New England locks up another defensive back to help provide some stability. PIC: Jeff Roberson, AP
The impending dread was palpable among fans when the New England Patriots traded down from their first round pick. They sent #14 to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who drafted potential Patriot hopeful Broderick Jones, who sent back #17 and #120 in exchange for the rights to draft the Georgia offensive lineman.
So, if the Patriots weren't to address a need at #14, many thought, when would they ever?
But the New England brass rose up to the occasion by fulfilling another major need: a new cornerback. The Pats selected Christian Gonzalez, the Oregon standout cornerback, with their #17 overall pick on Thursday night's opening round of the NFL Draft.
The AFC East has emerged as one of the top-receiving divisions across the league. The Bills boast Stefon Diggs & Gabe Davis. The Miami Dolphins have speed-demon Tyreek Hill & up-and-coming Jaylen Waddle. The new-look New York Jets benefit from Aaron Rodgers throwing to a favorite Green Bay target in Allen Lazard, a second-year with high upside in Garrett Wilson, and a reliable target in Corey Davis.
And with the streakiness the Patriots defense operated with last year, it's clear some stability was necessary.
Gonzalez, a 6-foot-2, 200 pound star at Oregon, is coming off the hands of a solid 2022 season. He racked up 35 solo tackles, seven passes defended and four interceptions in the 12 games he played this fall. Gonzalez was attributed as the best statistical zone cornerback in the entire field last season, having only given up 9 catches on 21 targets in zone coverage last season; it yielded with 107 yards, 1 TD, five pass breakups, and - here's the kicker - FOUR interceptions.
Gonzalez was, by-and-large, considered either the first or second overall cornerback in this year's pool. Many even had Devon Witherspoon, who the Seahawks grabbed at #5, below Gonzalez. Naturally, pundits were high on New England's pick.
Scouts love Gonzalez's aptitude to play zone defense, but they also love his athletic ability. He's already garnered comparisons to both Richard Sherman and Dominiuque Rodgers-Cromartie in the sense of bringing physicality, athleticism, and speed to his play - a rare feat for a CB to have all three.
It's no secret that the Patriots have had struggles - mostly inconsistencies - in the cornerback position in recent years, so Gonzalez's arrival could not have come at a better time. He'll join a group of talented young secondary players on the team; he figures to slot in the lineup opposite CB Jonathan Jones to start, and will be joined by strong safety Kyle Dugger & free safety Jabril Peppers. Veterans Jalen Mills and Adrian Phillips also figure to ramp him up quickly; he'll undoubtedly learn a great deal from them.