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Quick Reactions: Patriots Get Dynamic Playmaker In The Draft’s First Round

Updated: Jun 28, 2023

The draft kicked off in dramatic fashion, as a first round filled with twists and terms occurred last night. The Patriots were part of that drama, trading back from 14th to 17th on the board, and then selecting highly-sought corner Christian Gonzalez. Here are my gut reactions to the moves.

What The Patriots Are Getting In Gonzalez

Christian has a little bit of everything. He ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash, and on the field, that speed translates. He shows the ability to keep up with even the best receivers, and despite the unbelievably high pace of play the Pac-12 showed him last year, he more than held his own. He has the acumen and instincts to read and even predict the progressions of plays, and combined with speed, that leads to little to no separation for his assignments. The split vision he’s been able to show, whether it’s keeping his eyes on multiple targets in zone coverage, or paying attention to his man while reading the QBs’ eyes, will pay off immensely at the NFL level.

The #Patriots really got the steal of the draft last night with Christian Gonzalez at 17. Looks like Oregon is in cover-six here, with Gonzalez playing it like quarters/cover-4. Colorado QB thinks he has Gonzalez biting on the post, opening up the wheel. Nope. — Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) April 28, 2023

He’s extremely adept at changing direction as well, and there aren’t many prospects who match his combination of instincts and athleticism. His length and size are an obvious advantage and help him immensely in 50:50 situations. His ability to actually get to and hold onto the football was questioned earlier in his career, and is something that could still use some improvement, but with four interceptions and seven pass breakups last year (both career highs, he hadn’t had a pick before 2022) he’s improving there as well.

One of the bigger concerns is his general level of power. He has good hitting form and is able to complete tackles nicely, but he’s generally lean and could struggle against some of the bigger WRs in the NFL, and bulking up a bit will be one of the bigger focuses for him this offseason.

Did The Patriots Get The Right Value?

In short, absolutely. I had Gonzalez in my top 10 and teetering on the edge of CB2/CB3 of the entire draft class, with the potential to perform the best out of all of them. Coming into the draft, I felt that the Patriots needed to hang onto 14 to get a player of the caliber they needed. But as the draft board surprisingly fell, and a number of players expected in the top 10-15 kept falling. The Patriots took advantage, and traded back to a position where there were still some extremely good players left.

Getting a top 10-level player at pick 17, while getting a fourth-round pick from Pittsburgh for the swap? Quite a good deal, and while that pick swap was valued closer to a third round in my opinion, the Patriots come out of night one feeling extremely good.

What Does This Mean For The Patriots Heading Into The Weekend?

The Patriots added much-needed size to a secondary group that, while performing well last year and having lots of promise and athleticism, was generally small and struggled against bigger receivers and tight ends. Gonzalez joins a cornerback group with a couple of experienced guys in Mills and Jonathan Jones, and some firecracker youth in Marcus and Jack Jones, and good serviceable depth in Shaun Wade and Myles Bryant.

There’s a lot they can do rotation-wise with this group, and overall should feel good about their secondary. Belichick has been able to maximize the productivity of his secondary year after year, and devise schemes to make use of the unit in the best way possible. Gonzalez should be quite the fun project for Bill in that sense.

If another excellent playmaker shows value later in the draft at corner or safety, they should still go for it, but the priorities shift. Tackle is arguably the biggest one, and there are a few good ones still left, Dawand Jones being the most notable one. With that extra 120 pick in hand, they may want to consider trading up to get a tackle. WR is another position to entertain, with this being a deep but not top-heavy WR class.

Names such as Cedric Tillman, Jalin Hyatt, and Marvin Mims, who could all be tremendous at the next level remain there for the taking. If they’re looking at later rounds, talented prospects like Jonathan Mingo or Andre Iosivas could be in play. Lots of promising talent in that group.

Other than that, they could round out a number of position groups. The Patriots could always use depth on their interior OL and DL groups, even though both did play quite well this year. They could certainly always use more talented faces in their linebacker room. One position that I have my eye on is punter. I don’t think Corliss Waitman is what they need at the position, even if he is an improvement from last year. Michael “Hangtime” Turk is someone who both as a player and a person/competitor fits the bill in New England, and they should do everything they can to get him, even if it means reaching just a tad.

The Bottom Line

The Patriots started out their draft campaign well. There are no two ways about that. Now it’s time to double down and build off it.


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