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NFL Draft grades 2023: Evaluating the Patriots’ performance in the first round

New England made a trade, and a pick.

Oregon v Colorado Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Let the New England Patriots’ performance in Round 1 of the 2022 and 2023 drafts be a lesson to you: sometimes, in the absence of consistent excellence, they best way to knock people’s socks off is to lower the bar.

That’s not at all a shot at Cole Strange, who remains one of the freakiest of the freaky athletes we’ve had come through Foxboro since Kyle Dugger came to town. It’s more just a commentary on fan expectations, the positions that everyone thinks the team absolutely NEEDS to upgrade, the players that are still chilling on the board when your pick finally comes up, and of course, the whole nebulous “draft value” question that if you pose it to 1,000 different people, you’ll probably get about 9,400 different answers.

So now, here we sit on Friday with the opposite scenario; the X-wing run down the Death Star trench that actually works. Not only were the Patriots able to snag a talent that most if not all of us assumed would be long gone by the time the Patriots were on the clock at 14, Bill Belichick and Matt Groh and the gang were able to pick up another fourth-rounder from their frenemies the Pittsburgh Steelers just to move down three spots, and still take arguably the most elite-est cornerback prospect in the class.

And depending on how Game-of-Thronesy you want to get with it, there’s a greater-than-zero chance the pick the Patriots dealt to the Steelers may well have cost the New York Jets the chance to take the offensive tackle they coveted in Georgia’s Broderick Jones. Win/win/win.

Let’s see what the Pats Pulpit community thought of the pick first, because we’re the sickos that have been devouring anything and everything we can find on these guys since New Year’s:

View from the Pats Pulpit community

Even ice cream doesn’t poll this well.

Now let’s see how the big names in football media saw the pick:

View from the national media

Pro Football Focus

Pick Grade: Very Good

The Patriots move down to 17th overall, add a fourth-round pick and still land the second-best cornerback on the PFF big board. Gonzalez has the size and speed you look for at the position and put together the best season of his career after transferring to Oregon in 2022, racking up four interceptions and six pass breakups.

Doug Farrar (Touchdown Wire)

Grade: A+

Some believe Gonzalez to be the best cornerback in this class, and while I prefer Devon Witherspoon, there is no denying Gonzalez’s smoothness, intelligence, and ball skills. The Patriots may be ready to unleash a demon on the rest of the NFL, as nobody expected Gonzalez to last until the 17th overall pick, and he has everything required to exact revenge.

Danny Kelly (The Ringer)

Grade: A+

This is a home run pick for the Patriots, who nab my seventh-ranked player after trading back out of their original pick. Gonzalez brings sticky coverage skills and boasts elite athletic traits. He should be a plug-and-play starter for New England from day one.

Chad Reuter (

Grade: A

Analysis: Gonzalez’s size, athleticism and ball skills are excellent, meaning the Patriots got great value here even after moving down three spots in a trade with the Steelers to pick up a fourth-round selection. I was a bit surprised he was still available this late, but New England won’t complain.

Charles McDonald (Yahoo Sports)

Grade: A+

Gonzalez has all the ability in the world to be a dominant man cover corner in the NFL. Perhaps his lack of physicality is why he was still here, but he was the last of our blue-chip players to come off the big board.

Scott Dochterman (The Athletic)

Grade: A

The Patriots married need with value better than any team thus far in the first round. New England had question marks in the secondary, and it landed the highest-rated corner in the draft.

A two-year starter at Colorado, Gonzalez transferred to Oregon last year and thrived with four interceptions and 11 passes defended. He allowed receivers to catch 39 passes (on 64 targets) for 495 yards and three touchdowns, according to Pro Football Focus.

The most physically gifted and smoothest of the cornerbacks, Gonzalez played both outside and in the slot at Oregon last year. With perfect dimensions for a cornerback, Gonzalez (6-1, 3/8, 197) ran a 4.38 40 at the combine and has more fluidity than other upper-tier corners.

Brugler wrote Gonzalez has the skill to be a future Pro Bowler and needs continued work in zone, “but he offers strong man-cover talent with speed, fluid movements and body length to blanket outside receivers.”

J.P. Acosta (SB Nation)

Grade: A+

This is possibly the steal of first round. Gonzalez’s tape is extremely clean. He’s a fluid, smooth mover who can thrive in man or zone. the ball production might be a little lacking, but his length, size and speed is a perfect fit for a Bill Belichick led defense. Combine that with trading back and gaining more picks, and the Pats continue their voodoo magic.

(how much we’re “continuing” the voodoo magic is debatable, but hey, we’ll take it)

Ryan Gosling (Pro Football Network)

Grade: A+

Lacking depth in the secondary, the Patriots came into the 2023 NFL Draft with cornerback as one of their biggest draft needs. We know that the draft isn’t all about taking position of need, but Bill Belichick’s team land the perfect combination of best player available that just so happens to be a position of need.

Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez was the fifth overall player on the Pro Football Network Big Board, and his slip outside of the top 10 felt unfathomable as the NFL’s annual selection event got underway.

Gonzalez has the size and length to patrol the Patriots’ perimeter, while possessing an insatiable combination of elite athleticism, incredible ball skills, and the football intelligence to weaponize all of the above. It’s a slam-dunk pick for New England.

Let’s move on to the local writers and see if the optimism holds up.

View from the local media

Mike Reiss (ESPN)

My take: Brilliant. When a player who most mock drafts didn’t project would be available is there at No. 17 and the Patriots land him after trading back three spots, that’s a good day at the office. Cornerback was a top need for the Patriots, and this is a case where the best player matched the need. Gonzalez was ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay’s No. 8-ranked prospect in the draft. According to ESPN’s Draft Predictor, there was less than a 1% chance entering the draft that Gonzalez would be available after pick 15.

Will he start as a rookie?: Nothing will be handed to Gonzalez, but he has a great opportunity. In addition to offensive tackle, this was arguably the team’s greatest need. One thing that stands out is his size (6-foot-2, 201) compared to the other three players atop the depth chart — Jonathan Jones (5-10, 190), Marcus Jones (5-8, 175) and Jack Jones (5-11, 175). The Patriots needed a taller cornerback to combat some of the taller receivers they will face.

Key stat: Gonzalez has played 277 snaps in press coverage over the past two seasons, fourth-most among Power 5 players in that span. From 2017 to 2021, New England played man at the highest rate in the NFL (62%). Last season that fell to 17th (42%).

Phil Perry (NBC Sports Boston)

Grade: A+

The Patriots found a way to fill what was arguably their greatest need, at a premium position, with a blue-chip talent. And they were able to trade back and add a fourth-round pick in the process. Talk about a dream scenario for Bill Belichick.

Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez gives them size in a corner room desperately in need of some and speed (4.38-second 40) to run with the likes of Stefon Diggs, Garrett Wilson and Tyreek Hill in the AFC East. He can play man and zone. He has arguably the smoothest movement skills of any player at the position in this class.

Andrew Callahan (Boston Herald)

Gonzalez entered the night as a consensus top-10 talent, per most media draft experts. The 6-foot-1, 199-pounder could become a Day 1 starter for the Patriots, who have a major need at corner. He snatched four interceptions, broke up 11 passes and blocked a field goal last year as a All-Pac-12 first-teamer.

At the NFL Combine, Gonzalez tested as one of the best athletes in the entire draft. He clocked a 4.38 in the 40-yard dash, leapt 41.5 inches in the vertical jump and cranked out 14 bench press reps at 225 pounds. Gonzalez has all the tools to play the Patriots’ preferred man-to-man style of defense and joins Jonathan Jones, Jack Jones, Marcus Jones and Shaun Wade on the team’s depth chart.

Jerry Thornton (Barstool Sports)

I’ll concede that I didn’t think they’d be taking him. One, because I thought there was less than zero chance he’d fall to No. 14, never mind 17. But also because I assumed with the success of rookies Jack Jones and Marcus Jones last year, and the return of Jonathan Jones, they wouldn’t make a priority of landing another Jon— cornerback. But you can never have too many. Especially not in a division so stacked with wideouts and quarterbacks. But when you have the chance to add a 4th rounder - which will give the War Room even more flexibility to move around the board Friday and Saturday, and still get a top-tier talent at perhaps the second most position on the field in age of football, it’s the no-braineriest of no-brainers.

Mark Daniels (Masslive)

The Patriots are a team that could use help almost anywhere, but there were two specific areas that were major needs for New England – tackle and cornerback. Although the Patriots defense was solid last season, their secondary lacked a true lengthy outside cornerback.

That’s where Gonzalez comes in. At 6-foot-2, he becomes the Patriots biggest cornerback. At Oregon, he played both man and zone coverage and also played some slot corner. Last season, he led the Ducks in pass breakups (11) and interceptions (four).

The Patriots just landed a very athletic cornerback, who plays man-to-man coverage. That certainly should help next season.

And let’s throw our old friend Doug Kyed (now of A to Z Sports) in there as a local guy to wrap things up:

Doug Kyed (A to Z Sports)

New England took the perceived steal in Gonzalez. They managed to fill a major need — perhaps their biggest — while also seemingly getting great value in one of the most talented players in the draft. When you expect the Patriots to zig, they zag. And when you expect them to zag, well, you get the point.

Gonzalez appears to be set up for success and immediate playing time as New England’s biggest cornerback on the roster. He’s young but has speed to burn and comes with plenty of college experience despite only being 20 years old. As long as the rest of the spring and summer go well for the young cornerback, he should be a starter in 2023.

The Patriots could still take some wild cards with one second-round pick, one third-round pick, four fourth-round picks and five Day 3 selections. But at least on paper, they aced their first rounder and navigated the draft process exceptionally well.

The New England Patriots are back on the clock tonight at pick No. 46, and if the last few years are any indication, it’s a coin flip at best whether they actually stay there.

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