Why I'm Not So Thrilled with the Patriots 2023 Draft
In the 2023 NFL Draft, the Patriots select (drum roll please): a bunch of defenders, a horde of special teams guys—punter, kicker, returner; a few interior offensive lineman; and a couple offensive options very late in the draft.
Wow!! Pardon me while take a few moments to catch my breath. The Pats could have made major gains for an offense that ranked 26th in the AFC in average yards per game in 2022 but, instead, chose to try to strengthen the defense, apparently giving up on the idea that they can score enough points to keep up with Allen, Rodgers, and Tagovailoa. Rather than adding dynamic playmakers, they picked special teamers, apparently to try to erase those bad kickoff return memories from 2022.
Rather than draft offensive tackles, they chose interior offensive lineman, with at least two of those considered reaches by most draft analysts. For many Pats’ fans who dreamed of seeing a Flowers, a Downs, a Dell, or a Kincaid in a Patriots uniform, this draft was yet another difficult pill to swallow. Those players will light up the field for some other team. Although the Pats got potential significant contributors on defense and special teams, they did not fill important needs on offense: wide receiver, offensive tackle, and tight end. More important, this 2023 NFL draft did nothing to change the dynamics of the AFC East. The Pats are still left chasing the Bills and perhaps the Dolphins and Jets as well.
Round 1 - 17th overall pick
Pick: Christian Gonzales, CB, Oregon.
Alternate Picks: Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State; Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College.
The Patriots could have gotten the best WR in the draft and instead opted to take the 3rd CB off the board. Regardless of how shocked NFL draft analysts were by Gonzalez’s fall out of the top 10, his draft position shows how NFL general managers regard his true value. He was clearly not seen as the top 10 talent that Devon Witherspoon was.
Imagining that the Pats got lucky at 17 because teams selecting earlier “forgot” Gonzales was still on the board is understandably optimistic, but still wishful, thinking. On the contrary, the team picking right before them chose a different CB, who actually grabbed many more career interceptions (14 to 4) in college than Gonzalez.
Gonzalez may have a great career but he was still drafted more on his undeniable athleticism and potential than production. Kudos to the Patriots if they turn out to be right.
With Smith-Njigba, the Patriots would have gotten the best wideout in the draft who would have provided immediate improvement to the offense and settled their WR1 position, which has been nothing but problematic in recent years. Flowers would have not only improved the offense but simply dazzled the fans in Gillette Stadium for years to come.
Round 2 - 46th overall pick
Pick: Keion White, Edge, Georgia Tech.
Alternate Picks: Cody Mauch, OT, North Dakota State; Cam Smith, DB, South Carolina.
White had decent production at Georgia Tech in 2022 with 7.5 sacks and 54 tackles but is still considered by many to be a work in progress, given his limited experience at the Edge position. With Judon and Uche on board, the Pats did not have a true need for an Edge defender. They couldn’t resist taking one anyway--not surprising given the favor Belichick shows for defenders.
With Mauch, the Pats would have gotten a colorful mauler/brawler, reminiscent of the great Logan Mankins—he would have made a terrific Patriot and been a lot of fun to watch. Alternatively, had the Pats satisfied their need for a top WR in Round 1, they could have also gotten an excellent corner in Round 2, such as Cam Smith out of South Carolina--the 5th-rated CB by Drafttek.com and 6th rated CB by Pro Football Focus (PFF).