As the third round of the 2023 NFL draft reached the New England Patriots, so did the reigning Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Year.
Sacramento State linebacker Marte Mapu got the call at No. 76 overall on Friday night.
It marked the third selection on that side of the ball for head coach Bill Belichick’s war room. It also marked the first time that a Hornets product had become a draft selection since offensive tackle Marko Cavka went to the New York Jets in 2004.
Here’s an initial look into why.
A well-traveled FCS playmaker from safety to nickel to linebacker
Spending time at quarterback and wide receiver to go with defensive work at California’s Hawthorne High School, Mapu enrolled at Sacramento State in 2017. The lightly recruited freshman redshirt went on to start 27 of his 41 appearances from linebacker to safety to slot cornerback.
After the program’s 2020 season was canceled due to the pandemic, Mapu finished his tenure with second-team All-Big Sky honors followed by first-team All-Big Sky honors. And he was named the league’s top defensive player last fall as well as a first-team Associated Press FCS All-American.
Mapu’s final two collegiate campaigns included 141 tackles — a dozen going for loss — with one sack, one forced fumble and six interceptions across 20 passes defended. Added on special teams was a blocked field goal.
A 6-foot-3, 217-pound prospect not under the NFL radar
Mapu went from the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl to the Reese’s Senior Bowl during the pre-draft process. A torn pectoral kept him from testing at his pro day. But New England was among the clubs to host the non-combine invite on a “30” visit as the calendar turned toward April.
Listed at 6-foot-3, 217 pounds with 33 1/2-inch arms, Mapu offers modern size and has been regarded for his instinctiveness and physical pursuit.
A Patriots pick for one position or another
Mapu could be part of a safety depth chart that features the versatility of Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips and Jabrill Peppers. He could be part of an off-the-ball linebacker depth chart featuring captain Ja’Whaun Bentley as well Jahlani Tavai, Raekwon McMillan and Mack Wilson.
But the 23-year-old fit New England’s type at one place or another in a class not viewed as particularly deep in either group.
Pro Football Focus charted Mapu for a 77.2 grade in pass coverage and 85.9 grade in run defense last season. He logged 510 snaps in the slot and 249 snaps in the box. He also logged 56 snaps back deep and 49 snaps along the defensive line.