The New England Patriots entered the second day of the 2023 NFL Draft with 11 selections in possession, including one each in Rounds 2 and 3. The expectation was that they would use some of their capital to move up the board, and while they very well might have tried nothing came from their efforts.
So, the team stayed put both at No. 46 in the second round and at No. 76 in the third. The first of those selections was invested in defensive lineman Keion White out of Georgia Tech; the second pick went to Sacramento State linebacker/safety hybrid Marte Mapu.
With the foundation set, let’s clean out the notebook from Friday night.
The Patriots’ picks follow a common theme. Three picks into their 2023 draft, it is clear New England is after specific type of player this year: they want to get high-end athletes onto the field. Keion White and Marte Mapu both fall into that category, as does first-round pick Christian Gonzalez.
The Gonzalez selection set the tone, in a sense. One of the top-ranked cornerbacks in the class, he registered a 9.95 Relative Athletic Score in the pre-draft process:
The Patriots added some elite athletes to their defense in the first two days of the Draft, starting with CB Christian Gonzalez and his 9.95 Relative Athletic Score (via @mathbomb). pic.twitter.com/sdyjNOSo8T— Bernd Buchmasser (@BerndBuchmasser) April 29, 2023
Gonzalez’s appeal goes beyond his impressive athletic traits, but those give him and the team a high floor to build on. The Oregon product projects as an impact player as early as Day 1, and his rare physical skills — a combination of size and speed not often found — are a major reason for that.
White, the Patriots’ second-round pick, falls into a similar category:
In the second round, they added similarly impressive DE Keion White. The Georgia Tech product scored a 9.92 RAS. pic.twitter.com/9zcF9duEjn— Bernd Buchmasser (@BerndBuchmasser) April 29, 2023
While he is more of a tweener type at 6-foot-5, 285 pounds — he is an end/edge hybrid who offers value both outside the tackle and over the guard — his intriguing traits cannot be denied either. White’s speed and explosiveness are outstanding for a player his size, and give New England’s coaches a chess piece to work with along their defensive line.
Third-round safety Marte Mapu did not earn an RAS score in the pre-draft process; he was unable to work out due to a pectoral tear he suffered in February. However, he too offers a rare combination of size and speed from his versatile box safety spot.
Still, the common theme of the Patriots’ first three picks is clear. It is something that reminds of what director of player personnel Matt Groh said during last year’s draft.
“If you want to get tougher, you’d better get tough guys. You want to get faster, you’d better get fast guys.”
In 2023, the Patriots got themselves some all-around great athletic guys.
New England’s biggest offensive needs remain unaddressed. While the Patriots defense is undoubtably better with Gonzalez, White and Mapu in the mix, the offensive side of the ball — which struggled mightily last year — has not seen any players added yet. The club was expected to target wide receivers or offensive tackles, but so far no players at those positions of need have been brought in.
The reasons behind that remain a mystery. Maybe the trade market did not develop as hoped. Maybe the team is not as high on the two position groups at this point in the draft. Maybe the Patriots genuinely feel good about what they have under contract at the moment.
Whatever the factors were, the end result remains the same — and one that creates plenty of questions when looking at it from the outside.
Marte Mapu might be playing a pretty flexible role in 2023. It remains to be seen how quickly Marte Mapu can take the field for the Patriots, but once he does it will be fascinating to see how the team will employ him. He fits the mold of recent safety additions, and should be able to slide right in with Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips and Jabrill Peppers.
And just like those three players, the rookie might also be tasked with a rather flexible role in 2023.
“We’ll have to see how it goes,” said head coach Bill Belichick on Friday. “That might change from week to week dependent on our opponent and what we’re playing in the defense and so forth. He’s shown versatility and his skillset. He’s a smart kid. Definitely understands defensive concepts and what they did and how they were doing it. So when we get a chance to work with them, we’ll start to figure that out.”
No Day 2 trades leave the Patriots with plenty of ammunition. The Patriots did explore the trade market on Friday, but push never came to shove. As a result, the team had to make picks in its allotted slots, and also continues to hold nine total selections for Day 3.
“Sometimes there are opportunities to move, sometimes there aren’t,” said Belichick. “Sometimes you want to move, sometimes you don’t. It’s just if you’re trying to trade you have to have somebody to trade with, whether it’s up or down. Eliot [Wolf] and Matt [Groh] they pretty much dealt with that. We talked about some things. Ultimately, we did what we felt that was best for the team.”
New England does not go against the consensus that much. Last year’s draft was noteworthy in that it saw the Patriots pick players significantly higher than they were projected to come off the board; first-round guard Cole Strange and second-round wide receiver Tyquan Thornton were both labeled “reaches” for their respective draft slots.
This time around, the Patriots are not as aggressively going counter to what the external analysts are saying. They grabbed Christian Gonzalez lower than he was expected to be taken, and also took Keion White right around his position on the consensus board.
Only Marte Mapu is a bit of an outlier as the following Day 2 graphics by Anthony Reinhard illustrate:
Possible Patriots target Hendon Hooker lands in Detroit. The Patriots expressed plenty of interest in Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker in the pre-draft process, but ended up not drafting him. The Detroit Lions brought him in at No. 68 overall in the early third round.
Fellow quarterback Will Levis from Kentucky, another player speculated to be on New England’s radar, ended up in Tennessee. The team of head coach Mike Vrabel picked him 33rd overall.
The 49ers arise as a challenger for the ‘most surprising pick of the draft’ title. The second day of the draft did see a few surprises, but none as big as San Francisco going full YOLO with its second pick this year. After not drafting any players in the first two rounds, the team of general manager John Lynch made three picks in the third.
The second of those? Place kicker Jake Moody from Michigan at No. 99 overall. Moody is the consensus best kicker in the draft, and the team is obviously feeling good in him to invest significant capital.
That said, few expected the first kicker of the year to be drafted on Day 2.