The Patriots made a big splash on the first night of the 2023 NFL Draft, trading down once but still drafting arguably the top cornerback of the class, Oregon's Christian Gonzalez. Despite solid depth in their secondary, there was a need for an elite outside corner to match up with the game's biggest and best receivers and Gonzalez has that kind of potential.
"Just somebody that's versatile, fast, long, tall that can move around," said Gonzalez, describing himself to reporters following his selection. "Somebody that loves to learn. Just wants to learn all the nuances of the defense and how they all build together."
View photos of Patriots first round pick, cornerback Christian Gonzalez in action at Oregon.
Still just 20 years old, Gonzalez has all the tools he'll need to jump into the Patriots gameplan defense, with new offensive line coach Adrian Klemm, who spent the last two seasons at Oregon with Gonzalez, providing additional insight into the player.
The Patriots have missed outstanding outside corners like Stephon Gilmore in recent seasons, a shutdown man cover corner was long a feature of successful Patriots defenses and one that has been hard to come by in recent seasons. Gonzalez acknowledged he was aware of the history of talented corners in New England.
"Definitely I know about it," Gonzalez said of players to come before him like Gilmore. "Like I said, I'm just excited to be able to get in there and play. Having great cornerbacks come out of that system. But yeah definitely watched Stephon Gilmore. He's a great player. I want to follow in the footsteps of him."
The first-rounder is an excellent athlete, a smooth defensive back that never looks rattled or off balance. While he'll have some work in the weight room to do, his exciting potential is intriguing and the excitement from fans and pundits was palpable.
Meanwhile, the new rookie was still trying to grasp that he was just drafted into the NFL.
"Definitely it's been a dream since I was five, six years old when I started playing football," said Gonzalez. "It's kind of surreal. It's hit, but I don't think it's truly hit. Maybe when I lay down in bed and just breathe again. I'm very excited. I don't have a lot of other words. It's just so much excitement that the day finally came, and the phone rang."
Patriots Director of Player Personnel Matt Groh wrapped up the first day at the end of the night and told reporters that Gonzalez had been on the team's radar for some time. "This is a true junior but a player that we've certainly been on here for the last year," said Groh. "Younger player but certainly a guy that we spent a lot of time watching with the eye of him possibly coming out early. To be able to pick up Christian and an extra fourth-round pick, I feel encouraged by Day One."
Groh said there was some surprise that Gonzalez lasted as long as he did, but they trusted their board and were happy to find the promising prospect still waiting for them after they traded back three spots.
"[We had a] positive interaction in Indianapolis [at the Scouting Combine], had him in for a Top 30 visit, it's great to have one of those guys in the building," continued Groh. "We have so many people in the organization that are then able to get a feel for that player. Christian's got hopefully a little bit of a comfort level here and knows the support structure that will be here for him."
With 11 picks still remaining, the draft has just begun and the Patriots have plenty of ammo to add even more impact players. Groh said the front office would spend the next day formulating a plan for rounds two through seven.
"We'll have lots of names and different scenarios running through my mind, hopefully, most importantly kiss my kids good morning," said Groh. "Then head back in early, start looking at some guys, starting looking at some comparisons, looking at the teams ahead of us, difference scenarios. Moving up, moving back. Moving up was in play today, we ended up moving back. We're always very flexible and try to do what's best for the football team and put together the best team possible."
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