On this day 20 years ago the Patriots selected Tom Brady, the greatest draft pick in sports history

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Michael Jordan famously was drafted third overall. LeBron James went first. So did Peyton Manning, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Mario Lemieux. Barry Bonds, Jerry Rice and Mike Trout were all first-round picks. Wayne Gretzky entered the NHL as part of the WHA merger, but he was anointed the next great hockey player before he was a teenager.

The various list of GOAT candidates in each sport are mostly filled with players who were either once-in-a-generation can’t-miss prospects or at least very good prospects who hit it big. Rarely does a player go from an afterthought before the draft to one of the best players his sport has ever seen.

That’s why Tom Brady’s story is still unbelievable.

It was 20 years ago Thursday when the New England Patriots, on Bill Belichick’s birthday no less, made the greatest draft pick in sports history. Regardless of whether you think Brady is the best quarterback ever, it’s hard to argue that selecting the NFL’s only six-time champion at No. 199 overall isn’t the gold standard for draft picks.

It’s unlikely any other team will make a selection that good again, either.

Watch ESPN’s draft breakdown of Tom Brady

Give ESPN’s Mike Tirico and Mel Kiper Jr. credit. When Brady was picked and they analyzed it, nothing is too laughable. In fact, you listen to them praise Brady and you wonder why he was available in the sixth round. It’s somewhat prescient, though neither of them knew that they were discussing a player who would turn in the greatest NFL resume ever.

Kiper talks about Brady’s lack of mobility, and it’s not like anyone disputed that over his 20 seasons with the Patriots. Kiper calls Brady smart, experienced, accurate and tough. All of those reasons contributed to Brady’s success in New England.

“When he got pulled from the game and Drew Henson came in, Michigan football was not as good as when Brady was in,” Tirico said.

Michigan is a big brand name so it’s not like Brady was an unknown. He had a great Orange Bowl against Alabama just a few months before. People knew who Brady was. They just didn’t know he’d be an NFL legend, still playing at a reasonable level 20 years later.

Perhaps the funniest part of the clip the NFL posted on social media Thursday is seeing some of the forgettable names who were drafted before Brady scroll across the bottom of the screen. Spergon Wynn?

In this Aug. 4, 2000 photo, New England Patriots backup quarterback Tom Brady warms up before a preseason game against the Lions. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)
In this Aug. 4, 2000 photo, New England Patriots backup quarterback Tom Brady warms up before a preseason game against the Lions. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

Patriots got fortunate to nab Brady

It’s not like the Patriots knew either. Had they known Brady would be an elite starting quarterback, they wouldn’t have drafted six players ahead of him. The list of quarterbacks taken before Brady has been repeated often, but what about Adrian Klemm, J.R. Redmond, Greg Randall, Dave Stachelski, Jeff Marriott and Antwan Harris? Those were the six players the Patriots were more excited to draft than Brady, who would become the greatest player in franchise history.

The Patriots made the greatest draft pick in sports history, and they also got incredibly lucky. That’s OK, the Chicago Bulls got lucky when the Portland Trail Blazers took Sam Bowie over Jordan, and the San Francisco 49ers caught a break when receivers Al Toon and Eddie Brown were selected before Rice. It happens.

There are many great arguments in sports. You can debate greatest players, games, plays, and have reasonable disagreements. But if we were to rank the greatest draft picks in NFL history, or even all sports history, there’s only one answer. And it happened 20 years ago Thursday.

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