It will never be over for Patriots fans, but to most, the Patriots Dynasty is something happily left in the past. Whatever side you find yourself on, it’s still worth reflecting on what it was exactly (or who it was) that made most of the Brady-era Patriots teams so damn good. So today, I’m making a list of the five best defensive players of the Patriots dynasty era.
An In-Depth Ranking Counting From Five To One
My criteria for rankings are as follows: Players selected must have played during the Brady–Belichick era (2001-2019). Consistency and durability reign supreme over isolated performances in big games. Players who stuck around for multiple years and made a difference over multiple seasons will receive added consideration.
Big-game accolades will be considered, meaning performance in playoff games will rank higher than an equal performance during the regular season. If you’re a die-hard Patriots fan, you probably know exactly who’s on this list and how hard it is to rank them definitively. Feel free to let me know if or how you would arrange this list differently and why on Twitter @PatKeefe12.
Vince Wilfork, Willie McGinest, Mike Vrabel, Rob Ninkovich, Malcolm Butler, Asante Samuel, Ted Johnson.
All great players and stand-out personalities. You could make an argument for any one of these guys, and maybe even a few others, which is something I’ll potentially be exploring at a later time.
Number Five: Devin McCourty, DB, 2010-Current
Devin McCourty played in 188 games over 12 seasons with the Patriots and started all 188 of them (155 during the Dynasty era). He’s missed only five games in his career. He was drafted 27th overall in 2010 as part of the same Patriots draft class as Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. McCourty made Bill proud in his debut season as he racked up an absurd seven interceptions and 17 passes defended as a rookie for what would amount to the best season of his career.
His sensational rookie year performance earned him his first of two Pro Bowl selections, a second-team all-pro nod with the AP, and second place in defensive ROTY voting. His stats were never as high as in his first year, but they’ve been good enough to play an integral role in helping the Patriots win three super bowls. His breakout rookie campaign and his loyal tenure established him as a team captain early in 2011, an honor he’s retained every year, including the present (2022). He still is a fan favorite, with a golden personality and a rare combination of talent, charisma, and football IQ.
Notable Stats, Records & Accolades:
- 31 Interceptions, third most out of active players. (187th all-time). With an added six fumble recoveries, ranks fourth in Patriots history in total takeaways (37)
- 102 passes defended, good for 56th all-time.
- 24 Playoff games started. 2nd out of current players, and fourth most ALL-TIME (tied with Brett Favre and Gene Upshaw), The only players ahead of him are Peyton Manning with 27, Jerry Rice with 29, and Tom Brady with 500 (47 actually, but it might as well be 500 because nobody is ever going to break that record) McCourty has had the most postseason starts for any defensive player in NFL history.
- 104-yard kick return during the 2012 season tied for 30th longest of all time and the second longest in Patriots history. (He unfortunately also fumbled a kick return later in this same game while the Patriots and Jets were tied 23-23. The Jets went on to win by a Nick Folk (now the Patriots kicker) field goal with under a minute left. Likely a big part of why his kick return duties were diminished.)
- Jason and Devin McCourty were the first and only twins to play (and win) in a super bowl on the same team.
- He has played an NFL-best 11,446 snaps since entering the league in 2010, just ahead of New Orleans Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins (11,407).
- The third player earned All-Pro honors at cornerback and safety after Ronnie Lott and Rod Woodson.
His humanitarian work, charity, and community outreach are arguably more impressive than his football career. There are only a couple other players in the NFL (if any) who have made this much of a positive impact in the field of philanthropy. He was a two-time Byron Whizzer White Award nominee (renamed the NFLPA Alan Page Community Award after the 2019 season) and a four-time Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee, endorsed by basically everybody who’s ever played with him. After his fourth nomination, he specifically told Robert Kraft, “no more nominations. It has to go to somebody else”. A selfless outlook from a man who undoubtedly enjoys helping people any way he can.
Along with his twin brother Jason, he raised over 2,000,000 dollars to help in the fight against sickle cell disease. Received the 2015 Champion Award from Boston Children’s Hospital for “helping to create a more just and equitable Boston through critical and sustainable change” and “making a sustainable impact on social justice and racial equity issues at the federal, state, and local levels.”
Involved in numerous charities and organizations, including: The Players Coalition, Boston Uncornered, Bottom Line, The TEARS Foundation, Positive Coaching Alliance, Hello World, and We Belong Youth Leadership. Recipient/winner of the Yogi Berra Community Service Award. Recipient/winner of Patriots Ron Burton Community Service Award. Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian of the Year Award 2020 Nominee (co-nominated along with his brother Jason).
He might even deserve to be ranked higher. But since he’s still an active player, nobody’s reminiscing about him yet. Once the nostalgia kicks in, Devin McCourty will undeniably be considered a top-tier patriots legend. I don’t think anyone would be surprised if he were inducted into the NFL hall of fame eventually somewhere down the line. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely he does anything significant to better his hall of fame chances in what could be his last year.
If he does win a fourth super bowl with the Patriots this year, I’d assume he’d be a lock for induction during his first year of eligibility. The only other way he moves up that much is if he breaks a record this year, but unfortunately, his stat progression up to now would lead you to believe that his best years are behind him. But considering everything this man has done for his community, if karma is real, and what goes around does come around, he’ll be a Hall-of-Famer someday.
Article to be continued soon in Part II, and possibly a Part III. Thanks for reading!
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