Best and worst top-three draft picks in Boston sports history

Best and worst top-three draft picks in Boston sports history originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The New England Patriots have a potentially franchise-altering decision to make two months from now.

After a brutal 4-13 season, they’ll have a chance to regain relevance with their first-round selection in the 2024 NFL Draft. They own the third overall pick, which could be used to select one of the consensus top three quarterbacks in the class (USC’s Caleb Williams, UNC’s Drake Maye, or LSU’s Jayden Daniels) or a generational talent at wide receiver in Ohio State’s Marvin Harrison Jr.

The last time the Patriots had a top-three pick was 1993 when they selected QB Drew Bledsoe first overall. Their only other top-five selection since then came a year later (No. 4, Willie McGinest).

Pats fans would likely be content with a player whose talent matches either one of those names. They’ll simply hope to avoid adding yet another player to the long list of Patriots busts in recent drafts.

It’s certainly no guarantee the No. 3 pick will be a hit for New England. To show just how much of a guessing game the draft is in all four major sports, here’s a look at the best and worst top-three picks in Boston sports history.


Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics (2017, No. 3 overall)

The Celtics had the first overall pick in the 2017 draft and were set up to select the consensus top player in the class, Markelle Fultz. However, they decided to trade the No. 1 pick to the Philadelphia 76ers for the No. 3 overall selection and a first-round pick in the 2019 draft, which later became Romeo Langford.

In what turned out to be one of Danny Ainge’s best moves as Celtics president, they selected Tatum out of Duke with the third overall pick. Tatum immediately became a difference-maker for Boston while Fultz struggled to get acclimated in Philly, and No. 2 overall pick Lonzo Ball lasted only two seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Tatum has since developed into a five-time NBA All-Star and three-time All-NBA selection. The 25-year-old has helped the Celtics to four Eastern Conference Finals appearances and one NBA Finals berth. He’s well on his way to solidifying himself as the best top-three draft pick in Boston sports history.

Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics (2016, No. 3 overall)

It’s comical to look back on how C’s fans reacted to the team taking Brown with the third overall pick in the 2016 draft. Boos rained down on owner Wyc Grousbeck as he announced the selection because fans wanted to trade the pick for a proven commodity in Jimmy Butler.

Since then, Brown has earned nothing but cheers at TD Garden as he and Tatum have formed one of the NBA’s best duos. The 27-year-old is a two-time All-Star — soon to be three-time — and was an All-NBA selection in 2023. His stellar play over the last few seasons earned him the richest contract in NBA history (five years, $304 million) last summer.

Joe Thornton, Boston Bruins (1997, No. 1 overall)

“Jumbo Joe” Thornton spent seven-plus seasons with the B’s after being drafted first overall in 1997. He was named team captain before the 2002-03 NHL season, which turned out to be his first All-Star campaign. He earned four All-Star nods during his 24 seasons in the league and won the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL MVP in 2005-06, which was split between the Bruins and San Jose Sharks.

Thornton is widely considered one of the greatest passers in NHL history. He is one of only seven players ever to notch at least 1,100 assists.

Drew Bledsoe, New England Patriots (1993, No. 1 overall)

Bledsoe will forever be remembered as the quarterback Tom Brady replaced to spark the Patriots’ unprecedented dynasty. But before that, he was the QB who inspired hope in the organization.

When the Patriots selected Bledsoe with the first overall pick in the 1993 draft, they were coming off a 2-14 campaign and their fourth consecutive season with a sub-.500 record. Bledsoe made New England relevant again, starting in 1994 when he led his team to a 10-6 record and a playoff berth. He helped the Patriots reach the postseason four times — including a Super Bowl appearance in 1997 — before Brady replaced him due to injury in 2001.

Bledsoe capped off his Patriots legacy by replacing an injured Brady in the ’01 AFC Championship Game vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers. With Bledsoe at the helm, the Patriots reached Super Bowl XXXVI where Brady returned and led New England to its first championship.

Bledsoe finished his NFL career with four Pro Bowl nods — three with New England.

Irving Fryar, New England Patriots (1984, No. 1 overall)

Most of Fryar’s success in the NFL came post-Patriots, but he still makes the cut. He lived up to his first overall selection by contributing as a go-to wideout and the team’s primary punt returner. A member of the Patriots’ All-1980s team, Fryar caught the only touchdown of the team’s Super Bowl XX loss to the Chicago Bears. He earned five Pro Bowl nods in his career — one with the Patriots, two with Miami, and two with Philadelphia.

Kevin McHale, Boston Celtics (1980, No. 3 overall)

McHale became a Celtic via arguably the most lopsided trade in the history of the NBA. Boston owned the first overall pick but traded the selection and an additional first-round pick to the Golden State Warriors for big man Robert Parish and the Warriors’ third overall selection. That pick was used on McHale, who went on to become one of the greatest players in franchise history.

McHale played a key role on three Celtics championship teams (1981, 1984, 1986). He was a seven-time NBA All-Star, three-time All-Defensive first-team selection, and two-time Sixth Man of the Year. The Celtics retired his No. 32 jersey and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999.


Tyler Seguin, Boston Bruins (2010, No. 2 overall)

There was no shortage of hype surrounding Seguin heading into the 2010 draft. He and Taylor Hall were the consensus top two players in the class and both players had valid arguments to be taken first overall.

Hall went No. 1 to the Edmonton Oilers, leaving Seguin there for the B’s at No. 2. Seguin, 19 at the time, showed his lofty potential with Boston but sadly was never a fit.

The Bruins sent Seguin to the Dallas Stars in a seven-player deal after the 2012-13 season. The trade caused rumors to circulate that Boston grew frustrated with Seguin’s hard-partying lifestyle, especially while he struggled in the 2013 playoffs.

Seguin has spent the last 11 seasons in Dallas and enjoyed a rock-solid career. It’s a shame things never worked out in Boston.

Chauncey Billups, Boston Celtics (1997, No. 3 overall)

Billups lasted only 51 games with Boston before being traded to the Toronto Raptors in Feb. 1998. The deal, which brought Kenny Anderson, Xan Tabak, and Popeye Jones to the C’s, is widely considered one of the worst in franchise history. Billups went on to become a five-time All-Star and an NBA Finals MVP with the Detroit Pistons in 2004.

Kenneth Sims, New England Patriots (1982, No. 1 overall)

Sims showcased his No. 1 overall talent when healthy, but unfortunately, that just wasn’t all that often. The defensive end’s career was plagued by knee, leg, and back injuries. He appeared in only 74 games over eight seasons with New England.

Gord Kluzak, Boston Bruins (1982, No. 1 overall)

Another elite talent whose career was derailed by injuries. Kluzak, a stellar defenseman, played only four full seasons and was out of the league by age 27. He lands on this list by no fault of his own, just bad luck for him and the B’s.

Jim Plunkett, New England Patriots (1971, No. 1 overall)

One could make the argument Plunkett deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, so his spot on this list has nothing to do with his NFL career as a whole. It’s due to his lack of success as a Patriot.

Plunkett had a losing record as the starting QB in three of his first four seasons leading New England’s offense. In 1975, a shoulder injury led to him being replaced by Steve Grogan, and he was traded to the San Francisco 49ers the following offseason.

Plunkett’s post-Patriots career was outstanding. He finished as a two-time Super Bowl champion, both with the Raiders.

Mike Garman, Boston Red Sox (1967, No. 3 overall)

Garman is the only top-three draft pick in Red Sox history. The right-hander appeared in only eight games (six starts) in three years for Boston, notching a 4.95 ERA in 56.1 innings.

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