Ranking Patriots' last 10 first-round draft picks

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#2. CB Christian Gonzalez (17th overall in 2023)

Perhaps it's a bit early to put such a young player this high on the list, but what Christian Gonzalez showed through four games as a rookie and his potential as he returns to the field this upcoming season is beyond noteworthy.

When hypothesizing who the Patriots would take in the first round of the 2023 Draft, the assumption was Gonzalez would be well off the board by the time they made their selection with the 14th overall pick. Somehow, despite Bill Belichick trading back to 17, the cornerback was still available, making the decision much easier for the Patriots.

As one of the top-2 prospects of the class, Gonzalez ending up in New England seemed like a matter of fate. The team had put together an excellent secondary but needed a boost to put the unit over the top, which is where the rookie fit in immediately.

He impressed throughout training camp and preseason, continuing that into the first regular season game. And because of his impressive four-game start, he was the early frontrunner to win the Defensive Player of the Year Award, only for his chances to be swept away due to injury.

Gonzalez is expected to be healthy to start offseason programs this year and is projected to build upon an outstanding beginning to his NFL career. Although he fell into their lap, his pick is one of Belichick's best in his tenure, and the team will reap the benefits of his addition for a long time.

#1. LB Dont'a Hightower (25th overall in 2012)

Considering he is the only future Patriots Hall of Famer on the list, it feels beyond fitting to have new linebackers coach Dont'a Hightower top this list.

Mr. February, as he so graciously earned, had a tremendous career as one of the leading defensive players during the second half of the Patriots dynasty. His dominant style of play made the defense an intimidating unit for years in the league, led partly by his leadership and tenacity to get the job done.

Who could forget his momentum-swinging strip-sack of Matt Ryan during Super Bowl LI? If it weren't for that moment, as New England was down 28-12 with just 8 1/2 minutes remaining in regulation, Tom Brady probably wouldn't have had the opportunity to lead the offense to tie the game and force overtime, ultimately resulting in the franchise winning their fifth Super Bowl title.

Hightower earned his first Pro Bowl honors and was named Second-Team All-Pro for the first time that season, further solidifying his legacy in New England.

He was a voice of the locker room and helped make the defense what it was for so long, particularly during the team's second Super Bowl run when they won three more titles, which could have actually been five.

Hightower was so instrumental for the team that he is now joining Jerod Mayo's staff. He will help develop the next group of linebackers for the Patriots, who will hopefully have even half of the grit he demonstrated throughout his career.

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