Breaking Down the Patriots' 2023 Draft Picks
After an 8-9 2022 season, The New England Patriots had the highest first round pick in recent memory at 14, and this was very intriguing for fans across the league, as the Patriots do not normally pick this high. The Patriots were heading into the draft with many needs, such as offensive tackle, cornerback, wide receiver, and special teams, and they had many picks, 11 to be exact, to plug those holes, so to speak. New England would also pick up another fourth-round pick during the first round to give them 12 total picks. It appears that New England managed to plug at least a few holes, but time will tell.
To kick off the draft, the Patriots did what many would call the Belichick Special, trading down in the first round. New England only went down three spots, swapping picks with Pittsburgh and receiving a fourth-round pick (120th overall). Many speculated that there may have been an ulterior motive for this trade, and that was to undercut the Jets, who were sitting at 15 and needed an offensive tackle. The Steelers in turn took Georgia offensive tackle Broderick Jones, who was rumored to be the bell of the ball for New York. The Jets ended up taking Iowa State defensive end Will McDonald. This very well could just be conjecture, as the Patriots have routinely traded down and even out of the first round to stack picks in the past.
With the Jets rumors aside, the Patriots proved to be playing chess, as they were still able to come away with what many would say was the consensus top cornerback in the draft, Christian Gonzalez out of Oregon. A lot of fans and talking heads were surprised that not only did Gonzalez fall to 17, but that New England did a somewhat predictable move, as last year they surprised many with taking Chattanooga guard Cole Strange with the 29th overall pick after trading down.
It seems that no one can argue with this pick, fans, and analysts alike. When you can trade down to get an extra pick and still get the cream of the crop at a position of need, there is no room for criticism. Gonzalez was the third cornerback off the board after Illinois corner Devon Witherspoon was taken by the Seahawks and Mississippi State’s Emmanuel Forbes was taken by Washington just before Gonzalez in a somewhat head-scratching move.
There were many reasons why Gonzalez was listed as the top corner in a draft that was projected to have starting caliber corners going into day three, and one of them is his measurables. With Gonzalez standing at 6’1 and weighing 201 pounds, while also boasting top end speed with a 4.38 forty time at the combine, he appears to be an almost sure success in the league. Gonzalez also scored a 9.95 out of 10 on his athletic score.
When watching the tape, it is obvious that Gonzalez is a topflight corner, he mirrors receivers in coverage and at times looks like he is running the route for them, and when the time comes, he has excellent hands and ball skills to make plays on the ball. At Oregon in his final collegiate season, Gonzalez recorded four interceptions and seven pass breakups. Not only is Gonzalez great in coverage, but he is not at all afraid to come up and make tackles, whether that be in the open field or in run support. When thinking of the Oregon product three words come to mind; tall, rangy, and fast.
Gonzalez’s speed and athleticism cannot be taught, it appears to be an innate trait of his, with his immediate family boasting high levels of athletic talent, with his father playing semi-pro basketball and his two older sisters being all-American track stars. Coming out of high school, the Colony, Texas native was a four-star recruit, playing on offense, defense, and special teams. Gonzalez then went to Colorado to play his college ball from 2020 to 2021 before transferring to Oregon. At twenty years old, Gonzalez is set to be the youngest player in the league, which means his ceiling is sky high.
This pick was a slam dunk for the Patriots, having an obvious need at corner, not to say that they do not have serviceable play at the position with guys such as Jonathan Jones, Jack Jones, and Marcus Jones, but all of them are under six feet and are not true number one outside corners. Over the years, players such as Richard Sherman and more recently Sauce Gardner, (both 6’3) have shown that height on the outside is a must at corner, in order to compete with the big outside receivers that are dominating the league today such as Justin Jefferson and A.J. Brown, just to name a couple.
Going into the second round, the Patriots had the 15th pick, and they used it on Georgia Tech edge rusher Keion White. In a class that had many impressive prospects at edge, it is not surprising that they went that direction with this pick. White stands at 6’5 and weighs in at 286 pounds, and he uses every inch and pound of his monstrous frame, with an impressive bull rush paired with occasional finesse movements. On his tape, White could also be seen lining up in the interior defensive line position and shooting gaps in run support, proving his versatility, which is a check for Belichick.
Before becoming a game wrecker from the edge, White started his collegiate football career as a tight end at Old Dominion in 2018, before transitioning to edge in 2019. In 2019, White tied a school record with 19 tackles for loss and 3.5 of them being sacks. After Covid ruined the 2020 season for everyone, White transferred to Georgia Tech in 2021, but would not play much due to injury. White would come roaring back in his final year, recording 14 tackles for loss, and 7.5 sacks, earning Third Team All-ACC.
With All-pro Matt Judon and an emerging Josh Uche, some may ask why the Patriots need another edge rusher, and the answer is simple; people get injured in football, also Judon is set to hit the market in 2025, while Uche’s future with New England is unclear, with his rookie contract coming to an end in 2024. White has also shown in college that he could potentially be serviceable as an interior defensive lineman in the NFL. This pick could prove to be very beneficial in the future.
Heading into round three, the Patriots did something that many local reporters have been clamoring for, taking a smaller, faster, sideline to sideline linebacker, and they may have found that in the 76th overall pick of Sacramento State product Marte Mapu. Mapu stands at 6’3 but only weighs 217 pounds, which is very light for a linebacker, but with the league evolving into a faster, pass-heavy game with mobile quarterbacks, linebackers are shedding size and gaining speed as a result. Mapu recorded a 4.59 forty time at the combine.
Mapu is a versatile pass coverage linebacker that has great open field pursuit, and he is not afraid to get up in the box and stuff the run in a more traditional linebacker role. When watching him move on the field, Mapu looks like a linebacker-safety hybrid, much like strong safety Kyle Dugger. Mapu can hit hard and is a smart player, he can also contribute on special teams, but it appears his forte is in the passing game, recording seven interceptions and 22 passes defended in his college career. This is a great pick for the Patriots, it is something they’ve needed for a long time now, with mobile quarterbacks being their kryptonite in recent years, a fast linebacker will surely help to slow those types of players down.
Moving into the fourth round, the Patriots finally took an offensive lineman, but it was not a tackle, it was Troy center Jake Andrews. Although Andrews was listed in the draft as a center, he has proven to be able to play almost all the positions on the line. Andrews started his college career as a reserve lineman and blocking tight end in his redshirt season. In his sophomore year, Andrews played all 12 games at all three interior line positions. It was not until his senior year that Andrews moved to center permanently, and he did a fine job, getting voted to First Team All-Conference.
Andrews stands at 6’3 and weighed in at 319 pounds, in college he proved that he is versatile and moveable, and it is no secret that Belichick and the Patriots like adaptable players, especially on the line. On film, Andrews appears to be just as good of a run blocker as he is a pass blocker, which is a true indication of an NFL caliber lineman. With starting center and Captain David Andrews turning 31 before the season as well as having an injury history, it will be interesting to see how the Patriots use this second Andrews on the line.