“Positionless” football is the future— J Jones (@justjjones) March 17, 2022
Well, it’s happening on defense, anyway.
With a lot of us figuring that the New England Patriots would use their Whitman’s Chocolate sampler of fourth and sixth-round picks to move up and snag first-ish round talent in the second or third rounds — like, say, Syracuse offensive tackle Matthew Bergeron, longtime “this guy’s SUCH a Patriot” Alabama safety Brian Branch, or literally any tight end — Bill Belichick and Matt Groh and the draft team stayed put at picks 46 and 76 and went straight defense again. And, quite probably, special teams, where third-round pick Marte Mapu packs the classic LB/S designation and an almost identical height/weight combo to former Patriots special teams mainstay Brandon King.
Like our fearless leader Bernd Buchmasser pointed out last night after the third round wrapped, the emphasis the Patriots have is clear, and it continues a trend that we saw last year to a comically exaggerated degree; freaky explosive athletes that may not fit the exact height/weight prototypes or be a 1:1 replacement for a Patriot of yore, but pack the physical tools and the mental sharpness to mold themselves into great players.
Gone are the days of “We want four-year starter, a captain, played in the (insert whoever you think the three best Power-5 conferences are here)”. Sometimes this gets you Cole Stranges and Tyquan Thorntons; this year, it means defense on defense through the first three rounds, even if that leaves receiver-thirsty fans exasperated yet again.
So just like we did yesterday, let’s get into the grades roundup. Suffice to say, fans are still feeling it, but the Patriots may have gotten all of their steal-of-the-draft kudos out of the way yesterday.
View From the Pats Pulpit Community
Here’s the votes from the Keion White pick:
And for Sacramento State LB/S Marte Mapu:
View From the National Media
Chad Reuter (NFL.com): A-
Analysis: Alabama DB Brian Branch seemed like a strong fit in New England throughout the draft process, but the Patriots didn’t get a chance to select him in Round 2, with the Lions trading up just in front of them to snag the defender. New England did score a nice consolation prize in White, who’s yet another versatile lineman who can play multiple spots up front because of his strength. The Pats appear to have gotten the better end of last year’s trade with the Panthers, which netted New England the 76th overall pick in this draft along with a 2022 fourth-rounder (Bailey Zappe) so Carolina could move up for Matt Corral. Mapu isn’t a household name, but he’s a typical Pats pick in that he was selected a round or so earlier than expected. He has intriguing safety/linebacker skills, though, and could thrive in New England’s scheme.
Pro Football Focus
Keion White: Good
White fits the mold of the defensive linemen that New England tends to look for up front — a powerful 6-foot-5, 285-pounder. White earned a 75.8 PFF pass-rush grade in his lone season as a starter for Wake Forest in 2022 after transferring from Old Dominion.
Marte Mapu: Good
The Patriots continue to add different skill sets and body types at safety, a position they’ve had good depth at in recent years. At 221 pounds, Mapu came in at the 96th percentile among safeties in weight, and he paired that with an 85.9 PFF run-defense grade in his final season at Sacramento. He’ll likely have a role in the box with New England.
Doug Farrar (Touchdown Wire)
The Patriots came into this draft with a need for edge pressure, and they get it with White, the former Old Dominion tight end who became an estimable multi-position disruptor over time. The 6-foot-5, 285-pound White can wreck things from all kinds of gaps, and who knows? With his tight end background, Bill Belichick might have a few Mike Vrabel-esque touchdown catches ready for him.
Brent Sobleski (Bleacher Report)
Keion White: B
Strengths: Big, strong athlete, gets into blocks to control opposing lineman then violently sheds them, better-than-expected bend for bigger end
Weaknesses: Consistency with technique in all areas: hand placement, not keeping a wide base and pad level, older prospect (24)
Football almost wasn’t in Keion White’s future. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Ken Sugiura, White nearly joined the military until a late scholarship offer came from Old Dominion.
The 6’5”, 285-pound edge-defender spent four seasons with the Monarchs. After beginning his career as a tight end, he broke out in 2019 with 19 tackles for loss before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the following season.
A transfer to Georgia Tech allowed the sixth-year senior to shine against a higher level of competition. White, who’s an ideal athlete for the position with 34-inch arms, registered 14 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks this past year and earned third-team All-ACC honors.
“For me, I feel like at this point, I’m playing with house money,” White said, per Sugiura. “First round, second round, third round, I don’t care. Just to have the opportunity because I was so close to not playing college football is big for me.”
White fits the profile of what the New England Patriots like for their defensive line. He’s big and rugged. He can rush off the edge, play a tighter 5-technique or reduce down in sub-packages. With Matthew Judon and now White working off the edge, the Patriots have the length to truly disrupt the rhythm of opposing quarterbacks while consistently setting the edges.
Marte Map: B
Strengths: Safety convert who plays much bigger than size indicates, physical downhill defender, ball skills
Weaknesses: Struggles to disengage from blockers, questionable top-end speed
One moment from a prospect can open eyes around the NFL.
In the case of Sacramento State’s Marte Mapu, the converted safety showed up as a late invite to the Senior Bowl. During practice, he blew up a fullback with the sound of a loud crack and made the play in the backfield.
Then, Mapu looked extremely fluid and comfortable working in coverage.
The New England Patriots love players who can contribute in multiple areas, especially among their linebackers. Mapu screams the Patriot Way.
Scott Dochterman (The Athletic)
Keion White: A-
In typical Bill Belichick fashion, the Patriots continue to get great value. In White, they picked up one of the top remaining pass rushers on a unit that put up 54 sacks.
A late bloomer, White was a six-year player with four seasons at Old Dominion and the past two for Georgia Tech. White began his career as a tight end and played two seasons at that position before shifting to defensive end in 2019, where he picked up 19 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. His 2020 season was canceled because of the pandemic, then he transferred to Tech and played in only four games in 2021 because of an ankle dislocation. Last season White was a machine with 11 sacks and 33.5 tackles for loss.
White (6-4 7/8, 285) has long arms (34 inches) and wingspan (80) mostly played outside the tackle but generated 30 hurries last year for Georgia Tech to go along with his seven sacks. White has plenty of room to grow despite his college experience and can play in multiple schemes because of his size.
Marte Mapu: A-
Another versatile chess piece for Bill Belichick, Mapu flashed at the Senior Bowl and vaulted up draft boards. He finished at No. 100 on Brugler’s overall list. The Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year, Mapu collected 76 tackles, including 6.5 for loss, broke up six passes and intercepted two. In 2021, Mapu had 14 breakups and four interceptions. He was a surprising omission from the combine.
Blessed with a linebacker body (6-3, 221) and long arms (78 ¾ wingspan), Mapu is a heavy hitter and covers like a safety. He had a leg muscle injury in Mobile and couldn’t compete in the game, then tore a pec muscle during training and couldn’t work out for teams. Mapu might have to redshirt for a season, but if he’s healthy, he could become an asset right away in subpackages and on special teams.
J.P. Acosta (SB Nation)
Keion White: B+
White and the Pats is a great scheme fit. He’s a powerfully built EDGE defender who primarily wins with power, and then can kick inside and win against guards. That third down group with White on the inside and Judon and Josh Uche on the outside will be fun to watch.
Marte Mapu: A+
God, yes. Mapu is a safety/LB hybrid who fills the hole with bad intentions. He’s also an experienced player in the middle of the field, and has instincts in coverage. Homerun pick for the Pats.
Charles McDonald (Yahoo Sports)
Keion White: C
White isn’t a particularly dynamic defensive lineman, but he’s not bad either. He’ll be a competent rotation player for the Patriots and can play a ton of spots, which New England always values.
Marte Mapu: A
Mapu is a prototype linebacker every team is looking for, but he’s coming from a lower level of football. He needs to bulk up a little. The primary upside: he’s a great athlete and can make plays all over the field.
Oliver Hodgkinson: Pro Football Network
Keion White: B+
For the second time in the 2023 NFL Draft, the New England Patriots stop the slide of an impactful defensive prospect. Having snagged Gonzalez in Round 1, Belichick adds a versatile defensive front piece in the form of Georgia Tech’s Keion White.
At 6’4” and 285 pounds, White can play as a big defensive end while also making an impact from the interior of a defensive line. That skill set makes him a valuable piece in New England. The Georgia Tech EDGE prospect is extremely explosive, and his size/length combination allows him to be a violent and powerful presence on the defensive front.
Marte Mapu: A-
Here we go! New England is always a potential landing spot for ascending smaller-school prospects, and sure enough, the Patriots snagged a player who made a name for himself during the all-star circuit.
Marte Mapu is a versatile piece who blurs the line between safety and linebacker, with his 6’2”, 217-pound frame. He’s a physical force with fluidity and the football intelligence to be an impact-maker in multiple phases. As a result, Mapu should find an early role on the Patriots.
Let’s get some local flavor to round things out:
View From the Local Media
Mike Reiss (ESPN)
My take: Bolstering the line of scrimmage and pass rush is never a bad thing, especially when it comes with a versatile prospect who might be able to play multiple spots. He’ll have solid veterans to look up to in Matthew Judon, Deatrich Wise Jr. and Josh Uche. Shortly after being selected by the Patriots, White said: “I’m a very big businessperson, so I’m not too big into the glitz and glamour of football. I want to work, and I want to win. I feel like that’s what the Patriots offer.”
Key stat: White’s 7.5 sacks last season were tied for fourth most in the ACC. He lined up primarily at defensive end in 2022 (71% of his snaps) with two of his sacks coming from that spot. The Patriots were tied for the third-most sacks in the NFL last season and their four-man rush posted the third-highest pressure rate (31%), trailing only the Cowboys and Packers.
My take: The 6-3, 221-pound Mapu wasn’t invited to the combine but was one of the standout prospects at the Senior Bowl. He can do different things for a defense that values versatility — from a potential box-type safety in base defense to a linebacker-based role in sub packages. Those who scouted him note his aggressive playing style, which should also make him an immediate contributor on special teams. Mapu said he took pre-draft visits with 15 teams, making him one of the league’s most well-traveled prospects. He believed part of it was related to not being invited to the combine, while medical evaluation was likely another factor — he sustained a torn right pectoral muscle in February and said Friday that he expects to be ready by the start of training camp at the latest.
Key stat: Mapu is the first Sacramento State player drafted since 2004 (Marko Cavka, OT selected 178th by the Jets), and the highest player selected from the school in the common draft era.
Phil Perry (NBC Sports Boston)
White — who ran a 4.71-second 40 at 6-foot-5, 285 pounds — checks all kinds of boxes for Belichick.
According to NFL Media’s Daniel Jeremiah, both Gonzalez (No. 10) and White (No. 28) were top-30 players. Per analytics site Sports Info Solutions, Gonzalez (No. 8) and White (No. 29) were rated similarly. It’s my understanding the Patriots liked White enough that he was in the mix for them as a first-round choice.
Mapu played on a defense that was coordinated by Patriots defensive line coach DeMarcus Covington at the Senior Bowl, injured his pec, and was unable to do any athletic testing prior to the draft.
But he’s a favorite for some evaluators who like versatility and explosiveness that can be deployed in a variety of roles defensively.
“New England took my guy,” one NFC linebackers coach said. “Big upside. Played nickel and safety. Really smart. Has a lot of position [flexibility]. Big hitter. Really tough.”
Andrew Callahan (Boston Herald)
Keion White: B
The Pats selected Georgia Tech defensive lineman Keion White with the 46th overall pick Friday, a 6-foot-5, 285-pounder with immense power and versatility. White addresses a sneaky need for the Patriots, who have edge defenders Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings entering contract years and veteran outside linebacker Matt Judon turning 31 this summer. White is one of the most powerful and explosive edge defenders in this draft with untapped potential, having entered college as a tight end and only played defense since 2019.
At the NFL combine, White tested as one of the best athletes for his position in recent years. He blazed a 4.76 in the 40-yard dash, cranked out 30 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press and recorded two of the best marks in the vertical and broad jumps. In college, White used that athleticism to both drop into space, run with running backs and power through offensive tackles.
The 24-year-old’s immediate role in New England is unclear, but White’s physical traits and college production (33 TFLs in 28 games) indicate he could become a long-term cornerstone with some development.
Marte Mapu: C
NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah called Mapu his favorite player in this class. He could very well become a mainstay in Bill Belichick’s defense. But what is his role in the next two seasons?
Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips, Jabrill Peppers and Jalen Mills are box safeties, who moonlight as deep players in single-high coverage and can sometimes play in space. That’s Mapu. Phillips and Peppers are under contract through 2024. Dugger, as a potential Pro Bowler, should be a candidate to re-sign sometime during or after his contract year.
The bet here is Mapu’s tape, which is terrific, translates to the next level. But if the Patriots also get the best out of the aforementioned veterans, did they really spend a third-round pick on a rookie special teamer when potential starters at wide receiver, tight end and offensive tackle were available? They may have, not to mention Mapu may have been available later, at which point they could have traded up using some of their four fourth-round picks or four sixth-rounders.
The Patriots are back on the clock probably at the exact same time you’re reading this on Saturday at 12 p.m. ET, starting with pick 107 and with nine total picks between Rounds 4, 6, and 7.