You’ve undoubtedly heard the maxim a thousand times, but at the risk of saying it once more: football is the ultimate team sport. Even the greatest players in NFL history have often had the good fortune of being surrounded by other guys who were considered to be among the game’s greats.
The same can be said for quarterback Tom Brady. Virtually nobody can question his status as the NFL’s “Greatest of all time” (GOAT), but it’s not like he did it alone. After all, look at the track record of players head coach Bill Belichick surrounded him with.
To that end, we wanted to rank the best players that Brady has played with, and will play with moving forward, having signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. So, here is our list of Tom Brady’s 25 greatest teammates, past and present.
25. Deion Branch
Wide receiver Deion Branch proved that when you perform your best on the biggest stage, that’s when you really become a household name. Despite not earning any Pro Bowl or All-Pro designations over the course of his career, everyone remembers Branch for the fact that he caught 11 passes for 133 yards in Super Bowl XXXIX, becoming the first player to earn the game’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award since some guy named Jerry Rice did it way back in 1989.
Branch tied a Super Bowl record with 11 catches for 133 yards. He was named Super Bowl MVP, the first wide receiver to do so since 1989. To date, Branch currently ranks 10th all-time in Patriots history, with 328 receptions as a member of the team.
24. Chris Godwin
Tom Brady made a career of delivering pinpoint-accurate throws with perfect timing. That’s why Chris Godwin’s ability to pull down passes in traffic and serve as a reliable outlet receiver in the short-to-intermediate part of the field will unquestionably endear him to his new quarterback.
The fourth-year receiver for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers posted career-best numbers in 2019, accumulating 86 catches for 1,333 yards and 9 touchdown receptions. Godwin and teammate Mike Evans will easily provide Brady with his best duo of receivers in over a decade.
23. Jerod Mayo
The rare top 10 selection made by Bill Belichick in the NFL Draft, New England saw a vintage “chess piece” player in inside linebacker Jerod Mayo from the University of Tennessee, and someone who would embody the “do your job” culture instilled in the Patriots’ organization.
Even reporters who followed the team were in awe of the professionalism and work ethic displayed by Mayo during his time in New England. That’s why, from day one, Mayo contributed back to his team. He was named the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2008 and a first-team All-Pro in 2010, and he was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2010 and 2012.
22. Lavonte David
A precursor to the concept of the “big nickel” linebacker who can play in both running and passing situations, Lavonte David was a proverbial Swiss Army Knife weapon on the field for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
After arriving in the NFL in 2012, he and fellow 2012 Draft classmate Luke Kuechly were the two most productive tackling machines in the league. David has been slowed down in recent years due to injuries, but when he’s at his best, the two-time All-Pro is a roaming sideline-to-sideline eraser at linebacker.
21. Devin McCourty
There’s a reason why Bill Belichick has shown no interest in parting ways with Devin McCourty, even when the latter has become a free agent. The three-time All-Pro is the “glue” that make sure everyone on that defense is aligned correctly, helping guide the rotating cast of young players the Patriots have had around McCourty (he played in over 90% of New England’s defensive plays last season).
His ability to cover so much range as a deep centerfield safety, and his instincts for where the ball is going, is right up there with anyone in the NFL. As a run defender, he’s not the slightest bit shy in run support, consistently attacking runners from the right angles.
20. Mike Vrabel
Before he served as the increasingly successful head coach of the Tennessee Titans, most people remember Mike Vrabel as the do-it-all linebacker for the New England Patriots. Consider the fact that Vrabel finished his career with 57 sacks and 11 interceptions, but actually has almost as many touchdown catches (10) than passes caught from opposing quarterbacks.
In fact, he’s caught 10 touchdown passes on only 14 targets. In other words: it’s not a stretch to say that, in some sense, Vrabel was Tom Brady’s most “efficient” pass catching weapon.
19. Corey Dillon
Corey Dillon had a red-hot start to his career as a member of the Cincinnati Bengals, but soon fell out of favor there. And, of course, New England capitalized on another team’s shortsightedness when they acquired him from Cincinnati.
Between 2004 and 2006, Dillon ran for 3,180 yards with the Patriots, putting him in 8th place on the franchise’s all-time rushing leaders list, despite playing there only three seasons. In 2004, he ran for a franchise-best 1,635 yards, and added 292 total yards during the Patriots’ postseason run.
18. Darrelle Revis
There’s no falseness in saying that Darrelle Revis will be known far more for his accomplishments with the New York Jets than the New England Patriots, but as a “ring-chasing mercernary,” Revis joined the Jets’ nemesis in pursuit of a Super Bowl win in 2014.
In that season, Revis recorded 47 tackles, 2 interceptions, 14 passes defensed, and 1 forced fumble, en route to being named a First-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection. And in true Patriots’ fashion, New England declined the second year of Revis’ contract, making him a “one and done” there.
17. Stephen Gostkowski
Imagine the riches your franchise has enjoyed when you can rank two kickers as not only two of the best in the NFL, but two of your team’s best players over the past two decades.
Showing little awe when stepping into the enormous shadow cast by the departure of Adam Vinatieri, rookie Stephen Gostkowski earned the kicking job for the Patriots, playing remarkably throughout his rookie season, including during New England’s postseason run. Over the course of his career, Gostkowski was named an All-Pro on three occasions, and earned three Super Bowl championships with the Patriots.
16. Lawyer Milloy
Considering it took place almost two decades ago, and also considering the New England Patriots would end up winning the Super Bowl that season, we still forget how much the team’s fans and even players were in shock when the organization parted ways with stalwart safety Lawyer Milloy.
The three-time All-Pro was both the heartbeat and the enforcer of the New England Patriots’ secondary in the early days of the dynasty. In New England’s Super Bowl XXXVI win over St. Louis, Milloy recorded seven combined tackles, and led the team with three pass deflections. But, of course, Belichick decided to part ways with Milloy when the latter wouldn’t take a pay cut to remain with the team.
15. Vince Wilfork
Among all the great players to play for Bill Belichick during his reign as the head coach of the New England Patriots, many people consider Vince Wilfork to be among the toughest of them all. His presence in the middle made New England one of the toughest teams in the NFL to run the football against.
Wilfork was named to the All-Pro team four times between 2007 and 2012, and was considered to be one of the very best at his position during his prime. However, after tearing his Achilles’ tendon in 2013, Wilfork wasn’t quite the same player after that, leading to New England parting ways with him after the 2014 season.
14. Rodney Harrison
Say what you will about his playing style which blurred the line between “effective” and “dirty,” Rodney Harrison was still one of the best safeties in recent memory.
Assuming the role of defensive captain after the departure of Lawyer Milloy, Harrison often saved his biggest contributions to the Patriots for the postseason. He is one of only two players in NFL history to have recorded 30 sacks and 30 interceptions, alongside linebacker Ray Lewis.
13. Troy Brown
While he might not have the most distinguished resume from an individual perspective, it’s hard to think of many more players more beloved to both the New England Patriots organization and its fans than do-it-all player Troy Brown.
Brown famously played in every facet of the game: as a wide receiver on offense, a cornerback on defense when his team needed him, and as a return specialist on Special Teams. Given some of the guys whom Tom Brady has thrown the football to, the fact that Brown ranks second all time in franchise history with 557 receptions is nothing to sneeze at.
12. Mike Evans
The upgrades that Tom Brady will enjoy at wide receiver, having moved from New England to Tampa Bay, will be like upgrading from a shopping cart to a sports car. Nobody on the 2019 Patriots could come close to matching the talent and productivity of wide receiver Mike Evans.
Among all the stellar wide receivers selected in the 2014 NFL Draft, Evans is the only one of those receivers who has recorded at least 1,000 yards receiving in every one of his six NFL seasons. Evans has already earned three Pro Bowl selections and an All-Pro (second team) designation, before his 27th birthday.
11. Stephon Gilmore
After being viewed by the majority of the league as the best defensive player on the field for the majority (if not the entirety) of the 2019 NFL season, New England Patriots’ cornerback Stephon Gilmore became the first cornerback in a decade to win the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award.
The rare high-priced free agent acquisition from Bill Belichick, the Patriots added Gilmore to their team in 2017, and he’s repaid their investment in him by earning Pro Bowl selections and First-Team All-Pro designations after both the 2018 and 2019 seasons.
10. Willie McGinest
One of the foundational defensive pieces for the New England Patriots’ defenses that helped them win their Super Bowl wins in 2001, 2003, and 2004, no player in NFL history has recorded more quarterback sacks in the postseason than the 16 recorded by Willie McGinest.
In true Patriots’ fashion, McGinest lined up in multiple spots across Bill Belichick’s defense, and was an invaluable member of the franchise throughout his time there. In what should be no surprise, McGinest has been named to the Patriots Hall of Fame.
9. Wes Welker
Between 2007 and 2012, wide receiver Wes Welker might not have been the most “spectacular” receiver in the NFL, but you could easily argue that he was among the most prolific players at his position.
He is one of only three players in NFL history to finish with multiple seasons in which he caught 120 receptions, and he still leads all receivers in New England Patriots’ history with 672 catches as a member of the team. Though his career was ultimately cut shorter than he would’ve preferred due to injuries, Welker still overcame the odds, and was named an All-Pro four times while with the Patriots.
8. Teddy Bruschi
Tedy Bruschi wasn’t necessarily one of the “best” players in the Tom Brady era of the New England Patriots, but you can pretty darn sure that he was one of the most beloved. Another invaluable cog in New England’s first two Super Bowl wins, Bruschi was diagnosed with a stroke and partial paralysis in early 2005.
Yet, after initially planning to sit out the upcoming 2005 season, he played in a majority of it, which rightfully earned him the honor of being named the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year. The two-time All-Pro was honored in the New England Patriots Hall of Fame.
7. Logan Mankins
Tom Brady isn’t the only guy that’s all about consistent excellence in a New England Patriots’ uniform. After being drafted in 2005, guard Logan Mankins started in every single game in which he played — a sterling 130 out of 130 games.
And it wasn’t just a matter of showing up and doing his job, either. Mankins was one of the most respected leaders on the team throughout his time there. He was described as the guy who would lead the team off the bus, and the guy whom everyone — on both sides of the ball — would speak in reverence of, whenever they talked about his importance to the team.
6. Ty Law
An invaluable member of the 2001 New England Patriots’ defense that famously roughed up the dynamic receiving corps of the (then) St. Louis Rams, cornerback Ty Law was a huge reason the Patriots pulled off the massive upset in Super Bowl XXXVI, which gave him the first of three Super Bowl rings he’d earn in New England.
Law made the Pro Bowl four times as a member of the Patriots, and with 53 career interceptions, he ranks among the top 25 cornerbacks in the history of the NFL in that statistic.
5. Bruce Armstrong
Before the Tom Brady era really started, you could make the argument that Bruce Armstrong was one of the most well-known players in the history of the New England Patriots. The six-time Pro Bowl selection was one of the team’s stalwart players when the franchise endured years of losing in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.
However, as history would have it, Armstrong did cross paths with Brady, albeit ever so briefly, and before the legend began to unfold. Armstrong’s last season (2000) doubled as Brady’s rookie season in the NFL.
4. Adam Vinatieri
There is no hyperbole in saying that no kicker in NFL history can boast a highlight reel as exciting as the one owned by Adam Vinatieri. Just think of all the iconic moments in which he was the centerpiece: the snowy AFC Playoff game against Oakland, and the game-winning kicks in Super Bowls XXXVI and XXXVIII, among many, many others.
Vinatieri combined the two things you needed most in a kicker: the consistency to count him on him (he owns the NFL record with 44 straight field goals made at one point), and the ability to hit them in the clutch (he’s clearly done that).
3. Richard Seymour
If Tom Brady was the rock in which the New England Patriots’ dynasty was built upon, the second stone would’ve belonged to defensive lineman Richard Seymour. The first draft pick made in the first round by Bill Belichick when he was head coach of the Patriots, Seymour would go on to be named to five All-Pro teams, and was a member of three Super Bowl-winning Patriots teams.
It’s not so much about Seymour’s statistics that jump out at you. Rather, the fact that every single New England coach and front office executive would go to other teams and try to find their version of Richard Seymour will confirm just how important he was to the New England franchise.
2. Rob Gronkowski
When the dust finally settles on the career of Rob Gronkowski, sports talk shows on radio and television will undoubtedly debate the question of whether “Gronk” was the greatest tight end in the history of the NFL.
The list of career accomplishments achieved by Gronkowski is seemingly endless, especially when you consider all the franchise records he set. He is the only tight end to have three seasons with at least 1,000 yards receiving and 10 receiving touchdowns, and no tight end in the last quarter-century has averaged the 9.9 yards per reception that Gronkowski did while playing alongside Tom Brady.
1. Randy Moss
Could there be anyone else? Jerry Rice is the “GOAT” when it comes to receivers, but Randy Moss is a very, very close second. If nothing else, consider the magic that Moss and Tom Brady were able to accomplish in 2007.
Moss set the New England franchise record with 1,493 receiving yards that year, and of course, his 23 touchdown receptions that year would set a new single-season NFL record. Moss recorded eight games with multiple touchdown receptions in 2007, which is still a record to this day. It’s almost a tragedy that Brady and Moss weren’t able to win a Super Bowl ring together.