When the Patriots slid back in this year’s NFL draft and still were able to grab cornerback Christian Gonzalez with the No. 17 pick, there was much rejoicing. For a team focused on beefing up an already talented defense, getting Gonzalez was a score.
The Patriots were already deep in the defensive backfield, with starter Jonathon Jones a fixture and Jalen Mills likely across from him. The team used two high draft picks in 2022—on Jack Jones (fourth round) and Marcus Jones (third round)—to bolster the defensive backfield.
But Gonzalez is, quite literally, built different. At 6-foot-2 and 201 pounds, he is considerably bigger than the rest of the Pats’ defensive backs, only one of whom stands 6-feet (Mills). Thus, he is expected to contribute sooner rather than later.
And, according to his preseason grades from Pro Football Focus, Gonzalez has been a promising player among the first-rounders. He received a total grade of 67.6 from the site, tied for 13th among all 2023 first-rounders.
But many of those players did not play a significant number of downs. Gonzalez played 59, and among players who appeared on at least 40 downs, he was tied for the fifth-best rating.
High Expectations for Gonzalez in Year 1
Gonzalez arrives in New England with considerable hype after he was a standout at Oregon. In the wake of the 2023 Draft, Fox Sports gave the Patriots a B-plus for their overall showing, with Gonzalez getting the most glowing review. The site posited:
Cornerback Christian Gonzalez might just be the best athlete Bill Belichick has ever coached at cornerback. And that’s saying something, given the coach has worked with Ty Law and Stephon Gillmore, among others. So for the Patriots to get Gonzalez at 17 after trading back? That’s just awesome.
And Gonzalez’s coach with the Ducks, Dan Lanning, also had high praise.
“He is going to be one of the bigger DBs in the league, and the fact he can run as well as he can run at that size, I think, is a clear trait,” Lanning told ESPN. “He also has great ball skills, and ultimately from a mindset standpoint, the highs are never too high, the lows are never too low.
“He’s one of my favorite players I’ve ever coached — the ultimate professional. He has a demeanor that just means business, is a great kid, is always looking to improve, but also looking to be a great teammate. He never has to be the loudest voice in the room but shows up on game day and the performance speaks for itself.”
2023 First-Rounders Lightly Used in Preseason
As for the rest of the 2023 class, Eagles defensive lineman Jalen Carter, chosen with the No. 9 pick out of Georgia, ranked at the top, with 91.4 grade. He played only nine snaps, however. PFF wrote of Carter, “That short flash was enough to remind us why he was seen as one of the most talented players in the class. He recorded a pressure in each of his two preseason games.”
Texans edge rusher Will Anderson was the only other first-rounder to crack a 90 on PFF’s grades. He played only 25 snaps.
Among players who got significant reps, Jack Campbell of the Lions had the best grade, a 76.9 on 71 snaps.
PFF noted: “Campbell played 71 total snaps this preseason, with his strongest facet being run defense — where he earned a 71.6 grade. He also recorded a 71.0 coverage grade through three games, allowing just one catch for seven yards.”
Sean Deveney is a Heavy editor with a focus on the NBA and basketball in general. He has covered the league on a national basis for 20 years and has interviewed stars from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jerry West to Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant to LeBron James and Kevin Durant. He is the author of seven nonfiction books, including “Fun City,” “Before Wrigley became Wrigley,” and “Facing Michael Jordan.” More about Sean Deveney
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