There was a lot of pressure on the Patriots to nail their first-round pick this year, and it appears they may have walked away with the steal of the night.
Because they had a prime position at pick 14, they had numerous prospects to choose from compared to years past. Most assumed they would go with one of their top three neediest positions; cornerback, offensive tackle, or wide receiver, and all the stars were aligned as they were initially put on the clock.
Bill Belichick and co. were so happy with their position that they traded back three spots to pick 17 from the Steelers while also acquiring another fourth-round pick.
As the chips continued to fall and New England was on the clock again, all but one player on their shortlist remained available, proving Belichick had finessed the system again. And that continued once they made their pick.
Despite his slim chance of making it out of the top ten, Christian Gonzalez surprisingly fell right into New England’s hands at pick 17.
Although he was a dream choice to land with the Patriots, not much had been said about the team’s connection to him before the draft.
So who is Christian Gonzalez? And why did the Patriots draft him?
Who is Christian Gonzalez?
- HEIGHT: 6’1″
- WEIGHT: 197lbs
- COLLEGE: University of Oregon
- 40-YARD DASH: 4.38 sec
- STRENGTHS: Size, speed, fluidity
- 2022 stats: 50 combined tackles, TFL, 4 INT returned for 118 yards, 7 PD
-39/64 receptions allowed for 495 yards and 3 touchdowns, 74.7 passer rating
A four-star recruit from The Colony High School in Texas, Christian Gonzalez attended Colorado for two seasons before transferring to Oregon.
In those two seasons, he was a starter for all 18 games, totaling 78 total tackles, 5.5 for loss a d 10 pass breakups. In a short period, he was already competing at a high level, displaying his incredible athleticism all over the field for the Buffaloes.
He moved to Oregon in 2022, where he played in 12 games for his final college season. His increased usage only strengthened his production, making the lone season in the Pacific Northwest the most impressive of his college career.
Clearly, his versatile background playing as a wide receiver and defensive back became a secret weapon for the Ducks’ defense, propelling him to be a first-round draft pick in 2023.
He is incredibly athletic, especially for his size
Dubbed a “top-10 caliber player” by NFL Network’s draft expert Daniel Jeremiah, Gonzalez’s natural athleticism and fluidity are not commonplace for a player of his size.
His performance at the NFL Combine earlier this year was a standout, particularly his vertical jump (41.5″) and broad jump (11’1″), making him one of the most athletic cornerbacks Belichick has ever drafted in New England.
His traits align with what the head coach traditionally looks for. Still, Gonzalez’s rare attributes exceed what we’ve seen the Patriots draft in the past, making the vision to be an overhauled and improved team next season much clearer.
He brings a much-needed “it factor” to the secondary
When looking at the Patriots’ secondary overall, it certainly was not a group that felt in need of major upgrading, especially after their performance last season.
Re-singing Jonathan Jones was a priority as soon as free agency began, giving stability to the defense after Devin McCourty’s retirement. And the restructuring of Jalen Mills’ contract helped to sign more players but also created a new hole in the cornerback group, as Mills is reportedly moving back to safety.
It appeared the group was in good hands, but the undeniable aspect that worked against them last year was their lack of size, with their most prominent players standing under six feet tall.
Gonzalez is an immediate boost at six-foot-one, providing him a better ability to match up equally against some of the bigger receivers across the league with ease. In addition, he has all the makings of a lockdown cornerback, something that the Patriots have been missing since the departures of Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson.
His versatility is a trait that Belichick is known to love
When you hear about a player that screams “Patriot,” generally, one of the top terms to describe them is versatile.
We know how much the head coach loves a player who can line up in multiple places, providing unlimited options on game day and the insurance needed through a long season.
Gonzalez has experience all over the secondary, described as ” the most scheme and alignment versatile corner in the class” by Pro Football Focus. Plus, he has a background playing as a wide receiver and special teams, making him an even more perfect Patriot.
He will help shut down opposing receivers across the increasingly competitive AFC
The conference has become more challenging overall, and the AFC East has quickly risen to the top of the league as the most competitive division in the NFL.
With all of the wide receiver talent across the division, the Patriots’ defensive backs have had difficulty shutting them down. Facing Stefon Diggs, Tyreek Hill, and Jaylen Waddle four times a season makes any secondary’s job difficult, forcing New England’s hand in upgrading their team to remain afloat.
Gonzalez’s physicality has the potential to instill fear in opposing offenses, an absent aspect of the Patriots’ secondary of the last few seasons.
The youth and explosiveness of the group from Jack Jones and Marcus Jones, paired with the veteran reliability of Jonathan Jones, makes for a unique cornerback room, moving the needle forward for the Patriots’ defense heading into an all-important 2023 season.
He was still on the board at pick 17
You can’t pass on the top-ranked cornerback when he’s still on the board, and your team needs some help in the secondary.
Belichick made the right decision with this pick, and most of New England is praising him for it.