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Breaking Down the Patriots' 2023 Draft Picks

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Continuing on into the fourth round, the Patriots traded up for Maryland kicker Chad Ryland. Ryland was a walk on at Eastern Michigan where he lit it up, earning a scholarship before his 2020 junior season. Ryland repaid the school by breaking the season record for points by a kicker with 109 as well as breaking the career point record with 309, he also had 141 extra points and three game-winning kicks, showing his calmness under pressure, an important trait for an NFL kicker. Ryland then transferred to Maryland for his final year where he made 82% of his kicks.

Although Nick Folk has been more than serviceable for the Patriots, it is no secret that he is getting up there in age, with him set to turn 39 midway through the 2023 season. It will be intriguing to see whether there will be a legitimate competition between the two kickers or if Ryland is simply next in line when Folk decides to retire, not everyone is Adam Vinatieri.

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With their next two picks, (117th and 144th overall) the Patriots went offensive line again, taking two guards, Eastern Michigan’s Sidy Sow in the fourth round and UCLA Bruin Atonio Mafi with the ninth pick in the fifth round. Sow has an interesting story, growing up in Quebec, he was a two-time member of Team Canada’s football team, and he was also rated among the top five best prospects for the CFL Draft in the 2021 season before he deferred for 2023. Sow showed a Patriots type quality in being able to play both left tackle during his freshman year at Eastern Michigan and left guard the rest of his career. Sow stands at 6’5 and weighs 326 pounds.

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As for Mafi, he also has a bit of an interesting story, switching from defensive line to offensive line his junior year at UCLA, where he served as a

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reserve lineman, mostly at right guard. The following year, Mafi would switch to left guard, where he would start in 13 games and earn Second Team All-PAC-12 honors. Mafi is a great run blocker, showing on film that he can block downhill and execute pulls efficiently. The Patriots coaching staff got to work up-close with Mafi at the Shrine Bowl back in February, so they must’ve seen something they like.

Much to the dismay of some Pats fans, a wide receiver wasn’t taken until the sixth round, with LSU receiver Kayshon Boutte being the 187th overall pick. Fans must remember, just because someone is taken late doesn’t mean they won’t produce in the league, we’ve seen this too many times.

Boutte was impressive from the moment he stepped on the field with The Tigers in his 2020 freshman season, where he led the team in receiving, with 735 yards and five touchdowns. Boutte's performance earned him honors such as Freshman All-American and SEC All-Freshman. Sadly, Boutte missed most of his sophomore season with an ankle injury that required two surgeries, but he came back with a vengeance the following year, putting up 538 yards and two touchdowns.

Boutte’s tape shows that he can be a threat on the inside as a power slot, getting into the greasy areas and sitting in the zone, or running deep routes outside. Boutte also had a lot of screen plays in college that were successful. The LSU product shows the ability to be a YAC monster, having explosive speed and being able to break tackles. The Patriots have appeared to snag a reliable receiver that is tough, can take big hits and still hold onto the ball, and can adjust to bad throws. Boutte’s measurables are pretty good too, standing at six feet and weighing 205 pounds, while recording a 4.40 forty time at the combine.

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Five picks later, the Patriots went special teams once again, drafting punter Bryce Baringer out of Michigan State. In 2022, the Patriots’ punting game was hard to watch, with short kicks and big returns happening regularly, which is very uncharacteristic of a team with a coach that appreciates and recognizes special teams more than most. This pick is not surprising, and quite frankly it was needed.

Baringer took a bit of time to develop his punting game, starting at Illinois as a walk on where he only managed to average 32 yards per punt, he slowly kept improving each year, until he was averaging nearly 50 yards per punt in his last year in College at Michigan State. Baringer also recorded 12 fair catches, and had 22 punts downed inside the 20. Baringer’s play his senior season led to honors such as First Team A.P. All-American and Big Ten Punter of the Year. Baringer should be a plug and play and will almost certainly help New England’s punting game.

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With the 33rd pick in the sixth round, the Patriots took receiver Demario Douglas from Liberty University. Much like Mafi, the Patriots’ coaching staff were able to work closely with Douglas during the Shrine Bowl. Although he is on the smaller side, standing at 5’8 and weighing 170 pounds, there is a lot to like about Douglas. After his redshirt season, Douglas proved to be a threat in the return game as well as a productive reserve receiver, racking up 363 yards and three touchdowns.

In 2021, Douglas’s snaps at receiver were still limited, starting only 6 out of the 12 games, but he still managed to put up 701 yards and six touchdowns as well as continuing his dominance in the return game. By 2022, Douglas was the Flames’ leading receiver, with nearly 1,000 yards and six touchdowns.

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Douglas is a guy who makes the most out of every opportunity, never gives up on a play, and is known to be a hard worker. Douglas is also known for his speed and shiftiness. Much like Boutte, Douglas can line up all over the field and produce, his route running is smooth, and he has supreme twitchiness to make people miss. Douglas also plays much bigger than his size, breaking tackles and being explosive, his play type is very reminiscent of Julian Edelman, with a touch of Marcus Jones. Along with his relentless work ethic, Douglas impressed with his 4.44 forty time.

Four picks later, the Patriots selected Michigan State cornerback Ameer Speed, who was one of the top recruits in the country coming out of high school. Speed initially played for Georgia, but did not see the field much, so he transferred to Michigan State, where he would start 11 out of 12 games, picking up 62 tackles and five pass deflections. Although Speed’s stats might not be the most impressive, his measurables certainly are, standing at 6’3 and weighing 209 pounds, as well as posting a forty time of 4.33 seconds. Speed is a solid tackler and appears to stay with receivers, but it certainly seems that he will need a couple of years to adjust to the league.

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With their last pick of the draft in round seven, the Patriots took a third corner, Jackson State Product Isaiah Bolden at 245th overall. Once you get to the sixth and seventh round, you start to take flyers on guys, and this is a great flyer to take, with Bolden being much like Gonzalez and Speed in terms of body type and speed. Bolden stands at 6’2 and weighs 203 pounds, and he recorded a forty time of 4.33, like Speed. Bolden could find his way onto the 53-man roster as a special teamer, as he had experience returning kicks and punts in college, but the competition will be stiff.

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New England walked away from the 2023 draft with 12 new players, which is obviously significant, since they needed an injection of youth into this roster that is still in rebuild mode. With the twelve new players, there has also been an injection of more speed, with all of the skill position picks recording impressive forty times. It appears that New England has grabbed at least five picks that will likely make contributions if not immediately, in the near future. So far on paper, the 2023 draft appears to be a solid one for the Patriots. The team will be set to hit the field for the first time within the coming weeks, as they will be working with a new offensive playbook and coordinator in Bill O’Brien.

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