After trading down from 14th overall for the 17th and 120th picks in the draft, the Patriots pulled off one of the biggest steals of the Belichick era by taking Cornerback Christian Gonzalez out of Oregon.
I have absolutely no idea how Christian Gonzalez may it all the way to pick 17 but that is an absolute steal for the Patriots. Wow.
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) April 28, 2023
Devon Witherspoon was the first player at his position off the board at fifth overall to the Seahawks, with Emmanuel Forbes (16th overall) going to the Commanders a pick before Gonzalez. Though Witherspoon was many people’s top-ranked corner and Forbes has game-changing ball skills, Gonzalez was a consensus top-10 pick and provides All-Pro-caliber measurables, athleticism, and instincts at a premium position.
Christian Gonzalez locking down receivers man to man
Love a guy with elite traits who trusts his athleticism, and you see that in Gonzalez's patience from press + his calmness downfield pic.twitter.com/o6nFPzf2aw
— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) April 28, 2023
This wasn’t a surprising move for the Patriots, who hosted Forbes for a top-30 visit and showed interest in cornerbacks throughout the pre-draft process. Though New England’s secondary was competitive last season, their lack of size and length outside was a nagging problem against the league’s more potent passing attacks. The Week 16 matchup against the Bengals made this deficiency abundantly clear, with Tee Higgins having a field day against Jonathan and Marcus Jones.
Here’s a breakdown of New England’s projected top corner and how he fits in New England.
Height:6’ 1’’ Weight: 197 lbs
Christian Gonzalez was drafted with pick 17 of round 1 in the 2023 draft class. He scored a 9.95 #RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 13 out of 2222 CB from 1987 to 2023. https://t.co/Ir9MLKPHo2 pic.twitter.com/Ulth05xBnH
— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 28, 2023
+ Former four-star recruit who spent time at wildcat QB, WR, punter, and was a track star in high school
+ Prototypical size, athleticism, and instincts for a #1 corner
+ High-effort tackler with special teams upside
– Lacks ideal strength and bulk at this point in his career
– Ball skills improved last season, but are still a work in progress
Patriots perspective: A First Team All-Pac 12 selection who led his team in both interceptions and passes defended last season, Gonzalez is one of the draft’s best athletes with the length, fluidity, and intelligence to become a Pro Bowler before his second contract. He’s at his best playing press-man coverage on the boundary (a skill set New England lacked last season), has the instincts to excel in zone coverage, and isn’t a stranger to slot duties. Gonzalez is also a physical, high-effort run defender who played on multiple special teams units and didn’t miss a start due to health the past three seasons.
With the elite traits to match up with any receiver type, Gonzalez projects as the Patriots’ top outside corner to the short side of the field (where offenses typically scheme 1-on-1 matchups) with the flexibility to shadow top receivers all over the field. Jon Jones played well outside when he wasn’t covering cover elite talent or players with significant height advantages, so I could see him moving to field/#2 corner with Marcus Jones bumping into the slot. It also wouldn’t surprise me if Marcus Jones plays outside in sub-packages, as last year’s 3rd round pick acquitted himself well in the role late last season. This leaves Jack Jones as a depth piece outside, a role that proved valuable when Jalen Mills and Jon Jones battled injuries in 2023.
Adding another corner with size and length would help round out a generally undersized cornerback group, but Gonzalez is a huge step in the right direction and a scheme-changing presence on defense a la Stephon Gilmore and Aqib Talib. I may have been leading the Zay Flowers hype train leading up to Round 1, but it’s hard not to be ecstatic about both the value and the player for New England.