New England Patriots Draft Steals

Five Patriots Draft Steals Not Named Tom Brady

It is pretty obvious that Tom Brady is the biggest draft steal in NFL History and there is no reason to debate why. Yet, he is not the only New England Patriots selection that surprised NFL fans out of nowhere and has gone on to have very successful careers. Some have won multiple championships in the league while others are in serious consideration of having their own busts in the NFL Hall of Fame. Let’s count down the five biggest draft steals taken by the New England Patriots that are not named Tom Brady.

Five Patriots Draft Steals Not Named Tom Brady

#5: CB Malcolm Butler

Feb 1, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; New England Patriots strong safety Malcolm Butler (21) intercepts a pass intended for Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Ricardo Lockette (83) in the fourth quarter in Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Malcolm Butler will always be remembered and revered as the unsung hero of Super Bowl 49, jumping in front of Ricardo Lockette and coming up with the game-sealing interception that gave the New England Patriots its fourth Super Bowl title. Two plays earlier, he was on the other side of the infamous “Circus Catch” by Jermaine Kearse, where the receiver came down with an impossible thirty-three-yard catch after it was bobbled in the air for at least two seconds.

The undrafted rookie cornerback out of Western Alabama was not even supposed to play in that Super Bowl, but after a poor performance from veteran Kyle Arrington, it was Belichick who gave Butler a chance to hold things down in the fourth quarter and prevent the game from getting lob-sided. It is safe to say that the rookie got the job done. Since that miraculous interception, Butler became the starting cornerback for the next three seasons in Foxboro.

He made the Pro Bowl in 2015, an All-Pro selection in 2016, and defended forty-four total passes. Unfortunately, Butler was also known for notoriously being benched in Super Bowl 52, where they lost to the Philadelphia Eagles 41-33 in a gem where he did not play a single defensive snap. Since he left New England as a free agent in 2018, he never found the same level of success when he signed with the Tennessee Titans, eventually retiring after the 2022 season.

Malcolm Butler deserves to be celebrated and applauded any time that he returns to Gillette Stadium because of what he did for this franchise because while it did not end on the best terms, he stepped up in the biggest game of his life and made the best defensive play in Super Bowl history.

#4: RB James White

Feb 5, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; New England Patriots running back James White (28) scores the game winning touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons in overtime during Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

When James White got drafted in the fourth round out of Wisconsin, he was not expected to have any impactful role with the New England Patriots. In his rookie season, he was not even the fourth running back on the depth chart, but he still got a championship ring since he was on the roster when they beat the Seattle Seahawks.

Patriots fans started to know who James White was in his second season, where he played more snaps due to Shane Vereen departing in free agency and Dion Lewis out for the year with a torn ACL. He was more of a receiving back than a traditional running back, but he slowly and surely became Tom Brady’s favorite checkdown magnet as his career progressed. In Super Bowl 51, specifically the second half, White became an unsung hero. Down 28-3 in the third quarter, everybody will remember Tom Brady pulling off the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, but nobody talks about the game that James White had.

Forget the fact that he caught fourteen passes for 110 yards. The three touchdowns that he scored came at the biggest moments. His first was the one that started the comeback, his second set up the two-point conversion that tied the game at twenty-eight, and his final one was the walkoff that gave New England its fifth Super Bowl title. One can argue that White should have been the Super Bowl MVP, including Brady himself.

Even though White only started thirteen games in his entire eight-year career with the Patriots, he was always the third-down back and continued to be a reliable receiving option until he retired after the 2021 season. Just as Malcolm Butler did in Super Bowl 49, the unknown James White came alive in the biggest game of his life and helped carry this team to another championship title.

This is not taking anything away from what Tom Brady did in that game, but if it was not for that running back, the Patriots might not have had a chance to come back from that huge of a deficit.

#3: G Joe Thuney

Nov 1, 2020; Orchard Park, New York, USA; New England Patriots offensive guard Joe Thuney (62) blocks on a play in the third quarter against the Buffalo Bills at Bills Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Based on the five draft picks that are mentioned, Joe Thuney was arguably the most valuable at the time that he got the phone call from Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick. In the 2015 season, the offensive line for the New England Patriots had one of its worst seasons since Tom Brady became the starting quarterback. Injuries combined with very poor play from several key starters forced the team to fire Dave DeGuglielmo after just two seasons and bring longtime veteran Dante Scarnecchia out of retirement to get this offensive line back into shape.

Not much was expected out of rookie Joe Thuney, who was taken in the third round from North Carolina State, but there has not been a season that he has played where he has underachieved. Even though he never made a Pro Bowl or First-Team All-Pro selection with the Patriots, that does not tell his story. Thuney never missed a game due to injury, won two championships as the starting left guard, and even finished 2019 without a single penalty against him!

After playing under the franchise tag in 2020, Thuney signed a big five-year contract with the Kansas City Chiefs and picked up where he left off. He won two more Super Bowls, made his first two Pro Bowl appearances in 2022 and 2023, and made the All-Pro first team as a starter for the first time in his career. Joe Thuney has had nothing but success in the eight years that he has started in the National Football League, and if he were to retire today, it is easily a Hall of Fame resume.

#2: WR Julian Edelman

Feb 3, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (11) celebrates with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after beating the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

This sixth-round wide receiver out of Kent State was the definition of a late bloomer. At the time that Julian Edelman was drafted, the Patriots had one of the deepest offenses in the league with Randy Moss and Wes Welker as the two focal points of the passing game. Edelman was athletic but was also undersized and he mainly played as a backup through the first three years of his career.

He was more known for being a reliable special teams player and even a backup defensive back in 2011, but Bill Belichick had little to no use for Edelman as a wide receiver until he broke out in the 2013 season. In a contract season where he had to play the best football of his life, he totaled a thousand yards for the first time in his career and scored six touchdowns. Edelman went from being super low on the depth chart to now Tom Brady’s favorite target.

Since then, he was reliable in the regular season but even better when the playoffs came around. He caught the go-ahead winning touchdown in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 49, yet that was just scratching the surface. Two years later in Super Bowl 51, he lunged for a deflected pass with three defenders covering him and caught the ball off the ground, which set up the game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion in the 28-3 comeback victory.

After missing the 2017 season with a torn ACL, he came back with a vengeance and won Super Bowl MVP against the Los Angeles Rams for his ten-catch and 141-yard performance. In that 2018 postseason alone, he moved up to second place in all-time receiving yards and catches, only behind the GOAT known as Jerry Rice.

Whether he will be in the NFL Hall of Fame or not is a different conversation for another day, but Julian Edelman had a very inspiring career with the New England Patriots. His personality and charisma were perfect for that dynasty because he was a player that gave everything that he had on every single play, refusing to give up or throw in the towel. In the biggest moments, he made some of the biggest plays, only concerned with doing his job the right way.

#1: ST Matthew Slater

Feb 1, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Matthew Slater (18) celebrates in Super Bowl XLIX against the Seattle Seahawks at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Seahawks 28-24. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Adam Vinatieri might be the most clutch kicker in NFL history who made two Super Bowl-winning kicks for the Patriots, but Matthew Slater was the definition of a New England Patriot.

Drafted in the fifth round out of UCLA as a wide receiver, Slater only received eight targets and caught just one pass in the NFL. He even played some snaps as a defensive back in the 2011 season with Julian Edelman! But like his father Jackie, Matthew had a Hall of Fame type of career as he will be forever remembered as arguably the greatest special teams gunner to ever play the game.

He spent all sixteen seasons of his career with the New England Patriots, and since 2011, was the number one captain of the football team. After every victory, Slater was the one that brought the team together to give some closing words, asked everybody “How do we feel…?”, and then they all enthusiastically screamed “Aww yeah!” every single time.

Slater retired from the New England Patriots in March of 2024 and ended his career with three Super Bowl championships, ten Pro Bowl selections, and three First-Team All-Pro selections as a starter. He is easily going to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer and even Bill Belichick himself has said that he was privileged and honored to coach the best special teams player in the history of the game.

Tom Brady might have been the face of the franchise, but Matthew Slater was its heart and soul that kept every player and coach focused on the mission every single week.

Main Image: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

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