The New England Patriots invested heavily in the cornerback position in the past two NFL drafts. In 2022, they used a third-round pick to select the exciting and multi-dimensional Marcus Jones and took Jack Jones in the fourth round. Both played roles on the team last season.
In addition, the New England Patriots invested even more heavily in cornerbacks in this year's draft. The team's first-round pick is the dynamic former Oregon corner, Christain Gonzalez, considered by some to be the top corner and among the top players in the entire draft.
While the Patriots have lost top corners in the past couple of years, such as Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson, they have certainly made a concerted effort and considerable investments to fortify the position since.
Let's take a look at the situation and assign a grade as training camp looms.
Gonzalez is the X factor for the New England Patriots at corner
The New England Patriots began the 2023 NFL draft with an adept trade-down from pick Number 14 to 17 in the first round. In the process, the Pats picked up an additional fourth-round pick, a round in which they've been successful in the past. They then thrilled their fans by selecting Christian Gonzalez, a consensus top cornerback.
Here's what sbnation.com had to say about the precocious cornerback,
"Gonzalez does a great job of getting in position on vertical routes by quickly flipping his hips once he recognizes the route and then running at pace with the receiver. It is nearly impossible to stack Gonzalez on vertical routes because of the positioning he takes up as well as his play speed. Gonzalez transitions seamlessly in and out of his breaks and peddles. This paired with his play speed allows him to make consistent plays at the catch point. "
Gonzalez has all the tools. He's 6'1" tall and weighs 197 pounds, the ideal size for the position.
In addition, his athleticism is off the charts. He ran a 4.38 forty-yard dash with a 41.5" vertical leap. Gonzalez's on-field and combine performances led to his being nfl.com's Number One rated cornerback in the 2023 draft.
Gonzalez wasn't drafted to sit on the pine. Expect him to start at left cornerback from day one; undoubtedly, Gonzalez will be the team's number one cornerback.
He's the top positive at the position. Look for him as a solid candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2023.
New England Patriots depth at cornerback is their second positive
The New England Patriots have solid depth at cornerback. In addition to Gonzalez, expect Marcus Jones to contend for the slot corner position and Jonathan Jones to possibly start at right corner.
The status of Jack Jones is unclear, but fortunately, the team added additional draftees to the roster.
Late in the 2023 draft, the team added Ameer Speed of Michigan State in the sixth round and Isaiah Bolden from Jackson State in the seventh. These two rookies join roster cornerbacks Shaun Wade, Quandre Mosley, and Rodney Randle Jr. in the competition for spots on the 53-man roster and practice squad.
They also have the versatile Jalen Mills, likely to start at safety, replacing retired star Devin McCourty who can also slot in at corner if necessary. Having depth at any NFL position is a big plus, and the Pats' depth at the corner is certainly a positive.
New England Patriots cornerback analysis and grade
The New England Patriots have a solid veteran presence at cornerback and augmented that situation with a top first-round pick and two additional depth options in the NFL draft. It's a position of strength, and the unit promises to be a top performer on an improving Patriot defense in 2023. Their top performer will almost certainly be Christian Gonzalez. Expect big things from the highly-rated rookie.
Add Marcus and Jonathan Jones to the mix, and the top three cornerback positions are top-shelf. The position rates an excellent grade with Gonzalez on board and the return of solid veteran options. It will get a grade of A-/B+, and expectations will be high for the unit to excel.
What grade would you give the New England Patriots cornerbacks? We'd like to hear.