Leading up to the 2023 NFL Draft, many projected cornerback Christian Gonzalez to be gone long before the New England Patriots were on the clock at pick No. 14.
However, as teams made their first-round selections, Gonzalez fell right into the Patriots lap — even after the team traded down to pick No. 17 before selecting him. The pick resulted in glowing reviews from those inside and out of Gillette Stadium.
“I was surprised,” Jerod Mayo said about Gonzalez falling. “I’m glad coach made the pick.”
The 6-foot-1 Gonzalez was exactly what New England’s cornerback room needed. After the departures in recent years of the likes of Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson, the Patriots’ secondary lacked sized and premiere talent on the outside. Gonzalez checks both boxes.
“We need it. We need help, we need all the help we can get,” fellow cornerback Jonathan Jones said Tuesday of the pick. “We’ve had a lot of transition in that position over the last few years and just we need it. We need a little bit of help.”
“If you look at the rest of our corners they’re pretty short, so it’s good to add some size there,” Mayo added after the first round. “This guy is tall, very fluid as an athlete. He can do a bunch of different things on the field.”
As Mayo noted, Gonzalez is an exceptional athlete unlike some of the other lengthier corners in the league. Coming from a family full of athletes, the 6-foot-1 corner ran a 4.38 second 40-yard dash at the Combine en route to posting a 9.95 Relative Athletic Score.
Christian Gonzalez is a CB prospect in the 2023 draft class. He scored a 9.95 #RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 13 out of 2212 CB from 1987 to 2023. https://t.co/Ir9MLKPHo2 pic.twitter.com/H19VqKkCMs— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 14, 2023
“Usually you see long guys like that, they have a hard time changing direction. This guy is pretty fluid,” Mayo said.
“Big guy, moves really well,” cornerbacks coach Mike Pellegrino added after the selection. “Good speed, size is good. You don’t really see the movement skills with the size, so that is pretty rare.”
The addition of Gonzalez will open up a number of opportunities for the Patriots defense. With the rookies ability to play numerous spots, it could allow Jonathan Jones to fall back into more of a ‘matchup’ role instead of primarily playing along the boundary like last season.
Jones, however, is ready to help wherever needed.
“I get to play football. Anytime I get to go out there in-between those lines I love it,” he said Tuesday. “So, I’m not really particularly worried about where I play, where I end up. I just love being out there with my teammates.”
Another one of his teammates who could now be used in numerous ways is Jalen Mills. While primarily being used as a boundary cornerback throughout his time in New England, a switch to more of a safety role could be in the cards for Mills this season.
“[Mills] has always payed where we needed him to play,” Pellegrino said. “He came in as a hybrid so he’s played corner for us when we needed him to play corner and you guys don’t see it, but he plays safety at practice from time-to-time. So, I’m excited to see what he can make from his opportunity this year and what he can do.”
Wherever Mayo, Pellegrino, and Co. decide to line up their secondary, they will need them to be at their best week-in-week-out. The Patriots will match-up with a bevy of elite quarterbacks this season, particularly with Aaron Rodgers landing in the AFC East.
“A lot more competition and it feels good,” Jones said. “Every Sunday you’re going to have to go out there and compete. Just to have one of the all-time greats in your division makes it fun. So I’m looking forward to it.”
Beyond Rodgers, the list of quarterbacks on New England’s schedule includes reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes, along with Jalen Hurts, Justin Herbert, Dak Prescott, Tua Tagovailoa, Josh Allen, and more.
“It’s a good list,” Jones said with a smile. “It’ll be fun.”