After trading down and taking cornerback Christian Gonzalez in the first round of the 2023 draft, the Patriots stayed exclusively on the defensive side of the ball on Day 2, sticking with both of their allotted selections and taking defensive lineman Keion White at 46th overall and hybrid safety linebacker Marte Mapu in the third round at 76th overall.
Bill Belichick said the defensive focus wasn't by design, but did highlight the team's free agency additions being primarily on the offensive side of the ball as a factor.
"It just kind of worked out that way," said Belichick. "Sometimes it's balanced, sometimes it isn't. I mean, in the end we'll build the best team we can to be competitive this year and where they come from... trades, free agency, draft, undrafted, waiver wire... we'll just have to see how it all plays out."
White offers intriguing potential for the front seven and could fill a significant long-term need along the defensive line both on the edge on early downs and inside on passing downs where he could form a potent duo with Christian Barmore. He's big, tough and physical with the potential to dominate in the trenches.
"They're getting somebody that's willing to improve their game and I feel like that's all I can ask for, for myself, is somebody who's constantly wanting to get better every day," White told reporters on a conference call after being selected. "Whether it be practice, whether it be film, whether it be taking notes, getting better than that. So I just want to get better in every aspect of the game and just become more knowledgeable in every way possible."
White's skillset is an easy fit into the Patriots defense, where he'll give Jerod Mayo and Steve Belichick a versatile option to play in a number of different spots. White acknowledged he believed he'd fit in well in New England.
"[T]hey do a really good job of developing their players," White said. "So being a part of that, knowing that I have an incredible amount of things I can improve on and learn for the game of football, I feel like there's no better system I can go into."
Mapu was more of an under-the-radar selection out of Sacramento State where he started 27 career games, winning Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year in 2022 while being named a First Team All-American at the FCS school. He played nearly all snaps on defense and special teams and, according to Dane Brugler, was nicknamed the "silent assassin" for his quiet nature and aggressive play style.
He played a "rover" position in college and likely translates to a hybrid safety/linebacker at the next level, though he wasn't ready to commit to any one spot just yet.
"I'd say I would describe my game by just having the fundamentals," said Mapu. "I feel like I can run, cover, hit and make plays. I have good instincts. So I feel like that's just how it is for me. The position I'm going to play, you're going to see in the fall. I don't really know how that's going to fall into place. That's going to be to be determined, but wherever I am, I'm going to work to be the best at it."
Mapu highlighted his passion for the game, a common trait in the Patriots locker room and one that makes him an obvious fit for the building.
"This is what I live. This is all I really think about. This is fun for me. This is a part of my life. So by saying that, I'm trying to say this is all I put my energy into. I go hard at it. I try to perfect myself."
"Hard to say, we'll have to see how it goes, it might change week to week depending on the opponent," said Bill Belichick at the end of the night of Mapu's potential position. "He's shown versatility and his skill set, he's a smart kid, definitely understands defensive concepts, what they did and how they're doing it. When we get to start working with him we'll figure it out."
With nine picks remaining, the Patriots should be expected to have an active third day of the draft.