New England Patriots

New England Patriots

New England Patriots

The Oregon Ducks take on the Stanford Cardinal at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon on October 1, 2022 (Eric Evans Photography)

Coming into the 2023 NFL Draft, Christian Gonzalez was not only the consensus top cornerback in the class, but also viewed as a lock to be a top 10 pick. Yet when the dust settled on the first round he ended up in New England – following a trade down – at the 17th overall pick.

The fall certainly results in what looks to be a major draft steal for the Patriots. But it left many wondering – how did the Patriots get so lucky? Why was Gonzalez on the board for them in the second half of the first round, and is there a significant, potentially red flag reason he fell?

  • Those sorts of things do happen. Last year Georgia linebacker Nakobe Dean was viewed as a first-round lock heading into draft night, yet people were shocked when he didn’t go until late in the third round. It later came out that his slide was due to a previously-unreported shoulder injury.

    As Gonzalez was falling, that’s certainly a scenario that some suggested. However, his slide was more likely due to how the league viewed the cornerback position as a whole than anything about Gonzalez specifically.

    For instance, as Dean was falling in 2022 teams continued taking linebackers. He was the eighth linebacker off the board. That was hardly the case for Gonzalez and the cornerbacks on Thursday night.

  • Devon Witherspoon – who was the only other cornerback getting CB1 attention along with Gonzalez – was the first cornerback go. He went fifth overall to the Seattle Seahawks. After that though, teams didn’t seem interested in taking cornerbacks at all. Emmanuel Forbes from Mississippi State was the next cornerback off the board at 16th overall, one pick before Gonzalez.

    Even after Gonzalez went, teams were deferring cornerback picks. Deonte Banks from Maryland was the only other cornerback picked in the first round, going 24th overall to the Giants.

    Why are cornerbacks falling? It actually may be because it’s such a strong year for the position overall in the draft. It’s a phenomenon that happens sometimes in really stagnated drafts, which this one is. Knowing there will be significant cornerback talent on the board later on in the draft, teams aren’t approaching the position with as much urgency and are willing to wait.

  • KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - APRIL 27: (L-R) Christian Gonzalez poses with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected 17th overall by the New England Patriots during the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft at Union Station on April 27, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images)

    KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI – APRIL 27: (L-R) Christian Gonzalez poses with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected 17th overall by the New England Patriots during the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft at Union Station on April 27, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images)

  • That effect then snowballs – as good players get passed up, more talented players become available later on, feeding the idea that it’s worth waiting to make a pick. For example, consensus first-round picks like Joey Porter Jr. and Kelee Ringo will be on the board at the start of Day 2, as well as projected first-round picks like Cam Smith, Clark Phillips, and D.J. Turner. That’s not even including the expected elevated Day 2 talent – players like Julius Brents and Darius Rush.

    How often do we hear “when the league zigs, the Patriots zag” when it comes to the Patriots? In a lot of ways, that’s what this was. Teams were content waiting on cornerbacks, so the Patriots took advantage of that mentality to attack the top of the board.

    Gonzalez looks like a home run pick, but he’s just one of what’s now 12 scheduled selections the Patriots will make during this draft. They’re scheduled to pick 46th overall for their first pick on Day 2, but are in a strong position to move up. Get ready for Day 2 with our Patriots Day 2 Big Board and Mid-Draft Mock Draft.

  • 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 [email protected].

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