Free agency is for all intents and purposes over. The draft has finally come and gone. With the exception of the one day a week that the media has access to organized team activities, there’s not much to go over that hasn’t already been over-analyzed – so with that in mind here is the third in a series of historical looks at who has previously worn the uniform number of the newest members of the New England Patriots. Unless noted otherwise all the players listed took part in at least one regular or playoff game in the season noted for the Pats.
Jemea Thomas is the latest member of the Patriots to don the number 21; here is a look at those who have preceded him to wear that jersey over the years during the franchise history of the Patriots.
21 – Cornerback Jemea Thomas
– 5′ 10″, 195 pound 24-year old from Georgia Tech was drafted in the sixth round, 206th overall in the 2014 NFL Draft. In 54 games he recorded 234 tackles and nine interceptions, and led the Yellow Jackets in solo tackles (73), total tackles (88) and pass break-ups (8) in 2013. Although he was Georgia Tech’s best cover corner, Thomas displayed his versatility – a trait Bill Belichick covets – by moving in mid-season to safety to fill a void due to multiple injuries at that position.
2011-12: CB Ras-I Dowling
– In 2010 the Patriots made a draft-day trade, sending their third round pick (89th overall) to Carolina in exchange for the Panthers’ 2011 second round pick. Hopes were high for Pats fans when Carolina finished the 2010 season with a league-worst 2-14 record, as that trade meant that the Patriots would be drafting at the top of the second round with the 33rd overall selection. The Pats ended up trading their own first-round pick, 28th overall, to New Orleans (who chose RB Mark Ingram) in exchange for a second round pick and a 2012 first round selection; Dowling became the first selection of the second round of the 2011 draft at number 33. Dowling had some injury concerns coming out of Virginia: in 2008 he missed three games with hamstring and knee injuries, and his senior year he played just five games due to a left ankle fracture, a pulled hamstring and a right knee injury. After that Dowling pulled his hammy again at the Combine, and reports surfaced that he also had a broken hand and a knee injury in high school. The injury history had caused his stock to drop in the draft, and unfortunately it was a harbinger of things to come.
In 2011 Dowling started the first two games of the year but then headed to Injured Reserve with a hip injury, and after seven games in 2012 he again landed on IR, with a thigh injury. During training camp in 2013 he missed time with another injury, and was released on August 28 as part of the initial roster cutdown to 75 players. He finished his career with the Patriots with ten tackles (7 solo, 3 assists), one pass defensed, no interceptions, no fumble recoveries, and no sacks. The Jets signed him to their practice squad in October, and he is still on their 90-man roster. Dowling is considered by many to be the biggest draft bust of the Bill Belichick era for the Patriots.
2009-10: RB Fred Taylor
– Taylor was drafted ninth overall by Jacksonville in 1998 after a stellar collegiate career at Florida, and was the team’s primary running back until Maurice Jones-Drew took over ten years later. He ranked among the top ten in rushing six times, in rushing attempts eight times, and rushed for over 1,100 yards on seven occasions. The Pats signed him at the age of 33 in 2009, but his time in Foxboro was marred by injuries: an ankle injury against Baltimore in week 4 of ’09 and a toe injury in week 3 of ’10 against Buffalo resulted in his being inactive for 19 games. In his two seasons as a Patriot Taylor played in only 13 games, carrying the ball 106 times for 424 yards with four touchdowns. Taylor ranks 15th all-time in NFL history with 11,695 yards rushing and finished his career with an average of 4.6 yards per carry, 26th best all-time.
2008: CB Deltha O’Neal
– O’Neal was drafted 15th overall by Denver in 2000. At Cal he set an NCAA record with four pick-sixes in a single season, and set a school single-season record with 5,005 all-purpose yards; with the Golden Bears he scored twelve touchdowns five different ways (five interceptions, two kickoff returns, two rushing, two receiving, and one punt return). In 2005 O’Neal led the NFL with ten interceptions and went to his second Pro Bowl. After the 2007 season the Patriots lost Asante Samuel, Randall Gay and Eugene Wilson in free agency. The Pats added Terrance Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite in free agency, but needed some veteran experience at corner. O’Neal was released by Cincinnati as part of final roster cuts, and the Patriots signed him the following day. He was good enough to be the Pats starter at cornerback, but by the end of the season he was approaching the age of 32 and he was clearly not the same player he had been earlier in his career. After the ’08 season the Pats were trying to get younger – Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison, Mike Vrabel and Richard Seymour were among those that played their final games with the Pats in ’08 – and the team did not attempt to re-sign O’Neal. He signed on with the Texans but was part of final roster cuts for Houston in ’09. With New England O’Neal played in all 16 games with ten starts, with three interceptions. For his NFL career O’Neal played in 132 games with six touchdowns (3 interceptions, two punt returns, one kick return), 34 interceptions and 98 passes defensed.
2004-07: CB Randall Gay
– After being signed as an undrafted free agent from national champions LSU, Gay filled in admirably for the Patriots, starting nine games after Ty Law and Tyrone Poole were injured. The nine starts were more than any other rookie for the Patriots in 2004, and he was the only Patriot rookie to start all three playoff games. In Super Bowl 39 he led the team with 11 solo tackles, but went on injured reserve after five games in ’05, and again landed on IR in ’06 after three games. In 2007 Gay bounced back by playing in all 16 games, primarily as a nickel back, and had three interceptions. New Orleans signed him as a free agent to a four-year deal worth almost $18 million and with $6.9 million guaranteed in 2008; a year later he earned his second Super Bowl ring as part of the Saints ’09 championship team. He spent most of 2010 on IR due to a concussion and was released by New Orleans at the start of training camp the following year. In his four years with the Patriots Gay had five interceptions, three fumble recoveries (two for touchdowns), 14 passes defensed and 86 tackles; for his NFL career he had six picks, 34 passes defensed and 180 tackles.
2003: RB Mike Cloud (wore 34 in ’05)
– In 1998 Cloud rushed for 1,726 yards and 14 touchdowns at Boston College, resulting in his being selected in the second round of the NFL Draft the following spring. With the Chiefs though he was a backup, stuck behind Bam Morris and then Priest Holmes on the depth chart, and used primarily as a kick returner. After four years in Kansas City the Rhode Island native returned home and signed with the Pats as a free agent. He still didn’t get much playing time though, backing up Kevin Faulk and Antowain Smith in 2003, but did rush for five touchdowns with the Pats. Cloud was inactive for Super Bowl 38, and signed with the Giants in ’04 after the Pats let him go him in their final roster cuts.
Cloud spent a year with the G-men before they released him as part of training camp cuts in ’05, and the Patriots re-signed him midway through the season after injuries to Faulk and Corey Dillon depleted their running back corps. In his two stints with the patriots Cloud played in eleven games with 177 yards rushing and five touchdowns; for his NFL career he had 12 touchdowns, 648 yards rushing, and averaged 21.2 yards on 57 kickoff returns.
2000-02: RB J.R. Redmond
– The Pats selected the Arizona State back in the third round, 76th overall, in the 2000 draft. He rushed for 3,299 yards – third most in ASU history – and 32 touchdowns, resulting in his being a Heisman Trophy and Doak Walker Award candidate his senior year. Redmond was also the center of a bit of controversy in Phoenix though. His girlfriend (who worked for the university) bought him presents, and then blackmailed him into marrying her with no pre-nuptial agreement or else she would go public with all the receipts she had kept, as university employees are prohibited by the NCAA from giving gifts to student-athletes. Redmond told his coach, who forwarded the information to the NCAA, and the scheme backfired; though suspended for one game there were no further sanctions, and the marriage was annulled.
Although Redmond never did much in his pro career, he will forever live in Patriots folklore thanks to some clutch play in the playoffs following the 2001 season. He caught three passes in overtime to set up Adam Vinatieri’s game winning field goal in the Snow Bowl victory over the Raiders, and then in the final drive in the Super Bowl against the Rams he caught a short pass from Tom Brady with less than a minute to play, somehow managing to extend for the first down and also get out of bounds to stop the clock. Redmond played only three seasons with New England, rushing for 527 yards and one touchdown, with two touchdown receptions as well. He then spent two years with the Raiders and one with the Cardinals, finishing his NFL career with 676 yards rushing, 502 yards receiving, and three touchdowns. Today Redmond runs a company out of Los Angeles called Just Run Pro Training, which stresses the importance of education at youth sports camps throughout the country. He also has some interesting memories of that famous playoff game against Oakland.
1997-99: CB Steve Israel
– Israel’s first four years at Pitt gave no hint that he would one day play in the NFL. In 1987 he was declared academically ineligible; in ’88 he separated a shoulder and missed the entire season; in ’89 he blew out his knee – untouched – after four games; and in ’90 he had surgery on the same knee again, appearing in just five games. As a fifth year senior though he quickly broke through; he ran back the season’s opening kickoff 73 yards to set up a touchdown, and the following week scored on a 35-yard fumble recovery and on an 81-yard interception. The Rams selected him as the first pick of the second round in the 1992 draft, and after three years there he headed north, joining the 49ers for two seasons.
The Patriots signed him in ’97, but he played only five games for new head coach Pete Carroll due to a knee injury early in the year, and an ankle sprain late in the season. In ’98 Israel appeared in eleven games with seven starts and recorded three interceptions and two sacks, and then in ’99 he started 13 games with one pick and two fumble recoveries. As a free agent Israel signed a $4.5 million contract with New Orleans the following spring, but he was a bust there. He spent all of 2000 on IR after breaking his leg in an early preseason game, and in 2001 missed seven games with a calf injury. The Saints cut him in March of 2002, and Carolina signed him later that off-season; the Panthers released him at the end of training camp. With the Patriots Israel appeared in 29 games with four interceptions and two fumble recoveries; he played in 102 games in his NFL career with five picks and four fumble recoveries. Since his career ended he has worked as a corporate spokesperson for Nike and End Zone Coverage, a college football analyst for ESPN and Fox, and is actively involved with the NFLPA Retired Players organization.
1994-96: CB Ricky Reynolds
– Reynolds was a second round selection (36th overall) out of Washington State by Tampa Bay in 1987. In seven seasons with the Bucs he was considered one of the NFL’s best cover corners, starting all but eight games over seven years with 17 interceptions – third best all-time in Bucs’ history – and eight fumble recoveries. The Bucs were notoriously cheap at that time under owner Hugh Culverhouse, and never even attempted to re-sign their captain as a free agent; in 1994 he signed three one-year contracts with the Patriots and Bill Parcells, worth a total of $5.05 million. His first season with the Pats Reynolds had three fumble recoveries and a crucial pick-six in a late-season victory against the Jets, as the Patriots improved from 5-11 to 10-6.
After starting every game in ’95, Reynolds missed five games in ’96 with an ankle injury; he was active but did not play in the Super Bowl against the Packers. At age 32 he retired, finishing his NFL career with 147 games played, 23 interceptions, 11 fumble recoveries and four touchdowns. During his three seasons with the patriots he appeared in 42 games with six interceptions, four fumble recoveries, 4.5 sacks, 143 tackles, and two touchdowns. Since his playing days ended he has spent time as a pregame analyst on a Tampa television station, worked as an executive in the NFLPA Former Players Chapter of Tampa, coached Tampa high school football teams, and has been a spokesperson for Tampa-area Children’s Cancer Center and a spokesperson for the Florida Prostate Cancer Network.
1993: CB Reyna Thompson
– Thompson was a ninth-round pick out of Baylor (which he attended on a track scholarship) by Miami in 1986. Early in 1987 he landed on injured reserve with a torn rotator cuff, and he was left unprotected in what was then known as Plan B free agency. The Giants signed him for his special teams productivity and passionate film study, and he went to the Pro Bowl in 1990 for his exceptional play as a gunner on special teams. After four years there Thompson followed Bill Parcells to New England in 1993, where he played in fifteen games with one interception, replacing Rod Smith as the starter at left corner for six games. He retired from the NFL at age 30, and since then has been a teacher in south Florida.
1990-91: CB Mickey Washington
– The speedy 5′ 9″ player was selected in the 8th round, 199th overall by the Cardinals in 1990 but did not make their roster. The Patriots released RB Don Overton and signed Washington on October 31, and he appeared in nine games in ’90. In ’91 Washington appeared in 16 games with four starts; during his two years with the Pats he had two interceptions and 73 tackles. Washington spent eight years in the NFL, also playing for Washington, Buffalo, Jacksonville and New Orleans, with three years as a starter – one with the Bills, two with the Jaguars, from ’94-’96. After his NFL career ended Washington earned his law degree, and is now an attorney in Houston.
1989: CB/KR Erroll Tucker
– Tucker was drafted in the fifth round of the 1986 draft by Pittsburgh after setting ten NCAA records at Utah; he was the first player to lead the nation in both punt and kick returns the same season, and the first player to be named an All American as a return man. In his second preseason game he returned a kickoff for a touchdown, but two weeks later he broke his fibula when his own teammate was pushed back into him on a return, ending his season. There were complications, and a total of three surgeries had to be performed. After the Steelers released him he signed with Buffalo in 1988 and appeared in 13 games there over the next year and a half, but he had lost some of his speed.
The Pats picked Tucker up late in 1989 and in five games he returned 13 punts for an average of 7.8 yards, and 37 kickoffs for an average of 20.8 yards. In 1990 he broke his nose in training camp, ending his days with the Patriots. In 1990-91 Tucker was part of the Orlando Thunder of the WLAF, and he finished his pro football career by playing for three years with Doug Flutie and the Grey Cup champions Calgary Stampeders in the CFL. Tucker now works as a Physical Therapy Aide for Los Alamitos Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, and coaches youth sports in his hometown of Lynwood California.
1986-89: RB Reggie Dupard
– In his final three years at SMU Dupard averaged over 1200 yards rushing and 5.9 yards per carry, scoring 16 touchdowns in each of his last two seasons. That production led to his being drafted in the first round, 26th overall in 1986 by the Patriots. Dupard should have used some of his signing bonus to bribe John Hannah out of retirement, because the pats running game struggled without him: 2.9 yards per rush in the first post-Hannah season. Dupard was relegated to backing up Tony Collins for two years, and in ’88 the Pats had seen enough and drafted John Stephens – who rushed for 1,168 yards as a rookie. Midway through the ’89 season the Patriots had seen enough, and traded Dupard to Washington, and he finished his pro football career there the following season.
For his career with the Patriots Dupard appeared in 37 games with 571 yards on 186 rushing attempts – a meager 3.1 yards per carry – and six touchdowns; he also had 43 receptions for 303 yards (7.0 yards per catch). In his post-NFL career Dupard has owned an art gallery, worked as a juvenile probation officer, and now is the Development Director at Dallas Can Academy.
1979: CB Mark Washington
– The Patriots signed Washington at the tail end of his career, after nine years with Dallas, where he was part of two Super Bowl winning clubs. Washington played in twelve games for the Pats, and retired from the NFL with 118 games played, 13 interceptions, 7 fumble recoveries, two rings, and eight points scored: six on a 100-yard kickoff return his rookie year in 1970, and two more on a safety in ’72.
Upon his retirement from football in 1980, Washington had a very successful business career. He was employed in various technical sales and marketing positions for DuPont in their Electronic Materials Division, and then worked for the Condea Vista Chemical Company throughout the U.S., Mexico, Canada, and Japan. As the online services industry gained momentum he made a career shift, becoming the National Account Manager for a start-up online recruitment advertising firm, and later held a similar position with the American Chemical Society. In addition Washington has served as the President of the Washington DC Chapter of the National Football League Retired Players.
1978: CB Sidney Brown
– Brown was drafted in the third round of the 1977 draft (82nd overall) out of Oklahoma. He did not appear in any games in ’77, played in all 16 games in ’78 (with no stats), and that was his NFL career. I don’t remember anything about him, and can’t find anything on the web either other than the fact that he, along with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, is one of 33 players from St. Augustine High School to go on to play in the NFL.
1976: CB Joe Blahak
– Blahak was part of the undefeated championship Nebraska teams in 1970 and 71, getting away with an apparent clip against Oklahoma in the Thanksgiving day ‘Game of the Century’ that sprung Johnny Rodgers for a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown, with the Cornhuskers defeating Chuck Fairbanks’ Oklahoma Sooners 35-31. Blahak was drafted in the 8th round of the ’73 draft by the Oilers and bounced around the NFL with five teams in five NFL seasons. He appeared in two games for the Pats with Fairbaks as his coach, with no stats. After his NFL career ended Blahak returned to Lincoln and worked as an insurance agent.
1975-76: RB/KR Allen Carter
– Allen was a California high school phenom – John McKay said he was the best high school player he had ever seen – that just couldn’t stay healthy. At USC he averaged 7.3 yards per carry, but lost his starting job to Anthony Davis due to two pulled hamstring muscles, a deep charley horse, a sprained toe and a groin pull. The Patriots selected him in the fourth round of the 1975 draft, 86th overall. In his rookie season he returned 32 kicks for 879 yards – an average of 27.5 yards per return – with one 99-yard touchdown. That return set a club record, as did his total of 206 kick return yards in that game. On his first return of the ’76 season he suffered a leg injury, and would never play n the NFL again. Carter then returned to California, where he became the activities director at Anaheim High School after stress from his job at Southland Corporation put him in the hospital.
1972: WR Tom Reynolds
– In two seasons at San Diego State Reynolds had 1,955 yards receiving and 25 touchdowns, including an NCAA record 18 touchdowns in 1969. The Patriots selected him in in the second round, 49th overall of the 1972 draft – but he lasted just one season, with eight receptions for 152 yards and two touchdowns in twelve games. Reynolds played nine games with the Bears in ’73, and finished his two-year NFL career with 15 receptions for 279 yards.
1969-71: P/DB Tom Janik
– Janik was selected in the third round of the 1963 AFL draft by the Broncos out of Texas A&I (now Texas A&M-Kingsville). After two years with Denver he played four years in Buffalo, where he was twice an All-Star; he compiled 18 interceptions with the Bills in ’66-67. Early in the ’68 season Janik picked off Joe Namath twice, returning one of the interceptions for a 100-yard score; that was Buffalo’s only victory of the season, while the Jets went on to beat the Colts in the Super Bowl.
Buffalo traded Janik to the pats in the 1969 off-season, and with the Patriots he became a backup in the defensive secondary while taking over punting duties full-time. In his three years with the Patriots Janik averaged 81 punts per season, and 39.2 yards per punt; in his pro career he had 25 interceptions, six for touchdowns. In 1982 Janik was inducted into the Texas A&M Sports Hall of Fame; he passed away in 2009 at the age of 69.
1965-67: KR/DB Jay Cunningham
– Cunningham was drafted out of Bowling Green in the 14th round, 111th overall, of the 1965 AFL draft. The defensive back returned 64 kicks (for 21.2 yards) and 22 punts (at 6.4 yards) over three seasons with the Patriots. He then coached football at several high schools and universities like Southern Illinois University, Alabama A&M University and the University of Louisville, and in his retirement imparted his knowledge with Football 101 Classes for Women at the Y in suburban Houston.
1963: CB/PR Bob Suci
– Suci was a running back at Michigan State, and then joined Houston in 1962 where he was converted to a defensive back. He missed most of his rookie season with an injury and the Patriots picked him up the following season. In ’63 Suci averaged 9.3 yards on punt returns and 21.2 yards on kickoff returns while intercepting seven passes. Of those seven picks, two were returned for touchdowns – one for 98 yards and one for 52 yards – and both came against his former Oiler teammates. Suci had the unenviable task of attempting to cover the great Lance Alworth in the 1963 AFL championship game – the Chargers won 51-10, with Alworth burning him once for a 48-yard touchdown – and never played in the league again.
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