by Adam Fournier, Ourlads’ Intern
The Patriots have been the best franchise in the NFL over the past fifteen years with six Super Bowl appearances and four Super Bowl victories. After two heartbreaking final losses, the Patriots finally got over the hump in the 2014-15 season and won their fourth title. The Patriots’ latest Super Bowl was thanks a lot to the young talent they have surrounded their veterans with through the last five drafts. Most of these players will be around in 2015, as the Patriots will attempt to defend their crown.
The biggest name on this Super Bowl team who was drafted in the last five years is Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski has been a fantastic pick and has been a force at the tight end position since coming into the league. He is widely regarded as the best tight end in the NFL and even one of the best players at any position. The 2nd round pick of Gronkowski has paid off more than any pick the Patriots have made in the last five years. To go along with Gronkowski, two of the starting offensive linemen were drafted in the past five years. Nate Solder, 2010 1st round pick, and Bryan Stork, 2014 4th round pick, were the two starters in the victory. Both players are slated to start in 2015. Two players that deserve recognition for their contributions who are no longer with the team are running back duo Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley. Both were solid contributors at running back for their four years in New England. Ridley was unable to play in the Super Bowl as he was injured for most of last season.
The Patriots’ Super Bowl team also received a lot of contribution on the defensive side of the ball from their recent drafts. Devin McCourty, Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower, and Jamie Collins all started the Super Bowl and have been solid contributors on defense in 2015. McCourty also has a Pro Bowl selection under his belt to go along with his Super Bowl ring. All of these players will also be starting on defense this season. Others who contributed as reserves throughout the Super Bowl season were Logan Ryan, Tavon Wilson, Duron Harmon, and Dominique Easley. Ryan is projected to start in 2015 while the rest are expected to contribute as reserves.
Due to the fact that they have such a tough roster to break in to, the Patriots have picked their fair share of players who failed to have any impact. Eight players were drafted who were released as rookies over the last five years as the team is just so difficult to make due to quality and amount of draft picks. Nearly all of these players are still in the league on other teams as they are NFL quality but not quite Patriots quality. Two players who did play for New England that failed to live up to their high draft pick status are 2nd round pair Jermaine Cunningham and Ras-I Dowling. Both made minor contributions for the team in their short stay but never anything to justify their 2nd round grade. The most tragic case of failed career in the Patriots’ recent memory and maybe the most tragic in the entire league is Aaron Hernandez. The Patriots took a chance on the troubled former Florida Gator in the 4th round in 2010 and it was looking like a great pick for awhile. Hernandez formed the best tight end duo in the NFL with Rob Gronkowski for 3 years and had a bright career ahead of him. Unfortunately Hernandez just could not stay out of trouble and was arrested for murder in the summer of 2013. He was later found guilty of the crime and sentenced to life in prison, ending his promising NFL career. He will go down as one of the tragic stories of a fallen star in NFL history.