Leading up to the 2023 NFL Draft, and ever since the season ended, the biggest thing the Patriots needed to address was an alarming lack of size and length at cornerback. Not that the Jones trio lacks talent, far from it in fact, but having your three best corners all under 6’0 is a glaring issue. Whether it was by luck, happenstance, or otherwise, Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez, a consensus top-10 prospect in this draft, fell right to the Patriots at 17th overall.
The Patriots were floored that Gonzalez fell out of the top 10, and I shared those feelings. But once the Detroit Lions traded out of pick No. 6 and then effectively passed on him twice, the chances of him falling to New England became very real, even after the trade down with the Pittsburgh Steelers. And sure enough, Bill Belichick's gamble paid off and he now has himself one of the best outright players from this 2023 draft class. But just how good is Gonzalez? Let's find out.
Christian Gonzalez Bio School: Oregon by way of Colorado Number: 0 (Formerly 21 and 3 at Colorado) Height-Weight: 6’1 3/8ths and 197 lbs Age: 20 (Birthday is June 28)
Gonzalez also comes from an elite athletic family. His father played college basketball at UTEP, and two of his sisters, Melissa and Samantha, were All-American track and field athletes at Texas and Miami respectively. Melissa also qualified for the most recent Summer Olympics in Toyko, competing under the Columbian Flag. Additionally, she is also married to Cardinals depth quarterback David Blough, who had this reaction to her making the 400m hurdles semi-finals back when he was with the Lions.
My Knee Jerk Pick Grade on the Day of the Selection: A+
Christian Gonzalez Film Review
Colorado Games Watched: vs. Utah (2020), vs. Texas A&M (2021), vs. Washington (2021)
The first of these games I got to was the A&M game in 2021, and there was a lot to like. Gonzalez was a menace in coverage and was glued to his man on about every snap he had in press coverage. Had him down for a missed tackle and a couple of negative efforts against the run here as well, Gonzalez however made a spectacular tackle for loss on now Miami Dolphins running back Devon Achane. Just a ton of high-quality snaps here, a majority of which came against the Aggies’ Swiss Army Knife Ainias Smith (2024 Draft). Not to mention Gonzalez was only 19 years old here, two games into his true Sophomore season. A tremendous first impression. (Top of the screen in clip)
As a summary of the other two games Gonzalez played a Colorado, firstly, the Utah game had some light snow on the field virtually all game, so playing in inclement conditions, let alone general cold temps, shouldn’t be an issue for him in New England. Speaking of the Patriots, Utah attempted to run the Julian Edelman TD pass play from the 2014 playoff run in the third quarter with Gonzalez’s man serving the role as No. 11. And Gonzalez couldn't have sniffed it out faster than he did, beginning to back off before the pass even got to the receiver. Some impressive Football IQ on display. Against Washington meanwhile, he didn’t see a ton of passes come his way, but he showed some good hustle on a 55-yard TD allowed (not on him) and was maybe a yard or two short of causing a fumble out of the back of the endzone with a hammer fist to the ball. Exactly the kind of effort I'm trying to look for in any case.
Oregon Games Watched (all 2022): vs. Georgia, vs. Utah, vs. UCLA, vs. Washington
After the 2021 season, then-Colorado defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin decided to jump ship to Oregon, and Gonzalez made the call to join him at his new gig for his junior season. The day I started going over film, I passed by a Mike Giardi tweet regarding Gonzalez, specifically mentioning that some front office/scouting personnel around the league were being turned off by his performance against Georgia. After watching it, what I can tell you is this. Gonzalez was far from perfect, but I’ve seen plenty of worse outings by a corner.
The biggest negative I took away from this tilt is that Gonzalez was a near-complete non-factor against the run, save for one great tackle at the goal line. He also got moved around far too easily against receivers/tight ends that were blocking for my liking. Granted I can't fault him too much on the occasions where it was Darnell Washington and Brock Bowers getting to him. As far as coverage goes, I had him down for a third down conversion and an 18-yard back shoulder catch touchdown here, but I thought he held up well outside of that against the pass, mainly lining up against Ladd McConkey and Adonai Mitchell. Definitely Gonzalez's worst outing of the seven watched games, but Georgia made a lot of good players look bad this last season.
As far as the other three games go, all the positive things about Gonzalez’s game still show up. He’s simply an excellent cover corner. Against Utah, he spent several snaps on new Bills tight end Dalton Kincaid, locking him up and throwing away the key, as was the case for everyone else he drew in that one. Had him down for zero catches in this one. Not much to say about the UCLA game other than he was solid. Mostly the same case against Washington, but he had a couple of chances at interceptions and came away with neither. Both instances weren't exactly gifts by any stretch, but ball production has been another critique of Gonzalez's game. Granted he picked it up big time at Oregon with four interceptions in 2022.
Positive Takeaways: - Elite man-to-man corner. Great hand usage to disrupt receivers at the line of scrimmage. High compete level at the catch point. Gives receivers no room to breathe in press, and puts himself in great spots to not get beat over the top. Has the potential to cover smaller tight ends in certain situations.
- Athleticism shines on tape. Possesses great speed both vertically and laterally. Possesses fluid hip movement. Has the ability to jump the ladder if need be as well. - Displays well above average football IQ and discipline in coverage. Should have zero issues in a Belichick/Mayo defense. - Has a season’s worth of experience in a Belichick/Saban adjacent defense at Oregon (DC: Tosh Lupoi). - Lacks turnover production, but more so due to the lack of quality opportunities, more so in his Colorado stint. Displayed good hands and a knack for the ball at Oregon.
Negative Takeaways: - Currently lacks the ideal bulk and core strength for a starting outside cornerback. Leads to him being locked up and moved around when trying to defend the run. - Doesn’t always take the proper angles against ball carriers in the open field, leading to a decent amount of misses. Needs to trust himself more as a tackler on the whole. - Occasionally can be susceptible to comeback routes on occasion.
Even with some things to clean up, Gonzalez being this good a corner already, possessing this athletic profile, and only being 20 years old, New England potentially has someone special on their hands here. And besides, based on more recent drafts, the only position I trust the Patriots drafting more than corner is interior offensive linemen. As far as something that I would want to see, Gonzalez should try to put on around 10 extra pounds before the start of the season. Jalen Ramsey has been used as a physical traits comparison for him by some, and he came into the league at 209 lbs, which is more or less his playing weight still to this day. Even if that ends up taking away some top-end speed, I’d call gaining some extra play strength well worth the tradeoff.
Simply given his combination of talent and size, Gonzalez should most likely be starting on the outside from the jump, across from either Johnathan or Jack Jones, with Marcus Jones in the slot. Could also see some situations where Gonzalez gets moved into the slot if there’s a tight-end matchup that is to the Patriots' liking, I was impressed with his work on Kincaid in that Utah game and think that can translate in the NFL. Wouldn't put that idea past Belichick or Jerod Mayo.
In totality, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say this is Belichick’s best first-round pick dating back over a decade now to Dont’a Hightower in 2012. I might not be saying a lot given some of the picks in between, but Gonzalez is legit and should be an immediate impact guy on this Patriots' defense. Simply insane that they got him period, let alone doing so even after trading down. Heck, there was word from Jeff Howe that the Patriots could have traded UP to get him. After this exercise, my feelings on this pick do not change much if at all, just a tremendous situation for the Patriots to get a guy like Gonzalez. On a final note, and no pressure here whatsoever, the other three corners that New England has drafted top 25 since the AFL-NFL merger are Ty Law, Raymond Clayborn, and Mike Haynes. Quite the lineage there.
Christian Gonzalez Draft Pick Grade: A+
Christian Gonzalez Year One Projection: Starting Outside Cornerback. Defensive Rookie of the Year potential.
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