The New England Patriots took a patient approach to the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft, and came away with one of the best players available: Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez was added with the 17th overall selection.
Seen as a likely top-10 draft pick heading into Day 1, Gonzalez falling into the Patriots’ lap — even more so after a trade-down — was a surprising development. The 20-year-old, after all, has the skills to become a true game-changer for New England.
Name: Christian Gonzalez
Position: Outside cornerback
Opening day age: 21
Size: 6’1 3/8”, 197 lbs, 76 7/8” wing span, 32” arm length, 9 1/2” hand size
Workout numbers: 4.38 40-yard dash, 41 1/2” vertical jump, 11’1” broad jump, 14 bench press reps, 9.95 Relative Athletic Score
Gonzalez played not just cornerback and wide receiver in high school at The Colony, he even saw some time as a part-time quarterback, kick returner, and — for three total snaps — punter. Earning all-district honors in both his junior and senior seasons, he entered the college level as a four-star recruit and a popular defensive back prospect. Receiving offers from several high-profile schools, he decided to commit to Purdue but later changed course and joined Colorado instead.
Gonzalez spent his first two college seasons with the Buffaloes, starting all 18 games and registering 73 tackles and nine pass breakups. An honorable All-Pac 12 nominee following his 2021 sophomore campaign, he entered the transfer portal — following his former defensive backs coach, Demetrice Martin, to Oregon. His lone season with the Ducks was a success: Gonzalez started all 12 games before a bowl game opt-out, registering 50 tackles, 11 pass deflections, and four interceptions. He was named first-team All-Pac 12.
Pick: 1-17 | Consensus big board: No. 7
Strengths: Gonzalez is the full package, and has all the tools to become a true No. 1 cornerback at the next level. He combines prototypical height and length with top-notch athleticism and some natural instincts. His testing numbers during the pre-draft process were nothing short of impressive for a player ranking in the 89-percentile for height at cornerback (6’1 3/8”): his 40-yard dash (4.38s; 89%), vertical jump (41 1/2”; 96%) and broad jump (11’1”; 95%) are all indicative of an explosive player.
Gonzalez knows how to use his talents. He is a proven press cornerback, who has the range and acceleration to follow opposing wide receivers in man-to-man coverage; he also offers the lower-body fluidity to quickly react to cuts or attack back to the football. His wingspan and leaping abilities allow him to contest jump-balls against bigger-bodied receivers, and to also knock incoming passes away. He additionally has the spatial awareness to succeed in zone, and has shown that he has a fast processor; rarely making the same mistake twice.
Christian Gonzalez locking down receivers man to man— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) April 28, 2023
Love a guy with elite traits who trusts his athleticism, and you see that in Gonzalez's patience from press + his calmness downfield pic.twitter.com/o6nFPzf2aw
Weaknesses: Gonzalez still has plenty of room for growth, both figuratively and literally. He is lean-built and at this point in his career has not yet maxed out his frame or reached his full potential from a strength perspective. He also has room for growth as a tackler; while he is willing to hit ball-carriers, he needs to refine his technique. His ball production was not where it could be either, despite him registering four interceptions in 2022; he needs to get better at tracking and attacking the ball in the air.
Christian Gonzalez is still a work in progress as a run defender and needs to add more bulk, but plays like this are reasons for optimism— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) April 28, 2023
Sheds the block and makes a gotta-have-it wrap-up tackle, preventing a touchdown pic.twitter.com/X7ChZbMArq
What will be his role in 2023? Despite being a rookie, Gonzalez projects as a starting outside cornerback in the Patriots’ press-man scheme. He has the size and athletic makeup to take the No. 1 job that was virtually left unoccupied last season, and will match up better with bigger-bodied wideouts than any other corner on the team. Accordingly, he will be on the field quite a bit in 2023 and by the end of the season might be a 100-percent player on the defensive side of the ball.
What is his growth potential? Having only three seasons of college football on his résumé — despite starting 30 total games — Gonzalez is only scratching the surface of what he can become. Time in an NFL strength program should help with that, and might also help him become a more sound tackler. If he can work on his few deficiencies, he has definitive Pro Bowl potential before the end of his rookie contract.
Does he have positional versatility? Even leaving out his aforementioned high school usage, Gonzalez has proven himself a versatile player. While aligning primarily on the outside in his lone season at Oregon — playing 501 snaps split out wide (of 718; 69.8%) — he also regularly moved into the slot (139; 19.4%) and the box (73; 10.2%) and occasionally up onto the line of scrimmage (5; 0.7%). In addition, he was used on the punt and kickoff return teams as well as the field goal blocking unit (even registering one block last year).
What adding him means for the depth chart: Gonzalez is a lock to make the Patriots’ roster based on his draft status alone. As noted above, he also should take over a starting role on the outside opposite projected CB2 Jack Jones. This, in turn, might have a trickle-down effect on the rest of the unit: Jonathan Jones might be moving back into the slot or maybe even see more safety reps (something that might also be true for Myles Bryant), while depth corners Shaun Wade, Rodney Randle Jr. and Quandre Mosely will be in a difficult spot with another high-profile player added to the mix.
What adding him means for the rest of the draft: The Patriots addressed their biggest need on the defensive side of the ball early. While their depth at outside cornerback still could be better, the team does not need to invest another pick in the position. Instead, New England might add competition through rookie free agency.
One-sentence verdict: Christian Gonzalez was one of the top-two cornerback prospects in this year’s draft, and the Patriots should feel very good about getting him at No. 17.