We’ve successfully made it through another NFL Draft weekend. Whether you’re covering every move the team makes like us or just keeping up from your couch at home, the end of the seventh round always feels like the end of spring break and making it through your final exams, all at the same time. There’s nothing like it.
Before we get into the final draft grades roundup, though, let’s talk for a second about this idea that “grades are dumb because you won’t know if anyone is good until they finish their rookie contracts anyway”:
Here’s the thing to remember about draft grades immediately after the draft is over: they’re pointless except for creating content for a rabid NFL fan base. It takes a minimum of 3 years to grade a draft when you see… how the players actually play. Until then it’s just fodder— trey wingo (@wingoz) April 30, 2023
It is a good pre-emptive way to avoid ending up on Freezing Cold Takes, I guess; just say “now there’s no way we can POSSIBLY know whether these are actually good picks or not until after all these prospects are old enough to rent a car”, and nobody can blame you for gushing over the N’Keal Harry pick or expecting Malcom Brown to be a 1:1 Vince Wilfork replacement.
But there’s plenty of good reasons to get into what the experts think of how a team fared in any given draft, because we can learn a lot. First and foremost, it’s fun. Sports, no matter what a lot of Boston sports media would have you believe, are supposed to be fun. Taking stock of the way your team either improved their weak spots or added strength upon strength is fun! That’s how it’s meant to be!
Second, it’s not like everyone’s grading on the same scale here. On one end of the continuum, there’s the straight prospect-analysis type grading; is this guy good? Will he be good when he’s not playing against future Edward Jones trainees? Is he maxed out, or does he have room to grow? Is the skill set one that’ll transfer to the pros?
Then, on the other end, there’s grading on team needs, playing the market, and your team’s understanding of draft value (or lack thereof). Did the prospects that ended up wearing your draft cap play positions of need, or are they the depth/next-year kind of picks? Are the picks going to generate high surplus value compared to what replacement-level-and-higher veterans at the same positions cost on the open market? And most importantly, do they fill out the roster in a way that puts the team closer to competing for the division, a playoff spot, and maybe even getting back to playoff wins?
(which, let’s be real, those are all goals for the New England Patriots at this point, and probably in that order, too)
So instead of just blowing off the whole exercise as “we don’t know anything, eat Arby’s”, it’s more productive and makes us better and smarter fans to just be aware of what we don’t know. Like a wise man once said, only a Sith deals in absolutes. As long as we’re cool with updating our takes as new information becomes available, there’s nothing wrong with having some fun with the info we do have.
On to the grades! Same as over the weekend, we’ll start off with the national voices, then throw in some local flavor at the end to give some air....er, screen time to the people that are just as obsessed with the New England Patriots as we are. I mean, we are on a site that implies we worship them, after all. It’s what we do. It’s our thing.
View From the National Media
Chad Reuter (NFL.com): A-
Day 1 grade: A
Day 2 grade: A-
Day 3 grade: B
Analysis: Gonzalez provided nice value at No. 17 as he covers receivers like a blanket and makes plays on the ball, the primary jobs of an NFL cornerback. White’s ability to play outside and inside makes him a typical Patriots defensive line selection. Mapu is yet another New England Day 2 pick that makes casual fans say, “Who?” But I thought he showed real potential as a linebacker/hybrid who will star on special teams.
The team used the fourth-rounder gained from the Rams for running back Sony Michel on Andrews, a solid Day 3 pick as a guard or center. They added Sow and Mafi later to compete for jobs along the O-line, as well. I love Boutte’s fit as a physical slot receiver ,and Douglas is undersized but agile in the open field. The size and athleticism of both Speed and Bolden are intriguing. The team hopes Ryland and Baringer bring consistency to the special-teams units.
Pro Football Focus: A-
Day 1: The Patriots move down to 17th overall, add a fourth-round pick and still land the second-best cornerback on the PFF big board. He has the size and speed you look for at the position and had the best season of his career after transferring to Oregon in 2022, racking up four interceptions and six pass breakups.
Day 2: 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.
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.
Day 3: For the second year in a row, the Patriots reach on a center, as Andrews ranked No. 237 on the consensus big board. Andrews is adept as a run blocker in zone and gap concepts but earned a 56.5 pass block grade due to a lack of anchor and lower-body strength, which showed up with a 24th-percentile vertical and 44th-percentile broad jump.
Ryland was the No. 3 kicker on the PFF big board, earning 89.0-plus kicking grades in each of the last two seasons. The below-average grade here is less of an indictment of Ryland as it is the process of trading up for a kicker in the fourth round.
Sow is one of the more experienced offensive line prospects in this class, having played over 3,500 snaps across five seasons at Eastern Michigan. He’s a big, athletic guard at 324 pounds who graded better on gap-scheme runs than zone runs in college.
New England landed a big, athletic guard in Sidy Sow in the fourth round and goes back to the well with the 6-foot-4, 339-pound Mafi here. Mafi earned an 88.3 run-blocking grade in a UCLA offense that moves lightning-fast under head coach Chip Kelly. This past season was his first as a full-time starter, perhaps signaling more growth and development ahead.
Boutte fell for many reasons — a lack of production in 2022 after lofty expectations, a very poor combine and apparent off-field concerns. However, this is a player that many analysts projected as the potential No. 1 wide receiver in the 2023 draft class before the season, and New England lands him at No. 187 overall.
The Patriots take their second specialist of the draft here with Baringer after trading up for Chad Ryland in the fourth round. Baringer’s 76.4 PFF punting grade over the last two seasons ranks 26th out of 62 Power 5 punters with at least 50 punts.
Douglas is small, but he put up some impressive numbers at Liberty in 2022. He produced an 81.7 PFF grade against man coverage and averaged 2.57 yards per route run. He dropped just four of the 80 catchable passes thrown his way this past season.
Speed played six years in college, but this past season at Michigan State was the only year where he was on the field for more than 200 snaps. He saw 737 snaps for the Spartans but produced just a 57.2 PFF grade.
Bolden graded at 74.7 overall playing in the slot this past season under Deion Sanders at Jackson State.
Doug Farrar (Touchdown Wire): A
Quick aside: Doug’s rebuttal to Trey Wingo’s “draft grades suck” take is exactly why we do it.
Grades are evaluations in the moment. Ideally, you’re weighing prospect strength with positional value and draft capital expended. It’s more than a letter and some snark for clicks. https://t.co/4FTw4cCFbX— Doug Farrar ✍ (@NFL_DougFarrar) April 30, 2023
The Patriots got a lot of “my guys” in this draft, so of course I’m going to like it. We can start with Christian Gonzalez, who somehow lasted to the 17th pick. Perhaps other teams were put off by the fact that Gonzalez is more of a technician than an aggressor, but there is no more purely athletic cornerback in this class, and he’s in the right environment to bring out a bit more of that aloha stuff. And I love the addition of Keion White, who can win inside and outside as a speed/power pass-rusher who will also surprise you with his ability to drop and cover.
I will be fascinated to see how Belichick deploys Marte Mapu, who, like Kyle Dugger a few years back, is a smaller-school safetybacker who shows his athletic tools from multiple spots. SIdy Sow and Atonio Mafi especially project well to help an offensive line in transition, and if the Patriots can get the most out of Kayshon Boutte, that’s going to be one of the steals of this class. Boutte was thought to be a first-round prospect before his disappointing 2022 season.
Danny Kelly (The Ringer): A
Well, it was a characteristically weird draft class for the Patriots, who picked 12 times—and took both a kicker and punter. I thought New England got one of the biggest steals of the first round in Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez, who is a day-one starter with elite athleticism and prototype size. I’m a fan of Georgia Tech defensive end Keion White, too—a big, twitchy pass rusher with inside-outside versatility. Sacramento State linebacker/safety Marte Mapu plays like a heat-seeking missile and can range all over the back-seven. And I think taking a flier on former LSU receiver Kayshon Boutte is a worthwhile roll of the dice: He’s a former big-time recruit and was one of the top-ranked college receivers coming into last season, but he fell down draft boards after a disastrous, injury-marred final season for the Tigers. But if he can reclaim some of his early-career form, he’ll be a heist for New England in the sixth. Finally, I’ll say this: He’s a punter, yes, but Bryce Baringer has a howitzer for a leg.
Charles McDonald (Yahoo Sports): B+
The Patriots came out of this draft with a handful of players who can help them in the immediate future. Gonzalez has the potential to grow into an All-Pro corner, Georgia Tech’s Keion White has the body type that has typically thrived along the Patriots’ defensive line and Sacramento State’s Marte Mapu is an exciting do-it-all player in the back seven. It’s not a sexy draft, but it’s a draft that will help fortify the back of their team. An offensive pick would have helped in the first round, but it’s hard to complain with Gonzalez falling right into their laps after a trade down. New coordinator Bill O’Brien is going to have to work some magic on offense, but hey, he’s better than what they had.
Dane Brugler (The Athletic): 16th best
Favorite pick: Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon
Gonzalez was a top-five player on my draft board, and I’m betting on the elite package of length and speed that he brings to a premium position. He has some finesse to his game but tackles well and showed improved ball skills with each tape last season. Now, Gonzalez lands in a situation that should help him get the most out of his wide-ranging skill set.
Day 3 pick who could surprise: Sidy Sow, G, Eastern Michigan
One of my favorite mid-round prospects this year, Sow is a strong, physical guard, and he isn’t a slug as a mover. The Canadian native offers immediate depth and could be a long-term option as Michael Onwenu enters the final season of his rookie deal.
J.P. Acosta (SB Nation)
(no letter grade, but the Patriots are one of JP’s 4 Favorite hauls)
Bill Belichick worked his voodoo magic once again in the first round, trading back from 14 to 17, and still drafting one of the top players in the draft in Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez. Gonzalez is a long, fluid and athletic corner who fits the Pats defense like a glove. On Day 2, the Patriots added a versatile defensive lineman in Keion White who can play on early downs against the run, then kick inside in passing situations so New England can have White, Matt Judon and Josh Uche on the field together. Plus, they drafted one of my favorite players in this draft cycle, Sacramento State LB Marte Mapu. He’s a bit undersized as a true LB (he played safety in college), but he’s fluid and instinctive in coverage, and comes downhill with bad intentions. Sub packages with he and Kyle Dugger on the field at the same time will cause a lot of problems for opposing offenses.
On Day 3, they addressed the offense with adding guards Sidy Sow and Antonio Mafi, both powerful players who fit the New England offensive line perfectly. They also swung for upside in LSU WR Kayshon Boutte in the 6th round. If it all works out, Boutte is a great complement to the Pats receivers, with his ability after the catch. The Patriots needed to get younger and more explosive on both sides of the ball, and in this draft they did just that.
Christopher Knox (Bleacher Report): B+
The Patriots traded down from No. 14, netting the 120th pick from the Pittsburgh Steelers in the process. Somehow, they still managed to snag Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez—the third-ranked cornerback on the B/R board—in the first round.
In the second round, New England continued adding to its defense with Georgia Tech pass-rusher Keion White—the 34th-ranked prospect on the B/R board. Marte Mapu was a late-rising prospect, and while he’s not a finished product, he’s exactly the sort of versatile project the Patriots love to develop. “Mapu has been praised for his versatility, but he might need to prove he can excel in at least one department—whether in run support or in coverage—at the next level,” NFL Media’s Lance Zierlein wrote.
New England added to its offensive line depth by grabbing Jake Andrews, Sidy Sow and Atonio Mafi. It also took an early swing on a kicker, grabbing Maryland’s Chad Ryland in the fourth round. It’s perhaps not the best value selection, but teams either have a reliable kicker or they don’t. There isn’t much of an in-between.
The same is true at punter, and the Patriots addressed that need too, taking Michigan State’s Bryce Baringer in Round 6.
The Patriots did a solid job of addressing needs throughout the draft and got incredible value early. However, while they took late fliers on Kayshon Boutte and Demario Douglas, they could have done more to support quarterback Mac Jones.
View From the Local Media
Pat Lane (Pats Pulpit): B+
In case you haven’t read Pat’s pick-by-pick analysis of the Patriots’ draft haul, we recommend you do that right after you’re finished here.
Doug Kyed (A to Z Sports): B+
Averaging out the grades gives us a pretty solid B+. Given the fact that we were being a bit facetious with the Baringer grade but also weighting Gonzalez’ score, that sounds about right. The fourth round was disappointing, but New England made up for it with some fun high-upside late-round picks.
Murph (E2G Sports): B-
Another head scratcher from the mind of Belichick ? half of these picks i love the rest i’m left wondering. Was it smart to devote three 4th round picks to this interior when one at the most two would have sufficed. Did Belichick pass on positions of greater need and forgo better talent in the second to take who he and many think was a first rd talent?. Time will tell as players grow and mature. But let it be known that Belichick didn’t pull the wool over anyone’s eyes, we again weren’t looking in the same direction. B - is the grade I’ve come up with.
The Boston Globe
....just kidding. It’s paywalled and we wouldn’t want to link you to something that’s almost certainly not fit for serious fan consumption.