The Patriots came away with 12 prospects from this year's draft, an interesting class that spans all three phases of the game and many of them have some surprising connections already in place both to the team that drafted them and to each other. That familiarity should help ease their transition into the program while providing some early bonds to aid them all through the difficult transition that rookies make to the NFL every year.
Here are six connections from the Patriots 2023 draft class.
A look at the New England Patriots Draft class of 2023. View our draft tracker at patriots.com/draft for more info on each of the picks.
Connections to Former Patriots Players and Coaches
Marte Mapu told Patriots.com that he considers Junior Seau an uncle and though Mapu only met the NFL Hall of Famer once in his life, Seau's advice about film study helped guide him to a successful college career that resulted in a third-round selection by the Pats."
"My dad and my uncles, that's a part of their childhood," said Mapu. "They grew up together, so football is part of our blood."
Atonio Mafi was surrounded by Patriots fans when he was drafted, holding a party at the California high school he attended first made famous by Tom Brady, Serra HIgh School. He's also 2020 Patriots draft pick Devin Asiasi's cousin.
"[Devin] just told me already that it's a great place," said Mafi. "I was there when he got drafted to the Patriots and his mom is here too right now for my draft party, and it's just been really good. I talked to him right after the call actually and he told me to go in with an open mind and to be really excited, come in with my head on right and get ready to work."
Lastly, offensive lineman Jake Andrews was selected in the third round out of Troy after playing under former Patriots offensive line coach Cole Popovich, whom Andrews credited with his development.
"We watched a lot of Patriots film and he talked about them all the time," said Andrews of Popovich. "He used a lot of good examples from a lot of great players that have come through there that he had plenty of time with, which is made examples out of that for us. He gave us insight into what it means to be great you know and what it means to be a Patriot in general. He tried to mold us into that in the best way he could so yes, a lot of experience he tried to implement into us from the Patriots."
View photos of Patriots fourth round pick, center Jake Andrews in action at Troy.
Lots of Experience
The Patriots took a collection of very experienced players in this draft class, especially along the offensive line and at the specialist positions where many played in 40 or more games over the course of their careers. With the 2020 COVID season factoring in, there continue to be older-aged prospects in the draft. That can be a knock for a rookie, but with it also comes a vast amount of college experience that could hasten their development in the pros.
- Jake Andrews - 38 career starts, 23 at right guard, 15 at center
- Sidy Sow (will be 25 in June) - 55 career starts, 44 at left guard, 11 at left tackle
- Atonio Mafi - 56 career games played (tied UCLA school record, with 33 starts spanning both sides of the ball)
- Bryce Baringer - 36 career games played
- Chad Ryland - 57 career games played, spanning four seasons at Eastern Michigan and one at Maryland
- Ameer Speed - 60 career games played over six seasons with 14 starts
A few of the prospects spent time as teammates and competitors in college, with the kicker, Chad Ryland and punter Bryce Baringer spending time in the state of Michigan.
"Chad and I have known each other for a long time, back from his days at Eastern Michigan then into the Big Ten with him at Maryland this year," said Baringer. "Then also some familiarity, we were teammates at the Senior Bowl. So that was really awesome just to kind of see him go, and then be able to get the call. It'll be fun to be able to get with him."
Ryland was also teammates with Sidy Sow at Eastern Michigan, and the friends were excited to find out they'd landed with the same professional franchise.
"Sidy's my guy," said Ryland. "We actually had a FaceTime call together not too long after he got drafted. I think there were a little bit of tears in both of our eyes. It was a pretty emotional moment for us. We've been really, really, really good friends from the time we were both at Eastern Michigan."
"Chad is a stud," said Sow on his own post-draft call. "He's the best kicker in the nation, and he's going to be one of the best kickers in the NFL. So I'm 100% excited. As a person, I love him. He's a great dude. We've known each other for a while. I still talk to him to this day. We're big Call of Duty partners and it's crazy that once again, teammates."
Finally, Baringer and Ameer Speed also spent this past season together at Michigan State
"Bryce is my guy," said Speed. "He was one of the people when I first came in that took me in and was just being a kind and true friend... He wanted to be the best person he could be, and it showed throughout the season. What you saw in games, he was probably even crazier ones in practice. He's a true team player. He's going to be ready to work and kick some great balls. He's a great guy though, definitely a great guy."
View photos of Patriots fourth round pick, kicker Chad Ryland in action at Maryland.
The Senior Bowl is always rich with NFL talent and the Patriots, like the rest of the league, made sure to add a full handful to their roster. Keion White, Marte Mapu, Jake Andrews, Bryce Baringer and Chad Ryland all participated down in Mobile.
Mapu was a late call-up from FCS, but still made an impact despite also missing the second half of the game with an injury.
"I think it was just a mix of my unique situation being that I didn't get to go to the Combine," said Mapu about the week of practice. "There were some questions that I had to answer at my Pro Day. But a lot of the teams just wanted to have a further evaluation of me and then kind of just get to know me a little bit more. So I think that's really where it came from."
Versatility is always a key for Patriots players and a handful of them spent time in college on the opposite side of the ball from where they were drafted.
Keion White spent two seasons at Old Dominion as a tight end before switching to the defensive side in his final year there, picking up 11 catches for 124 yards in 2018. He changed sides in the spring of 2019 and made an immediate impact on the defensive side of the ball, leading the team in tackles-for-loss while making the Conference USA's Second Team. He transferred to Georgia Tech and continued to terrorize opponents from the defensive line.
"There's still so much stuff I have to learn from technique-wise, from just the game-wise, everything," said White following his selection by New England. "The transition was for the best. It got me to this point now. But I'm still working. I'm still improving because I feel like we all are. No matter if you're an all-pro player or a rookie, we're all improving day-by-day. Because when you're not improving, you're getting worse."
Sidy Sow began his career in Canada as a defensive lineman and tight end but made the move to the offensive line upon his arrival at Eastern Michigan, starting nearly every game after a redshirt 2017.
Mafi was a three-star recruit as a defensive tackle entering UCLA, transitioning to the offensive line during the COVID-shortened 2020 season. He played 12 games at right guard with three starts in 2021 and then start all 13 games at left guard in 2022, earning second-team All-Pac-12 honors.
View photos of Patriots fourth round pick, guard Sidy Sow in action at Eastern Michigan.
Two Shrine Bowlers
The Patriots got an up-close and personal look at two prospects they ended up drafting when their coaching staff participated in the Shrine Bowl just after the season ended. Both players made an impression on the staff, enough for the team to spend a fifth and a sixth-round pick on Atonio Mafi and Demario Douglas respectively.
"I've met the staff at East-West Shrine. I felt like I just knew how I got along so good with the staff," said Douglas. "I'd say the staff did a great job of coaching me and making me already feel like I'm in the NFL as I was going through the process. So, I believe I'm home."
"So going into the Shrine Bowl, two guys that we identified that we certainly would like to work with and then you just get that comfort level and you really get to know the player as a person and as a player, what they can do," said Matt Groh following the draft. "And being able to work with Troy [Brown] and the rest of the staff out in Vegas, and then Troy in particular, you know, with his prolific career as a punt returner, being able to work with Demario and all those guys and Troy and Ross [Douglas] as wide receivers, being able to work with those guys, and then the offensive staff and kind of really being able to work with Atonio, we definitely like those guys going into the game. We are really happy they are on our team. And so that just kind of further solidified our feelings on the players after spending a week with them. "
DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and don't necessarily reflect those of the organization. Read Full Disclaimer