spot over one game of University of Pittsburgh legend Lousaka Polite.
First Team-Julian Edelman (2010-2019), Wes Welker (2010-2012), and Danny Amendola (2013-2017)
Second Team-Chris Hogan (2016-2018), Brandon LaFell (2014-2015), Deion Branch (2010-2012)
I’m not going to waste too much time explaining why Julian Edelman is where he is, if you’re reading this you shouldn’t need that explained to you. Plus, I’m sure the rest of this unit will raise some eyebrows. Let’s start with Wes Welker. While his time with the Patriots this decade was brief and title-less, he still put up monster numbers. Even though he left the team after the 2012 season, he still ranks second among Patriots wide receivers (behind Edelman) in just about every major statistical category this decade. As for Amendola, he never saw a playoff moment that was too big, constantly showing up in big spots during two of the team’s three Super Bowl runs. And while it may not have seemed like it, he was also Mr. Reliable for the Patriots during his five year stint. His 69 games in the decade is second only to Julian Edelman among wide receivers.
The second team is a good representation of what the Patriots asked of most of their wide receivers during this era. Not super stars, not game breakers, but guys who could play one specific role very well and who could be counted on in big moments. Chris Hogan was constantly a difference maker against some good Steelers teams, Brandon LaFall had two of the biggest catches during the Super Bowl XLIX run (the game winner vs Baltimore and the first score vs Seattle), and Deion Branch proved to be a steadying veteran presence in the offense while Rob Gronkowki and Julian Edelman got their NFL legs under them.
Honorable Mentions: Phillip Dorsett (2017-2019), Josh Gordon (2018-2019), Brandin Cooks (2017), Brandon Lloyd (2012)
First Team-Rob Gronkowski (2010-2018)
Second Team-Aaron Hernandez (2010-2012)
The Patriots won more games and scored more points during the decade than any other team in the NFL. And if you want to say Tom Brady was at the center of that performance, than Rob Gronkowski was as close as anybody. The rare times he was fully healthy he was a human cheat code on the field, and even when he wasn’t 100% he still proved to be a difficult cover. Just look at the final drive of last year’s AFC Championship Game and Super Bowl.
As for Aaron Hernandez, well, when he was on the Patriots he was right there with Gronkowski as a one-of-a-kind nightmare of a mismatch weapon. Obviously, he didn’t finish his career in the most ideal way, but he was a force for his three year run. Hernandez finished with 175 catches, 1,956 yards, and 18 TDs. Martellus Bennett is the next closest in every category, with 61/754/7. After him, nobody scratches 30 catches or 300 yards. So while it was a dominant decade for Patriots tight ends, it was done so primarily as a two-man operation.
Honorable Mention: Martellus Bennett (2016-2017)
First Team-LT Nate Solder (2011-2017), RT Marcus Cannon (2011-2019)
Second Team-LT Trent Brown (2018), RT Sebastian Vollmer (2010-2015)
It’s pretty remarkable that the Patriots got through an entire decade with such little turnover on the offensive line. Nowhere is that point illustrated better than at tackle. These four players are responsible for 252 of 320 (78.7%) of the total starts at tackle for the Patriots during this span. One of the toughest decisions on this list was what to do at right tackle. Vollmer and Cannon feel almost neck-and-neck. Both are textbook Patriots success stories, showing both personal perseverance and positional versatility during their tenures. As many of these things do though, this one came down to rings, and Cannon’s three to Vollmer’s one.
First Team-Logan Mankins (2010-2013), Shaq Mason (2015-2019)
Second Team-Joe Thuney (2016-2019), Dan Connolly (2010-2014)
Logan Mankins had arguably the worst timing of any player in Patriots history, with his tenure starting the year after the final Super Bowl of Dynasty 1.0, and ending the year before the first title of Dynasty 2.0. That being said, he was one of the most purely talented players the Patriots have had during either run. Playing on a torn ACL through the entire 2011 season, including playing the Super Bowl with the addition of a torn MCL is legendary. Behind him, there was another tough decision in how to split Shaq Mason and Joe Thuney into first and second teamers. Finally, there’s the ever-dependable Dan Connolly, who started the second most games of any guard in the decade (67, behind only Mason’s 70), and who’s 2010 kick return against the Packers remains one of the most entertaining plays in franchise history.
Honorable Mentions: Ryan Wendell (2010-2015), Brian Waters (2011)
First Team-David Andrews (2015-2019)
Second Team-Brian Stork (2014-2015)
Undrafted in 2014, Brian Stork looked to be a one-of-a-kind find for Bill Belichick as he centered the Super Bowl winning 2014 offensive line of the Patriots. Two years later, concussions forced Stork into an early retirement, and another undrafted player stepped in without missing a beat. Until a medical condition forced him to miss this season, Andrews constantly ranked among the top centers in the league. Overall, it’s been a pretty good decade for the guys snapping the ball back to Tom Brady.
First Team-Rob Ninkovich (2010-2016), Chandler Jones (2012-2015)
Second Team-Trey Flowers (2015-2018), Jabaal Sheard (2015-2016)
Rob Ninkovich was one of only five Patriots to play 100+ games in this decade (Brady, Chung, McCourty, Slater), and seemed to make each game count. He filled a number of different roles for the Patriots during that stretch, but primarily played as a pass rusher off the edge. His 45 sacks between 2010 and 2016 is a decade high. Chandler Jones had to make his way to this list for the talent alone. While his career with the Patriots didn’t end on ideal terms, he was a force for the time he was here, and part of maybe Bill Belichick’s best draft in the decade, when he was selected with Dont’a Hightower in the first round. Plus, the return on that trade netted another player who ended up on this list, guard Joe Thuney.
Trey Flowers run during the 2016 playoffs, culminating in a key forced fumble in Super Bowl LI is as dominant a stretch as we’ve seen from a defensive end in a while. He wasn’t quite the down-to-down threat off the edge Nink or Jones were, but you could always count on him to hit an extra gear come playoff time.
Honorable Mentions: Andre Carter (2011, 2013), Mark Anderson (2011), Deatrich Wise (2017-2019)
First Team-Vince Wilfork (2010-2014), Alan Branch (2014-2017)
Second Team-Lawrence Guy (2017-2019), Malcom Brown (2015-2018)
Yet another position where the Patriots had tremendous consistency for nearly the entire decade. One of the first names I filled in when I started with this project was Vince Wilfork. The guy was the picture of consistency and arguably in his prime right up to his final game with the Patriots. He was so dominant in fact, it was common for fans and media alike to discuss a potential severe drop-off once he left. However, Alan Branch proved to be one of the great mid-season free agency signings and helped mitigate the loss with with two strong years of his own. The mid-to-late 2010’s Patriots defenses did struggle with the run at times, but that didn’t really start until injuries slowed Branch down late in the 2016 season.
Lawrence Guy could have been listed as an end or tackle, but the important point is he is a good, dependable player who has been a perfect fit in the Patriots system. Malcom Brown showed a ton of promise after being drafted in the first round in 2015, but seemed to plateau during his contract year in 2018.
Honorable Mentions: Kyle Love (2010-2012), Chris Jones (2013-2014), Danny Shelton (2018-2019), Akiem Hicks (2015)
First Team-Dont’a Hightower (2012-2019), Kyle Van Noy (2016-2019), Jerod Mayo (2010-2015)
Second Team-Jamie Collins (2013-2016, 2019), Elandon Roberts (2016-2019), Brandon Spikes (2010-2013)
The most wild part about this is that four of these players are currently playing on the same defense, with a fifth one calling the plays. Dont’a Hightower has assumed the role (and not just the number) of Tedy Bruschi for this second part of the Patriots run. His speech after halftime of Super Bowl LI (“No more ‘my bads’”) is still one of my favorite Patriots miced up moments and shows the kind of leader he is. Kyle Van Noy was written off almost immediately as a ‘budget replacement for Jamie Collins’, but he has reversed that narrative as much as possible. Plus, he’s been a fun ‘spokesman’ for a team that usually likes to stay out of the national narrative. However, not of this is possible without Jerod Mayo, who laid the foundation for the current linebacker core at the beginning of the decade. Hightower and other Patriots LBs often talk about the influence he left in the locker room long after retiring, and even before returning as a coach in 2019.
On the second team you have Jamie Collins who has as much pure athletic talent as anybody the Patriots have had during this run, and then Elandon Roberts and Brandon Spikes…a pair of players who weren’t always fan favorites but could bring a physical edge and set the tone when the Pats needed to slow down a small, up-tempo offense.
First Team-Stephon Gilmore (2017-2019), Malcolm Butler (2014-2017)
Second Team-Darrelle Revis (2014), Aqib Talib (2012-2013)
This has the potential to be the most contentious position in the entire exercise. Before we get to the other three guys, Stephon Gilmore is clearly the top name here. If Dont’a Hightower is the Tedy Bruschi of this decade, Stephon Gilmore is Ty Law…erasing a receiver each and every game, opening up the rest of the defense to play at a high level. Now, while Darrelle Revis’ 2014 is a legendary season, it’s just one year, and he ran right back to the Jets the next season. Malcolm Butler had a longer stay that included the most famous interception in NFL history, which he followed up with Pro Bowl and All-Pro seasons in 2015 and 2016. Even with the…let’s call it unceremonious ending, he still gets the nod over Revis from me. Finally, we have Aqib Talib. While there are a few guys who had more success, specifically in the postseason, none played at a high level as consistently as Talib. Plus, it was high theatre any time he got around a microphone.
Honorable Mentions: Logan Ryan (2013-2016), Kyle Arrington (2010-2014), Eric Rowe (2016-2018)
First Team-Devin McCourty (2010-2019), Patrick Chung (2010-2012, 2014-2019)
Second Team-Duron Harmon (2013-2019), Tavon Wilson (2012-2015)
Another position of high continuity, as the Patriots have had the same three safety rotation for most of the decade. Of course Devin McCourty started out as a corner and Patrick Chung took his sabbatical to Philadephlia, but by 2014 they pretty much had it figured out. The fourth spot has rotated a bit during that time, but here it goes to Tavon Wilson, who always seemed a bit underrated. I was however very tempted to give it to Steve Gregory for the Butt Fumble alone.
Honorable Mention: Steve Gregory (2012-2013)
First Team-Stephen Gostkowski (2010-2019)
Second Team-Nick Folk (2019)
You didn’t think that there’d actually be a Patriots all-decade team without a whole section dedicated to special teams, did you? Stephen Gostkowski, despite what you might hear on the radio, was statistically one of the elite kickers in the NFL during this decade. Meanwhile, Nick Folk has already passed Shayne Graham’s numbers from 2010, so he gets the second spot.
First Team-Ryan Allen (2013-2018)
Second Team-Jake Bailey (2019)
Ryan Allen had the longest tenure of any Patriots punter since the 1980s. He arguably could have been Super Bowl MVP last season. The guy was a left footed machine. That being said, Jake Bailey has already begun a strong campaign for All-2020s First Team, a list that you’ll probably read on a holographic phone in your flying car on your way to your job on the moon.
Honorable Mention: Zoltan Mesko (2010-2012)
First Team-Cordarrelle Patterson (2018)
Second Team-Dion Lewis (2015-2017)
Cordarrelle Patterson might end up on the NFL All-Decade team as the kick returner. The guy was electric every time he ran one out. He’s far and away the best kick returner the Patriots have had since Bethel Johnson. The second spot was tougher. Brandon Tate is the only Patriot to return multiple regular season kickoffs for touchdowns this decade, but in the end I went with Lewis for his performance against Houston in the playoffs when he had two monster returns, including one for a touchdown.
Honorable Mention: Brandon Tate (2010)
First Team-Julian Edelman (2010-2019)
Second Team-Danny Amendola (2013-2017)
Julian Edelman is statistically one of the best punt returners in NFL history. Add to that one of his most memorable touchdowns of his career came on a punt return TD in the comeback win against the Broncos in 2014. It also speaks to his ability that until this season, the Patriots would rarely allow anyone else to return punts. When they did, it was usually Danny Amendola.
First Team-Joe Cardona (2015-2019)
Second Team-Danny Aiken (2011-2014)
The Patriots basically used only two long-snappers in the 2010s. One (Joe Cardona) was better than the other (Danny Aiken). Got it? Good.
Honorable Mention: Matt Katula (2010)
SPECIAL TEAMS ACE
First Team-Matthew Slater (2010-2019)
Second Team-Brandon Bolden (2012-2017, 2019)
Slater is a no-brainer here. I think he actually has a shot at the NFL Hall Of Fame between his performance in last year’s Super Bowl and this season. Fans around the league, not just in New England, know who he is, which is insane to say about a special teams player and speaks to the kind of difference maker he can be on the field.
The second spot was honestly a tough choice. There have been so many special teams aces that have come through Foxborough and been successful, but Bolden is the only one we saw leave with visible negative repercussions. The Pats clearly were not as good defending kickoffs last year as they are with him on the roster.
Honorable Mentions: Nate Ebner (2012-2019), Brandon King (2015-2019)
I know this has been a lot, so as a simple recap, here are all of the positions in two-deep form:
So there you have it, a 30 position breakdown of the Patriots decade. Agree? Disagree? Think any of these players will end up on the All-2020 team as well? Let me hear it on Twitter @RealAlexBarth