Many draft analysts and fans have lauded the Patriots selection of Christian Gonzalez with the 17th pick of the 1st round. Evan Lazar, of Patriots.com, called the Gonzalez pick “a slam-dunk selection for the Patriots on night one” while Daniel Jeremiah of NFL Network said: “Patriots are getting a Top-10 caliber player with Christian Gonzalez.” Lou Scataglia of Musket Fire labelled Gonzalez a “perfect fit in New England.”
Despite these plaudits, it remains to be seen whether Gonzales ends up as a “boom” or a “bust.” In fact, it’s worth reviewing Gonzalez’ college production to see what direction Gonzalez may go.
Pre-draft, not all draft analysts thought Gonzalez should be a top 10 pick. For example, Sam Monson, NFL analyst for Pro Football Focus, rating Gonzalez as only the 6th-best CB in the draft, criticized Gonzales lack of production and his football diagnostic skills:
"Gonzalez has incredibly slick movement skills and an athletic profile that will have NFL teams drooling, but it hasn’t translated to on-field production to the same degree as other players in this class….He is visibly a step behind Witherspoon during plays in terms of reading what’s unfolding and has a lot more work to do to tap into his elite potential than most analysts articulate."- Sam Monson
One example of poor production from Gonzalez was in the early season loss to the top-rated Georgia Bulldogs in which Gonzalez gave up 4 receptions on 4 targets, with 1 TD, for an NFL passer rating of 158.3. NESN Patriots beat writer Zack Cox reviewed film on several 2022 Oregon games and wrote:
"While reviewing the Georgia game, we dinged Gonzalez for nine negative plays, nearly twice as many as we saw in all of his other contests combined. Five of those came on Bulldogs touchdowns, even if he wasn’t the lone defender at fault on those. There were missed tackles, poor pursuit angles, late reads."- Zach Cox
Was Gonzalez really picked too low at 17? Or maybe too high? I reviewed data on the first five cornerbacks picked in the NFL draft from 2020 through 2023. With cornerbacks in high demand, these picks are all either in the first round or at the top of the second round.
The table below shows name, draft year, overall pick number, total yards given up, TDs given up, NFL passer rating, reception percentage for targets, and defensive grade (data derived from Pro Football Focus) for each CB during his final year of college play.
Joey Porter Jr.
*Used 2020 data for Derek Stingley since his 2021 season was shortened by injury.
What do the data tell us? In comparison with the other highly-drafted CBs drafted, for most key metrics, Gonzalez is close to the bottom, especially with respect to total yards given up, completion percentage, and NFL passer rating. Sauce Gardner and Devon Witherspoon are the clear standouts based on the data, and it makes a lot of sense that they were Top-10 picks while Gonzalez was not. Gardner and Witherspoon both had already made a case in college that they were shutdown corners. With Gonzalez, the production was decent but not at their level.
It also makes sense that Emmanuel Forbes, with his 44.7 NFL passer rating, 14 career interceptions, and 284 total yards given up—statistics all well ahead of Gonzalez—was the next CB off the board. After Forbes, Joey Porter, Deonte Banks, and Gonzalez could all be grouped together. Although Porter had somewhat better production, who you draft from that group might still depend on who best fits your defensive scheme or who you think has the most potential.
Nobody is saying that Gonzalez will be a bust or doesn’t have the potential for greatness, regardless of where he was picked. As Sara Marshall of Musket Fire noted: “ Gonzalez is one of the most athletic cornerbacks Belichick has ever drafted in New England.” I can understand why the Pats made this pick, although I still would have preferred the Pats, with their pedestrian 24th-ranked offense, go on the offensive.
Even if you love the pick, Gonzalez shouldn’t be labelled a "shutdown corner" already—as demonstrated above, that’s not an accurate summary of his college production or the reason he was drafted so high. If we are going to refer to a “Gonzalez Island” someday, he’s still going to have to earn that moniker through his play on the field.