The fact that Patriots top draft choice Christian Gonzalez was a first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft is not surprising.
Gonzalez was a four-star recruit out of Colony High School as the son of a former DI basketball player with two sisters who were All-American track stars. Athleticism and, most importantly, speed, is in the Colombian family's blood for generations.
Along with being blessed with tremendous physical gifts, Gonzalez's earliest fans knew that the now 20-year-old rookie had the talent to play professionally and get to the pros in three years as an early declaration for the NFL Draft.
As a position coach for the University of Arizona, current Oregon cornerbacks coach Demetrice Martin pleaded with his superiors in Tucson to offer a scholarship to Gonzalez after seeing the talented defensive back in person on the recruiting trail.
However, Martin's pleas fell on deaf ears for too long, and Gonzalez was offered by the University of Colorado first, which is where he began his collegiate career. Luckily, it would eventually come full circle for Gonzalez and Martin.
"I was at the University of Arizona when he got recruited to Colorado. I was like, Coach, I saw this dude in person, trust me. I'm telling you this dude, this dude is a dude," Martin told Patriots.com. "By the time we were about to go ahead, boom, he committed to Mel Tucker (at Colorado)."
Despite committing to Tucker at Colorado, Gonzalez hadn't played a snap in Boulder before Tucker accepted the head coaching position at Michigan State. Tucker departed to coach the Spartans, and the Buffaloes hired Karl Dorrell heading into Gonzalez's freshman season. Martin had a prior relationship with Dorrell from their time in Los Angeles at USC and UCLA, respectively, so Dorrel hired Martin to coach cornerbacks at Colorado.
At the time, Colorado had star corner Mekhi Blackmon on one side but needed a reliable option opposite Blackmon, who was drafted by the Vikings in the third round in the 2023 draft.
"I get there, and Gonzalez is in the safeties room. I'm begging and pleading. I'm telling (Coach Dorrel) this dude right here he is smooth, silky, effortless, has great change of direction, great ball skills, and I'm telling you he is a corner."
"We got later in the camp and saw that there was a clear-cut need for another corner on the other side. They finally gave me Gonzo, and then it was written. The story really wrote itself from right there as soon as I got him in the room," Martin continued.
Gonzalez was a natural at corner and went on to start every game as a true freshman at Colorado. He spent his first two seasons in Boulder before following Martin to finish his career at Oregon.
As Martin said, Gonzalez made everything look effortless, which concerned some NFL evaluators. As did his quiet nature and low-key temperament, which is different from typical diva corners.
The sometimes exaggerated knocks on Gonzalez's scouting reports caused the top cover corner in the draft to fall right into Bill Belichick's lap with the 17th overall selection, a massive win for the Patriots.
Martin assured everyone who would listen that Gonzalez didn't have any effort issues and is extremely competitive. He made it look that easy because it was for him at the collegiate level.
"He was always in position to make plays. So he never gave off like he was straining to make a play. It was just always so effortless. You don't need to strain, and you don't need to panic. You don't need to do it because he's in great position," Martin said. "He's a super competitor. He's super hard on himself. That's what makes him so good. Because he doesn't like to make mistakes, he's just not gonna rah-rah about it."
Martin agreed that Gonzalez's quiet confidence and meticulous approach is like a former Patriot star cornerback who won Defensive Player of the Year under Belichick in 2019.
"Stephon Gilmore is a great example. I showed Gonzo tons of film on Gilmore. Just how he broke down film and mastered his opponents and stuff like that. He's more of a quiet assassin."
With silly-smooth cover talent and a personality like a former Pats Pro Bowler, the next puzzle piece that made Gonzalez a perfect match for the Patriots was how he operated behind the scenes.
The Oregon assistant coach asked to keep Gonzalez's notebooks so that he could teach newcomers how to take notes in meetings.
"I still have some of his notebooks, which I use to teach the young guys how to take notes. This is what I expect when I'm in here talking to you guys. This is how you got to do those types of things, and it works right now because obviously he's the hot name," Martin said. "We know young guys coming in and be like, oh, dang, he did care. It was neat. It was color coordinated, you know, organized."
Gonzalez's recall and ability to avoid repeating errors stood out to his coaches, which he routinely took from the classroom onto the field.
"He has the ability to identify mistakes, correct them, and then not repeat them again. At this level, you get a lot of repeat offenders. Gonzo would take stuff, and it's boom, and you don't have to worry about him doing anything wrong again," Martin recalled.
Following the selection in the first round last Thursday night, director of player personnel Matt Groh connected the final dot that made Gonzalez a slam-dunk selection for the Patriots on night one.
Groh noted that Gonzalez played in Oregon defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi's Alabama-style defense during his one season in Eugene. Lupoi spent four seasons on Nick Saban's staff before spending time in the NFL, while Oregon head coach Dan Lanning was the defensive coordinator at Georgia.
Between Lanning, Lupoi, and his first defensive coordinator at Colorado, Tyson Summers, Gonzalez now has experience in Patriots-style coverages with the coaching connections between Belichick, Saban, and Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart.
"We ran the same scheme that they ran at Alabama and that Coach Lanning ran at Georgia. So a lot of match coverage, a lot of man-to-man, playing quarters, traps (coverage). So there's nothing that he's gonna do for the Pats that he hasn't already been exposed to," Martin explained.
So there you have the steps that led us to the point where Gonzalez was an easy choice for the cornerback-needy Patriots in the first round.
Although the Patriots have solid cornerback depth, size and elite lockdown potential on the boundary were a top need for New England. In a defense that operates with its corners on an island, Belichick's system is at its best with a true number-one guy.
With elite athleticism, a detail-oriented approach, and a relaxed demeanor that resembles a former franchise great, Gonzalez is a perfect Patriot.
Patriots Draft Pick Profile
Strengths: Long and fluid boundary corner with excellent play speed, foot quickness and hip fluidity to match receivers in man or match zone, hyper-aware and instinctive zone player, passes off routes and finds work in zone like a high IQ guy, jams and redirects with good timing/accuracy in press, click-and-close on underneath throws from off/zone, good open-field tackler and willing to make contact.
Weaknesses: Play strength and ball skills are two areas of improvement, can get boxed out at the catch point by bigger receivers, needs to crowd the catch point and make plays on the ball with more consistency.
Personal: A four-star recruit from The Colony High School in Texas, Gonzalez was a three-phase star football player who played offense, defense, and special teams. Gonzalez's father, Hector, is a former UTEP basketball player who played professionally in Colombia. Gonzalez's older sisters are former All-American track stars. Gonzalez played his first two seasons at the University of Colorado before following cornerbacks coach Demetrice Martin to Oregon for his final collegiate season.
Comparable NFL player: *Patrick Surtain II – During an interview with Patriots Unfiltered, Gonzalez said he modeled his game after the Broncos Pro Bowler. With comparable measurables, Gonzalez's silky-smooth movements to match receivers in man coverage are similar to Surtain's, as is their effortless playing style. As previously mentioned, former Patriots corner Stephon Gilmore is another pro comparison.
|Height: 6-1 3/8
|Weight: 197 pounds
|40-Yard Dash: 4.38s
|Vertical jump: 41 1/2
|Broad jump: 133"
|Bench (225): 14 reps
What they're saying…
Dane Brugler/The Athletic: 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 and trust in his talent, he has the skill set of a future Pro Bowler.
View photos of Patriots first round pick, cornerback Christian Gonzalez in action at Oregon.
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