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Patriots Player Profile: Christian Gonzalez

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The 2023 New England Patriots made a statement in their home opener last Sunday, falling to the defending NFC Champion Philadelphia Eagles by the slim margin of 25-20. Besides a nightmarish first quarter, the Patriots managed to stay right with the Eagles up until the end, and their defense had a lot to do with that. One of the most exciting parts about watching this Patriots defense was seeing first round rookie cornerback Christian Gonzalez make his NFL debut.

Gonzalez appeared to match and maybe even exceed expectations, being on the field for every defensive snap. Gonzalez recorded one pass defense, which was almost an interception, and seven tackles, one of which was a sack off a corner blitz. It was obvious from the start that Gonzalez was going to be a big part of the defensive gameplan.

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For most of the game, Gonzalez appeared to be covering A.J. Brown, a tall task for any rookie’s first start, there were also a couple times where he lined up against DeVonta Smith. All things considered, Gonzalez held his own against what many would consider two of the NFL's top wide receivers, giving up 71 yards on seven completions. Although 71 yards may seem like a lot, one must keep in mind that Gonzalez appeared to be playing a good amount of off coverage, likely by design in order to prevent big plays downfield, the only problem with that approach is that it gives up a lot of yards underneath. People must also remember, he's a rookie! Gonzalez will make some mistakes and will likely learn from them, he appears to be a very bright player.

The Oregon product certainly looks the part of CB1, with his impressive size, speed, and physicality being almost shocking. Coming into the draft, Gonzalez was listed at 6’1’' and 200 pounds, but he looked much bigger than that on the field, he also recorded an impressive 40 time of 4.38.

Throughout the game, “Gonzo” proved that he is not just a coverage corner, but he can also come up and make the tackles, a great example of this was the third and 11 stop he made on Brown with a little over six minutes left in the game. Gonzalez was again matched up with Brown, who made the catch on a slant, but Gonzalez was able to make a solid tackle and stop the All-Pro three yards short of the sticks. Brown is often known for his ability to break tackles, so this made the rookies’ stop that much more impressive. The 21-year-old’s physicality came as advertised, showing no shyness from contact in his college tape.

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Gonzalez started his college career at Colorado, coming in as a four-star recruit out of The Colony High School in The Colony, Texas, where he started on offense, defense, and special teams. In his first season at Colorado in 2020, Gonzalez started in six games and recorded 25 tackles along with five pass breakups. The following season Gonzalez elevated his game, starting all 12 games and making 53 tackles, 5.5 of which for loss, and five pass breakups, this performance in his 2021 season earned him the accolade of honorable mention all PAC-12.

Gonzalez transferred to Oregon for his final collegiate season, where he exploded, leading the Ducks defensively with four interceptions, seven pass breakups, 50 tackles, and a blocked kick, he also earned honors such as First Team All PAC-12. Coming into the draft, Gonzalez was widely regarded as if not the best, a top three corner in a draft that had deep talent at the position. Gonzalez ended up being the third corner off the board at pick 17, going after Devon Witherspoon (fifth, Seattle) and Emmanuel Forbes (16th, Washington).

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Once the 17th overall pick got to New England, it was reported and shown throughout camp and the preseason that he was the real deal, showing a natural fluidity and burst in his movements. One of the most impressive traits Gonzalez has exhibited is his closing and recovery speed, this just seems to be an innate trait that cannot be taught, with Gonzalez having nothing short of a gold mine for a gene pool. Hector Gonzalez, Christian’s father, was a college and semi-pro basketball player, and Christian's two sisters, Samantha and Melissa Gonzalez are both all-American track stars, Melissa is also an Olympian… speed and athleticism just seems to run in the Gonzalez family, no pun intended.

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A few other intangible traits that make Gonzo stand out are his attitude, versatility, and apparent clutchness. Through the interviews, scouting reports, and now seeing him on the field, it seems that Gonzalez has a good head on his shoulders, stays out of trouble off the field, and on the field, he appears to have a short memory and quiet demeanor about him, which has Patriots written all over it.

Gonzalez is not known to be much of a talker, it seems like he’d rather just let his play speak for itself, which is very reminiscent of former Patriots All-Pro corner and Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore. It was reported that after the season opener, safety Adrian Philips was asked about the first-year corner, and he called him a “silent assassin”, following up with “Think he said three words all game”.

As for his versatility, Gonzalez has always shown that, going back to high school where he started on all three sides of the ball, he also played special teams in college. As for the NFL, Gonzalez has already shown his versatility by lining up all over the field, going on both barriers, on an island, in the slot, and even coming in on a blitz. Gonzalez has also shown that he can cover different types of receivers, going against the big and physical A.J. Brown and the smaller shiftier DeVonta Smith.

Even though it was just one game, Gonzalez has already proven he is capable of coming through in the big moments. There were two big stops Gonzo made, one of which being the third and 11 against Brown as mentioned before, and the other was a fourth down pass breakup he had going against Smith with two minutes left to give the offense one more chance to score. Sadly, the offense couldn’t finish the job.

Although the loss may hurt for Patriots fans, there is a lot of good things to look at in this team, one of which being Christian Gonzalez. It will be very fun to watch Gonzalez continue to grow and develop in this league, his ceiling appears to be sky high, and maybe, just maybe, he can reach heights similar to division rival corner Sauce Gardner. So far, Gonzalez is doing all the right things, and has the tangibles and intangibles to make him not only just a great football player, but a great Patriot.

Gonzalez and the Patriots' defense will have their hands full once again, going into a primetime matchup against the high-powered Dolphins offense, who scored 36 points in their week one win over the Chargers. It will be interesting to see how Gonzalez handles the blazing speed of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle in a divisional game that bears a lot of meaning.

Make sure to check out for your local sports updates! - WD

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