After already starting their draft with back-to-back defensive selections, the New England Patriots went back to the well in Round 3. Sitting at No. 76, the team brought in Marte Mapu out of Sacramento State.
What does adding the safety/linebacker hybrid to the equation mean for the team and its defense, though? Let’s find out.
Name: Marte Mapu
Position: Box safety/Off-the-ball linebacker
School: Sacramento State
Opening day age: 23
Size: 6’3”, 221 lbs, 78 3/4” wing span, 33 1/2” arm length, 9 3/8” hand size
Workout numbers: N/A (pectoral injury), N/A Relative Athletic Score
A two-way player at Hawthorne High School in his hometown in California, Mapu played quarterback, wide receiver and defensive back. However, despite being a productive player he was unranked heading toward the college level; only a handful of FCS school expressed interest in bringing him aboard, Sacramento State among them. He arrived on campus in 2017 but redshirted his freshman season. The other five years of his career as a Hornet can be categorized into pre- and post-Covid-19.
In 2018 and 2019, he primarily played as a role player and saw action in 16 games with two starts. After the 2020 season was cancelled due to the pandemic, however, the became a starter in the team’s secondary. Filling a hybrid safety/linebackers position, he started all 25 of his games between 2021 and 2022. His final season was his best: staying in school due to the NCAA’s special eligibility rules, he registered 76 tackles, two interceptions and a blocked field goal. Mapu was named the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year.
Pick: 3-76 | Consensus big board: 158
Strengths: At 6-foot-3, 221 pounds, Mapu offers impressive size to play a versatile role in an NFL defense. His quick processor and burst out of his stance allow him to come down hard in the run game; he takes on blockers with a purpose — a skill that also makes him an effective blitzer from the second level. He has the size and read-and-react skills to guard tight ends in man-to-man coverage, and the vision to also successfully operate in zone structures. Mapu also projects as an impact player on special teams right away.
Sacramento State’s Marte Mapu brings rare size to the nickel position. Frequently gets downhill and makes impact plays with his instincts, physicality, and take on skills.— Bobby Football (@Rob__Paul) April 23, 2023
Mapu is a top-10 SAF in the 2023 NFL Draft; he’d also be a top-10 LB in the class if that’s where he plays. pic.twitter.com/mxpOi5p5TZ
Weaknesses: Mapu is not the most sudden athlete, and his lack of range and straight-line speed might limit his usage at the next level; he is better suited playing downhill than actually serving as a free safety, for example. He still is more defensive back than off-the-ball linebacker, though. There are also questions about how long he will take to adapt to the NFL game after spending most of his career going up against FCS teams. In addition, the pectoral injury he suffered in February makes him a somewhat uncertain projection for 2023.
What will be his role in 2023? Mapu falls into the same category as other Patriots safeties: he is a big, physical player who is best suited to play closer to the line of scrimmage. As such, he will likely fill a “star” role in New England’s defense as a safety/linebacker hybrid. With the team having sufficient depth at the position, he projects primarily as a package and backup player as a rookie. He also should make an immediate special teams impact.
What is his growth potential? New England’s safety corps faces some uncertainty, with Kyle Dugger a free agent in 2024 and Adrian Phillips already 31 years old. Dugger’s future will be closely tied to Mapu’s role and exposure from his second season on, but even if he is retained the newest Patriot should be able to see increased opportunities moving forward. It would not be a surprise if he becomes the third member of the rotation alongside Dugger and Jabrill Peppers, and eventually rises to the No. 2 spot among box linebackers — or even No. 1 if Dugger does not return.
Does he have positional versatility? Within the context of his position, Mapu does offer some flexibility. The Patriots can line him up as a classic off-the-ball linebacker or move him back deeper to a more traditional safety setup. He can also kick out to the slot to cover tight ends, or play up on the line of scrimmage in New England’s “double mug” looks as a potential blitz player. In addition, as noted above, he should see regular action in the kicking game right away.
What adding him means for the depth chart: Even with Mapu joining an experienced group headlined by Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips and Jabrill Peppers, the Patriots’ secondary as a whole remains a bit TBD at the moment. The post-Devin McCourty depth chart has yet to be settled, so it is hard to say which players may or may not directly and immediately be impacted by adding the third-rounder to the team.
What adding him means for the rest of the draft: The Patriots might add another off-the-ball linebacker with one of their nine remaining picks on Day 3. It seems unlikely they will address the safety position again with Mapu in the fold.
One-sentence verdict: Mapu’s ceiling in the Patriots scheme is a high one, and that alone makes investing in him a worthwhile endeavor.
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