New England Patriots

New England Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - NOVEMBER 05: Marte Mapu #30 of the New England Patriots runs downfield against the Washington Commanders at Gillette Stadium on November 05, 2023 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Of the players taken in the New England Patriots’ 2023 draft class, none came into the league with more intrigue than third-round pick Marte Mapu out of Sacramento State. Between his positional versatility and small-school background many weren’t sure what would be in store for the 76th overall pick.

Mapu played linebacker at Sacramento State, and worked out at that position during the pre-draft process. However, at 6-foot-3, 217 pounds he was well undersized for a typical Patriots linebacker.


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For most of the spring and summer the big question around Mapu was his usage plan. Would the team play him at his natural position, adding that dynamic, athletic, sideline-to-sideline middle linebacker (in the mold of guys like Fred Warner or Matt Milano) to their defensive scheme? Would they have him put on size, and play him like a traditional off-ball linebacker? Or would they convert him into a box safety, which is more where his athletic profile fit in the Patriots’ traditional defense?

Through spring practices and into training camp, it looked like the Patriots might try a combination of the three. Despite coming off of offseason shoulder surgery and wearing a red non-contact jersey the Patriots kept Mapu – who bulked up to 230 pounds – heavily involved in a number of roles. He lined up all over the defense, and seemed to be having success doing so. That only built the hype around him as the season started.

Since the regular season began though, things haven’t looked the same for Mapu. His defensive opportunities have been few and far between. Through 12 games he’s been on the field for just 19 percent of the Patriots’ defensive snaps (he’s played 48 percent on special teams), logging less than 10 snaps on six occasions while two of his highest snap totals have come in blowouts. When he is on the field the positional versatility isn’t there – 61 percent of his defensive snaps have come as a defensive back, per PFF.


  • Marte Mapu defensive snaps by week
    Week Opp Result Num Pct
    1 PHI L 20-25 9 14%
    2 MIA L 17-24 30 48%
    3 @NYJ W 15-10 7 11%
    4 @DAL L 3-38 35 50%
    5 NOR L 0-34 29 40%
    6 @LVR L 17-21 0 0%
    7 BUF W 29-25 10 14%
    8 @MIA L 17-31 18 23%
    9 WAS L 17-20 10 13%
    10 IND L 6-10 4 7%
    12 @NYG L 7-10 0 0%
    13 LAC L 0-6 3 5%

    Asked about Mapu’s playing time on Monday following his team’s 6-0 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, Belichick seemed to confirm that reality – that the Patriots view Mapu as a safety, not a linebacker as he’s listed on the official roster.

    “Well, we have pretty good depth at that position. Obviously, [Jabrill] Peppers and [Kyle] Dugger are two of our best players and two of the better players in the league at that position,” Belichick said, when asked what Mapu can do to earn more playing time. “So, not really looking to get them off the field and just get playing time for somebody. We use players around guys like Dugger and Peppers situationally, because you think they can help you in that situation in a certain package.”

    What Belichick is saying there goes back to the concern many had with the pick originally, and why so many were optimistic about Mapu’s ability to be a playmaker as a rookie this year. What the Patriots needed was an athletic middle linebacker to spy and otherwise handle some of the more mobile quarterbacks on their schedule – the kinds of quarterbacks that have been an issue for them in recent years. What they didn’t need in the top-100 was to add to a box safety position that is arguably their deepest on the roster, with Adrian Phillips (who has also had his playing time reduced this year) in the room along with Peppers and Dugger.

    That doesn’t all mean that Mapu will ultimately end up being a bust. There’s still plenty of time for him to improve, and/or the Patriots to change his role. When he was drafted, some suggested it was a long-term pick, with Mapu being a candidate to replace Dugger, who is in a contract year. Granted, that was before the emergence of Peppers this season, with that role now looking locked up for the next two years. The Patriots could also go back to playing Mapu as more of a linebacker, but that would require a shift in the way they philosophically approach the position.

  • Dec 3, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen (13) is tackled by New England Patriots safety Jabrill Peppers (5) in the second half at Gillette Stadium. Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Dec 3, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen (13) is tackled by New England Patriots safety Jabrill Peppers (5) in the second half at Gillette Stadium. Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    With it looking like Mapu’s selection was about 2024 and beyond more than 2023, it’s fair to question if that pick could and/or should have been used with more of a focus on a crucial 2023 season. In the 10 picks following Mapu, players selected include defensive end Byron Young (77th overall, Rams), tight end Tucker Kraft (78th, Packers), wide receiver Josh Downs (79th, Colts), and running backs Tyjae Spears (81st, Titans) and De’Von Achane (84th, Dolphins). The lowest usage rate among that group is Achane, who has played 37 percent of the offensive snaps for Miami (not including games he was hurt).

    Again, it’s too soon to write Mapu off entirely as an NFL player. Belichick himself was complimentary of Mapu on Monday.

    “He’s a hard-working kid. He really pays attention, very studious and attentive. He’s improved a lot through the course of the year. I think he’s a good player, will be a good player,” Belichick said, before adding, “but, he’s still young and inexperienced, and right now, I’d say the guys ahead of him are just ahead of him.”

    Having ‘guys ahead of him’ will sort itself out eventually, one way or another. But it just won’t be in time for Mapu to make an impact for the 2023 Patriots.

  • Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.

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