What is there left to say about the New England Patriots’ selections in the 2023 NFL Draft?
The national media loved it. The local media hated it. Some pundits loved the early picks. Some talking heads loved the late picks.
Like any NFL Draft with Bill Belichick in control, there are always going to be some head-scratching decisions that at first glance don’t always make sense.
What do I think?
There are some picks I really like. Some picks are head-scratchers. There are some picks that are a continued interesting departure from prior drafts.
Overall, I get it. I see the rhyme and reason. Whether the execution worked…well, we must check in later to get the results (three years or so).
A quick disclaimer: Anytime anyone starts rambling about picks outside of the first three rounds, tune them out immediately. There is NO TEAM, NO FRONT OFFICE, NO ONE consistently hitting on later-round picks.
Yes, the Kansas City Chiefs have had some hits in later rounds, especially last year wih seventh-round draft picks running back Isiah Pacheco and cornerback Jaylen Watson in the seventh round. In 2021 they struck gold with right tackle Trey Smith in the sixth round.
The Baltimore Ravens franchise has the reputation for being the gold standard of drafts, but over the past four years (2019 through 2022) they have one regular contributor picked after the first three rounds in the past four years with guard Ben Powers taken in the fourth round in 2019 (the jury is still out about backup tight end Isaiah Likely who shows promise and was taken in the fourth-round last year).
For every Michael Onwenu the Patriots have drafted in the late rounds, there is Dustin Woodard. In other words, these are scratch tickets. One in every ten may become an above-average starter.
Continuing this (not-so-quick-after-all) disclaimer, bad teams play a lot of late-round draft picks who are below-average players. Just because they get a lot of playing time does not make them a talented player.
For example, it initially appeared that the New York Jets got excellent value from late-round draft picks at cornerback in Bless Austin (6th round in 2019) and Bryce Hall (fifth round in 2020). Both were starters on terrible Jets teams. The Jets drafted Sauce Gardiner fourth overall in 2022 and paid D.J. Reed in free agency and are now above average at the position.
That said, let’s take a deeper look at those impact picks in the first three rounds:
|2||Keion White||46||DL||Georgia Tech|
|3||Marte Mapu||76||DB||Sacramento St.|
Grand slam. A-plus. A masterstroke. A steal. There’s not much else to say about New England moving back and getting a draft pick and still getting the best cornerback in the NFL Draft.
Christian Gonzalez will step right into the starting line-up and give New England the athletic and speedy cornerback with size that the defense desperately needed.
New England will face quarterbacks Josh Allen, Aaron Rodger and Tua Tagovailoa two times each in 2023. Those matchups will also include wide receivers Stefon Diggs, Dawson Knox, Jaylen Waddle, Tyreek Hill and Garrett Wilson.
The Patriots will also face quarterbacks Justin Herbert, Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts, Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott, Kenny Pickett, David Carr and Daniel Jones during the 2023 season.
Gonzalez will have the ability to help the defense keep those games close against that kind of offensive talent.
From the Athletic, Dane Brugler’s “The Beast – 2023 NFL Draft Guide”
Overall, Gonzalez needs continued work in zone coverage, but he offers strong man-cover talent with speed, fluid movements and body length to blanket outside receivers. With his high-end traits (similar to Jeff Okudah) and trust in his talent, he has the skill set of a future Pro Bowler.
Also, important to note with this pick, do you remember the New England Patriots’ final game of the NFL 2022 season? The “win and you’re in the playoffs” final game against the AFC East champion Buffalo Bills?
The New England defense allowed three passing touchdowns to Josh Allen, and two of the three passing touchdowns allowed to the Bills were big plays over forty yards.
The touchdown to John Brown featured Myles Bryant and Devin McCourty losing him in zone coverage and letting him get behind the defense as Josh Allen got outside the pocket.
The touchdown to Stefon Diggs was a third-and-ten where he beat Jonathan Jones in single coverage with no safety help.
Those big plays have been on Belichick’s mind all offseason. Gonzalez should be a key piece to help prevent those kinds of big plays
Again, the Patriots had a top-end talent drop to them. Defensive End Keion White fell to the Patriots despite being a consensus late first-round/early second-round pick.
Unlike the edge rushers taken ahead of him, White is more of a 3-4 defensive end than a 4-3 edge rusher. He profiles in the Deitrich Wise Jr./Trey Flowers look in the New England defense. Many NFL teams saw him as too small for a 4-3 interior role and too big for their 4-3 edge.
With Wise in place, he can mentor White as Flowers mentored him (and Rob Ninkovich mentored Flowers).
From the Athletic, Dane Brugler’s “The Beast – 2023 NFL Draft Guide”
Overall, White is still developing his craft and pass-rush technique/instincts, but he is a high-motor height/weight/speed edge player with power as a bull rusher and the mass to anchor versus the run. Similar to Datone Jones, he is a scheme-proof prospect and projects as a rotational base end as an NFL rookie.
My big question is this: Was White worth more to New England than offensive tackle Cody Mauch (taken by Tampa Bay at 48th overall) or one of the wide receivers taken in that range (Jayden Reed to Green Bay or Rashee Rice to Kansas City at 55th overall).
For New England, they clearly had White with a first-round grade. Mauch has short arms and many teams projected him as a guard, not a tackle. New England collected more than enough guards in the later rounds (more on that later!).
Reed and Rice both went earlier than most draft analysts would have predicted going where they did in the second round. Before the draft, I and several draft analysts had both receivers as possibilities for New England in the third or fourth round, not the second round.
This bodes well for wide receiver Tyquan Thornton, as he is now locked in for a larger role in 2023. Not drafting a wide receiver here or in the first round makes Thornton the unquestioned deep threat in the offense and the player they look to grow most from year one.
By the time New England was on the clock in round three, the cupboard was picked bare at wide receiver and offensive tackle. I’m not sure if New England was trying to trade up at this point, but wide receiver Josh Downs was the only wide receiver with a decent grade left. Downs is extremely undersized and would not be playing much at all anytime soon as he would be behind free agent signing Juju Smith-Shuster in the slot.
Offensive tackle was in even worse shape than wide receiver with Wanya Morris from Oklahoma the next tackle available and he was taken by the Kansas City Chiefs at pick number 92 overall.
Blake Freeland was another potential target who went early in the fourth round to Indianapolis. Freeland is a project who needs to add thirty pounds or more to his frame as he is tall (six-foot-eight) but barely 300 lbs. and does not have the power and size to contribute anytime soon.
Marte Mapu was the typical Bill Belichick small school gem he seems to target every few years. Mapu was one of those “very athletic but we don’t know his position” players. For many teams, only a square peg gets drafted to fit into their specific role on defense.
Mapu is a tweener safety/linebacker/slot cornerback. He has the length to cover tight ends in man-coverage, the short-space speed and explosion in run support and zone coverage, and he also projects as an immediate contributor on special teams.
From the Athletic, Dane Brugler’s “The Beast – 2023 NFL Draft Guide”:
Overall, all 32 NFL teams are looking for long, explosive athletes who can play the run and cover, and Mapu has shown those traits as a potential matchup weapon. With his ability to identify as either a linebacker or “big” safety, he is scheme diverse with the talent to be a core special-teamer.
Again, to harken back to the New England Patriots’ final game of the NFL 2022 season, but the Patriots’ special teams allowed two touchdowns to Buffalo on kick returns on special teams. One kick return touchdown in a big game is inexcusable. Two in the game is a tragedy.
Ep 119: Patrick Mahomes' Top 5 List
by Full Press Coverage on May 27, 2023 at 7:49 pm
A staple of the New England Patriots’ success for the past two decades with Bill Belichick emphasizing special teams was outplaying opponents with that unit and gaining a competitive advantage. Instead, the Patriots struggled in all facets and even allowed a combined four blocked punts over the 2021 and 2022 seasons.
In the loss to the Bills, the Patriots opened the game by allowing a kickoff return for a touchdown. Fundamental breakdowns by multiple players on the kick coverage team led to an easy touchdown return for Buffalo.
The second touchdown featured poor arm tackles by multiple players and a blatantly missed open-field tackle by Myles Bryant (wow, it was a bad game all the way around for Bryant, who also allowed a long touchdown pass in coverage).
Special teams may not be important to the average fan, but to Bill Belichick, they played a key role in the Patriots missing the playoffs in 2022.
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Back to my quick disclaimer: Anytime anyone starts rambling about picks outside of the first three rounds, tune them out immediately. There is NO TEAM, NO FRONT OFFICE, NO ONE consistently hitting on later-round picks.
Yes, tell me all about Tom Brady and David Givens and Julien Edelman and Michael Onwenu, I know that these picks CAN work out. But all I am saying is that if a team is counting on a fourth-round pick or later to contribute immediately and be a core starter, that team has serious problems and is not going to have that work out for them.
|4||Sidy Sow||117||OL||East. Michigan|
|6||Bryce Baringer||192||P||Michigan St.|
|6||Ameer Speed||214||CB||Michigan St.|
|7||Isaiah Bolden||245||CB||Jackson St.|
The Patriots continued their deliberate plan to re-establish strength on the offensive line. I will admit, I was initially as confused as everyone else as to why New England continuously passed on offensive tackles.
The only answer I can produce is “value”. This was not a deep tackle class and outside of Paris Johnson (who was picked sixth overall), every tackle was over drafted That rush on tackles led to the interior linemen dropping and the Patriots capitalizing.
The Patriots snapped up three interior offensive linemen adding two guards and a center. That begs some interesting questions:
- Are they planning to move Michael Onwenu back to tackle?
- Are they content addressing tackle next season?
- Are they considering Cole Strange as a potential right tackle candidate after adding bulk?
- Is one of these three interior offensive linemen an option to convert to tackle?
Interesting questions, but I doubt Onwenu, with just one year left under contract, is moving to tackle after his stellar performance (he deserved a first-team all-pro selection, seriously) at guard. While Cole Strange struggled at times, he showed the necessary tools to be a long-term solution at guard. Nothing in 2022 showed any traits or inclination to play tackle.
Fourth-round draft pick guard Sidy Sow shows potential as a long-term tackle. He has length, size, long arms, big hands and played one year at left tackle at Eastern Michigan. He is experienced having started for five seasons.
Fifth-round draft pick guard Antonio “Nio” Mafi is a converted defensive tackle and is built to match. He played for FOB (Friend of Bill) Chip Kelly at UCLA; He is also the cousin of 2020 Patriots draft pick Devin Asiasi. He fits the run scheme in New England and in a year or two should be ready to contribute.
Jake Andrews has experience as a center and guard. His wrestling background harkens back to offensive line stalwart Stephen Neal.
Depth at the interior offensive line is important as David Andrews enters age 31 season and is coming off an injury-plagued 2022 season. The offense struggled without him at the pivot last year.
Onwenu has outplayed his contract and is in line for a huge pay raise after 2023. He could be one of the most sought-after free agents and could be overwhelmed with offers like Joe Thuney was and leave in free agency next offseason.
Here’s the common complaint for the draft picks you’re hearing from the talking heads: “There goes Belichick, loading up on special teams in the draft again! The guy is obsessed with special teams.”
Hmm, wonder why? Oh yes, I remember Troy Brown’s blocked field goal return, the heroics of Adam Vinatieri, the numerous forced fumbles on special teams, the field position battles won, and the excellence of players like Matthew Slater making a difference.
Discounting special teams is a mistake. The Patriots win ten games and make the playoffs in 2022 if the special teams held up versus Las Vegas (key blocked punt by the Raiders) and Buffalo.
Third-round draft pick and athletic safety Marte Mapu should contribute immediately on special teams. Big leg kicker and fourth-round pick Chad Ryland could be the weapon from 50+ yards and boom touchbacks. Sixth-round pick punter Bryce Baringer can be a weapon to flip field position and help the defense.
Wide receiver Demario Douglas has a chance to make the roster on special teams. Add in the potential of the athletic duo of late round cornerbacks and New England can bring athleticism and speed to the special teams unit.
Here’s the narrative you’re going to hear through training camp: “the Patriots (a.k.a. Bill Belichick) screwed up and didn’t draft a wide receiver or tight end in the first few rounds.”
OK, it’s fine to have that opinion. Just tell me what wide receiver or tight end was worth the high draft pick?
There was no Justin Jefferson, no Ja’Marr Chase, no Jaylen Waddle, no Garrett Wilson or Chris Olave in this draft. There were a lot of tight ends, but no clear answer as to which was that difference-maker who was going to take snaps from Mike Gesicki and Hunter Henry.
The Patriots are not built to win shootouts. They’re built around keeping the score down and grinding out wins. If they wanted to be built to score 30 points per game, they would need to tank for multiple seasons, get the top pick or top five picks for multiple years and select the correct players at the top of the draft.
Robert Kraft, impatient for wins and in his eighties, failed to take that plan. If that’s what ownership wanted, they should have “tanked for Trevor” once Tom Brady left.
The Patriots added an intriguing pair of wide receivers late in the draft (and undrafted free agent Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham, who could be a Julian Edelman type of conversion to receiver).
The Patriots took a flier on a small-school slot wide receiver in Demario Douglas out of Liberty. Douglas is an undersized slot receiver with excellent speed and quickness, a position the Patriots have struggled to fill since Edelman retired. However, Douglas is a project as he needs to be coached up to create separation.
Kayshon Boutte had numerous problems at LSU in 2022 and fell from the projected top wide receiver heading into 2023 to a late-round flier. Have some fun and read the mock drafts for 2023 immediately after the 2022 NFL Draft. Boutte was a consensus top-ten pick.
Boutte has all the talent in the world. An ankle injury slowed him down and some drops were a problem. That said, he has size and speed, can separate, and can power over defenders after the catch.
From the Athletic, Dane Brugler’s “The Beast – 2023 NFL Draft Guide”:
A three-year starter at LSU, Boutte worked primarily out of the slot in offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock’s scheme (he played for three different offensive coordinators in his three college seasons). Of all the talented wide receivers who have gone through the LSU program, none reached 100 career receptions faster than Boutte, who wore the No. 7 jersey in 2022 as the team’s most dynamic playmaker from Louisiana. With his athletic ball skills, Boutte can make erratic quarterbacks look better than they are, and he offers legitimate big-play ability thanks to his RAC skills (contact balance, body strength, acceleration). However, his game is marred by inconsistencies — focus drops, nonchalant routes and too many indicators that tip off defensive backs. Overall, Boutte is a confounding evaluation because he shows the athletic talent to be an NFL weapon, but his effort level doesn’t always match his ability, and most scouts view him as a slot-only prospect. Though he has NFL starting skills, the unpredictable nature of his game complicates his pro projection
If the light switches on for Boutte, he’s the best wide receiver in the 2023 NFL Draft. If it doesn’t, the team only gave up a sixth-round draft pick on a gamble worth taking.
Belichick has had success at the position with reclamation projects (Randy Moss). He’s had success with late-round picks (Edelman). David Givens was a late-round draft pick who contributed and won rings in New England.
These types of players have succeeded in coming to New England and having Bill Belichick light a fire under them in the past. At least New England took a couple of swings late in the draft and has some long-term developmental options at the position.
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