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Patriots sprinted to the podium to pick Christian Gonzalez, and more notes from Day 1 of the NFL Draft

Cleaning out the notebook from the first round.

NCAA Football: Oregon at Arizona Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The first round of the draft saw the New England Patriots address one of their biggest needs. Despite moving down from the 14th to the 17th spot in a trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers — a move that also netted them an additional fourth-rounder — they secured cornerback Christian Gonzalez.

Gonzalez is a big-bodied, hyper-athletic player who projects as a Day 1 starter on the Patriots’ defensive perimeter. Time will tell whether or not he will live up to his promise, but the Patriots can feel very good about the selection.

That is especially true given that the 20-year-old was originally considered a near-lock to be drafted in the top-10. And yet, here the Patriots were to stop his fall.

With that said, let’s clean out the notebook from Thursday night.

The Patriots sprinted to the podium to select Christian Gonzalez at No. 17. The Patriots did not take long to hand the card with Christian Gonzalez’s name on it in. In fact, they needed only a fraction of their allotted 10-minute window to bring the young defensive back aboard.

Per the official clock used on the broadcasts at NFL Network and ESPN, only around 31 seconds had ticked off before New England made its move.

How come the Patriots were this quick to make a decision? According to director of player personnel Matt Groh it had to do with them having a good feel for what the Washington Commanders would do right before them at No. 16.

“We’re trying to stay ahead of things,” Groh said after Round 1. “Had a pretty good inclination as to who Washington was going to take. So, we were able to quickly discuss which direction we wanted to go. Teams have to wait a little bit here in the first round before they get their picks in. We didn’t know, but we had a pretty good feeling as to how Washington was going to play it out. So, that sped things along for us.

“It’s nice when you’ve got a consensus on a player. So from the coaching staff, to the scouts, we’re fairly unified grade-wise on Christian. That just sped the process along.”

15 years later it’s dream-come-true time for Christian Gonzalez. Growing up in Texas, Gonzalez started playing football at a fairly young age. He then went on to an impressive high school and college career, setting the stage for his arrival in the NFL.

For him, it’s a dream fulfilled that had been a long time in the making.

“Definitely it’s been a dream since I was five, six years old when I started playing football,” he told the local media after getting drafted. “It’s kind of surreal. It’s hit, but I don’t think it’s truly hit. Maybe when I lay down in bed and just breath again. I’m very excited. I don’t have a lot of other words. It’s just so much excitement that the day finally came, and the phone rang.”

Patriots trading up on Day 2 seems like a safe bet. Due to their trade-down with the Steelers, the Patriots are now in possession of 11 picks over the final six rounds of the draft. Given that they currently have 75 players on their roster, including Gonzalez, it seems unlikely they will spend all of that capital on draft prospects.

Instead, it seems like a fairly safe bet that New England might make a move up the board at one point on Day 2. In fact, that has been their modus operandi as of late: the team has traded up in the second round in five straight years.

“I think we’re the 15th pick here in the second round. To have those fourth-round picks does give us a little bit of currency,” Matt Groh said. “We’ll have to take a more in-depth look here in the morning. We’ll regroup, look at some of these players that we got, go through a couple different scenarios as a staff and do our best to plot it out here for the second and third round. Just like we did in the lead up here for the first round.”

The Patriots’ trade-ups in Round 2 have been a bit of a mixed bag. Cornerbacks Duke Dawson (2018) and Joejuan Williams (2019) did not pan out and are no longer with the club; Josh Uche (2020) developed into a fine pass rusher and is coming off a breakout season; the jury is still out on Christian Barmore (2021) and Tyquan Thornton (2022), but both showed potential — especially Barmore — so far in their pro careers.

Value questions are answered differently this year. Last year, the Patriots were panned by critics for selecting offensive lineman Cole Strange with the 29th overall pick. Projected as a Day 2 selection and possible third-round pick, the team received fairly low grades for the choice.

Strange went on to start all 17 games at left guard as a rookie, and played some encouraging football. Time will tell whether or not Gonzalez can have a similar impact in his debut season, but the circumstance of his arrival — at least from an outside-created value perspective — is a different one: Gonzalez is regarded one of the biggest steals of the first round.

The Patriots and the rest of the NFL obviously operate independently from media and fan evaluation; they have a lot more information available than those outside of the process. So, while it seems they were able to get a “steal” his actual performance on the field will decide whether or not he is deserving of that label.

Former Patriots set the tone early in Round 1. The 2023 NFL Draft started with two former Patriots executives being actively involved. Following the Carolina Panthers’ selection of quarterback Bryce Young at No. 1, the Houston Texans led by general manager Nick Caserio picked fellow QB C.J. Stroud at No. 2.

Caserio and his team then moved up from No. 12 to No. 3 to make another big swing, adding defensive edge Will Anderson Jr. — arguably the best talent the class has to offer. The trade involved one of Caserio’s former co-workers in New England, new Arizona Cardinals GM Monti Ossenfort.

Ossenfort was not done either. Besides securing No. 12, No. 33 and 2024 first- and third-round picks in the move down with Houston, he then moved back up again to No. 6 to get his guy — offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr. — by giving up that 12th pick to the Detroit Lions plus the 34 in Round 2.

Caserio and Ossenfort were quite active early on Thursday night, and helped set the tone for the rest of what would be a wild night at times.

Jahmyr Gibbs leads the list of surprising selections. The Patriots’ selection of Christian Gonzalez was surprising because he was not expected to be on the board at No. 17. Other picks on Day 1 fell into that category because they were not expected to happen for one reason or another.

The biggest among those were the selections made by the Detroit Lions. They started off their night by drafting running back Jahmyr Gibbs at No. 12 — the second back to come off the board after Bijan Robinson to Atlanta at No. 8 — in what can only be described as a controversial decision. Then, they followed it up by picking Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell at 18.

Other somewhat surprising moves were made by the New York Jets (Will McDonald at No. 15), Washington Commanders (Emmanuel Forbes at No. 16), and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Calijah Kancey at No. 19).

Teams invest in the trenches. While the draft started with three quarterbacks getting taken within the first four picks, the overall story of Thursday night was that teams invested in their offensive and defensive lines. Five offensive tackles were picked to go alongside six edges and three defensive tackles. That is 14 total trench players.

There was a run at wide receivers after all. By the time the Seattle Seahawks were on the clock at No. 20, two running backs were off the board but not a single wideout had heard his name called. That changed in a hurry. The Seahawks added the consensus top pass catcher, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and were followed by three straight wideout picks.

At No. 21, the Los Angeles Chargers drafted Quentin Johnston; at No. 22, the Baltimore Ravens picked Zay Flowers; at No. 23, the Minnesota Vikings selected Jordan Addison. There are still a lot of good wideouts on the board, and the Patriots might be in the market to add one of them on Day 2.