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Is Marte Mapu the Next Great Patriots' Small School Find?

Marte Mapu was the final player in this draft class I got a chance to do some background work on, and oh boy I became a fan in no time at all. In a league that sees more rangey second-level defenders by the season, someone like him, in theory, should have been a hot commodity. Despite being a late riser in draft circles after some monster outings at the NFLPA and Senior Bowls, Mapu mostly flew under the radar via a lack of widespread exposure.

Now more than ever, you can find NFL talent at every level of college football, and the Patriots have been willing to go outside the FBS well on several occasions in the last number of years. Cole Strange, Kyle Dugger, and Pierre Strong in years past, as well as 2023 selections Isaiah Bolden and Sidy Sow are some recent examples. So how does Mapu stack up coming out of the Big Sky Conference after winning its DPOY award in 2022?

Marte Mapu Bio School: Sacramento State Number: 5 (Formerly No. 15) Height-Weight: 6’2.5 and 217 lbs Age: 23 (Birthday is November 8)

RAS Score:

Marte Mapu Patriots RAS Score

The incomplete scoring here can be explained. Mapu suffered a torn pectoral muscle in March which took him out of drills at both the combine and Sacramento State's Pro Day. The good news is there is some advanced analytics that shows Mapu's athleticism from his raw play via Cory Yates and the folks at Reel Analytics. If you wanted a hybrid defender with some top-of-the-line athleticism, you got one here in Mapu. Also fun fact, he's a part of a Hall of Fame NFL bloodline. His uncle is one time Patriot, the late great Junior Seau.

Prospect Big Board Rankings (Selected 76th overall) Daniel Jeremiah (NFL Network): 73rd (“My favorite player in this Draft Class”) Dan Brugler (The Athletic): 100th JP Acosta (SB Nation): 78th Charles McDonald (Yahoo Sports): N/A (Top 100 players only) Draft Network: 108th Pro Football Focus: 125th

My Knee Jerk Pick Grade on the Day of the Selection: A-

Marte Mapu Film Review

Games Watched: vs. Incarnate Word (2022 Playoffs), vs. Northern Iowa (2022), vs. UC Davis (2021), vs. Cal (2021 partial), NFLPA Bowl and Senior Bowl (2023 practice reps only in later)

The first game on tap was Mapu's final outing with Sac State, a 66-63 loss to Incarnate Word. Outside of his versatility/range (multiple rolls at safety, a sub-linebacker, and a slot cornerback here) and athleticism, his raw (controlled) violence was apparent from the jump. Mapu was actively looking to split someone in half with some of his hits here and almost did to some poor IW running back as he was running down the sideline. There were a couple of times where he should have wrapped up from the jump and didn't, leading to an outright miss and a bounce-off. Also came away impressed with Mapu's downhill trigger and ability to filter through guys in the box. As well as his outright speed, nearly making an incredible PBU on a TD throw to the right-front pylon from a ways out. He categorically shouldn't be able to do this.

Against Northern Iowa, Mapu consistently showed off good discipline in various zone looks and felt very comfortable covering tight ends and running backs in those situations. Now Mapu did get called for pass interference in coverage, but it was an admittedly weak call. He got his hand in slightly early, but it was to make a play on the ball and Mapu clearly had his head turned around. In a perfect world that's a no-call. On the flip side, he got what ended up being the dagger interception in the fourth, which had pick-six potential, but it worked out given the time left on the clock. Mapu had a missed tackle in here as well, but he was better at securing guys to the ground here than against IW.

Rewinding the clock back to 2021, I saw a lot more of Mapu as a slot/nickelback, and not surprisingly, his ball production that year was off the charts. 10 PBUs and four interceptions leading to a second-team All-Big Sky selection. Against UC Davis he was frequently matched up against tight ends and slot receivers, and more than held his own in both man and zone looks, the latter of which he still looked very comfortable and disciplined in even a year prior. Up against Cal, Mapu definitely looked good against FBS competition, but there were some things worth mentioning on the negative end of things. In the first few plays, he was getting moved around big time by some Cal pass catchers in the open field, and then he missed out on a sack late in the second quarter which led to a 40-plus-yard td pass. Not entirely his fault I'd say since QB Chase Garbers sensed the backside pressure and stepped up, but Mapu could have taken a slightly better arc to him. Ended this game out strong though with an impressive deep ball breakup down near the goalline at the last possible second.

I also wanted to get a look at Mapu at the two pre-draft events he was invited to. Simply to see how he continued to look against elite competition in what were still high-leverage spots given that this could have made or broken his draft stock. Additionally, to see how he was being used in-game. In the NFLPA Bowl, Mapu was exclusively in the box, not being allowed to blitz due to the game's specific rules of only four down linemen being allowed to rush. Didnt exactly get a huge amount of snaps given the circumstances, but he impressed enough to get a last-minute invite to the Senior Bowl, where he was an absolute menace all week in practice. Just take a quick look.

Positive Takeaways:

- Elite athleticism (notice a pattern here?) and range as a defender pops off the screen.

- Possesses elite instincts and football IQ. Very disciplined in pass coverage, and has the ability to stick with running backs, tight ends, and occasionally slower receivers. Truly feels like a safety at linebacker in coverage.

- Goes for hits/contact with violence in his heart. Demonstrates good downhill trigger in the box.

- Shows the ability to both blow-up gaps and contain the edge against the run.

- Has a proven track record of ball production coming into the NFL (14 PBUs, 6 INTs, along with a forced fumble and blocked field goal since 2021).

Negative Takeaways:

- Can sometimes take bad angles on ball carriers or hesitate in the open field despite his downhill trigger. Needs to be better at the former to be trusted as a reliable blitzing option at the next level.

- Was overpowered at times in the open field by pass catchers in 2021. Block shedding was also an issue in 2021 but less so in 2022.

- Will need to bulk up a tad to play sub/weakside linebacker against NFL talent.

Final Thoughts

Kind of funny how things turn out. Mapu told the folks over at AllSteelersTalk that he grew up a Steelers fan back at the Senior Bowl. We also now know according to Jim Nagy, the director of the Senior Bowl, that Mike Tomlin was enthralled after one play that Mapu did in drills where he flew through a gap and completely annihilated a fullback and running back in the span of about 1.25 seconds. The specific quote given was "This boy's making some money right now." Depending on when he signs his rookie contract, he sure will be, just with one of the Steelers' biggest rivals.

I'm a huge fan of this strategy Bill Belichick has going on of simply getting as many hybrid linebacker/safety players as possible and just throwing them all out there. Kyle Dugger was borderline the best player on the Patriots in 2022, Jabrill Peppers was a sneaky big contributor in spots, and I guess you can add Adrian Phillips into that grouping as well, who might be one of the better free agent signings Belichick has made in the last decade.

What I'm getting at is Mapu is another one of these guys, and he can do a ton of things really well. However, if you want to nail him to a position, my guess at this point is that would be linebacker instead of safety. Don't think they would have had him mainly in that role at the Senior Bowl just because, and besides he looked incredible that weekend. Throwing out him with Kyle Dugger and Ja'Whaun Bentley in passing downs has some downright horrifying potential depending on how things progress for Mapu right off the bat, but he should have zero issues finding playing time in year one. Could easily see him fitting the tight-end eraser role, as well as some QB spy in the right situation/matchup. Would also look pretty good in No. 54, just some food for thought.

Marte Mapu Draft Pick Grade: A+

Marte Mapu Year One Projection: Depth sub-linebacker. Matchup-dependent tight-end eraser/QB spy option. Multi-phase special teams option.

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