FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The 2023 NFL draft took place Thursday through Saturday in downtown Kansas City, Missouri.
Here is ESPN's pick-by-pick analysis of each of the New England Patriots’ selections:
Round 1, No. 17 overall: Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon
My take: Brilliant. When a player who most mock drafts didn't project would be available is there at No. 17 and the Patriots land him after trading back three spots, that's a good day at the office. Cornerback was a top need for the Patriots, and this is a case where the best player matched the need. Gonzalez was ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay's No. 8-ranked prospect in the draft. According to ESPN's Draft Predictor, there was less than a 1% chance entering the draft that Gonzalez would be available after pick 15.
Will he start as a rookie?: Nothing will be handed to Gonzalez, but he has a great opportunity. In addition to offensive tackle, this was arguably the team's greatest need. One thing that stands out is his size (6-foot-2, 201) compared to the other three players atop the depth chart -- Jonathan Jones (5-10, 190), Marcus Jones (5-8, 175) and Jack Jones (5-11, 175). The Patriots needed a taller cornerback to combat some of the taller receivers they will face.
Key stat: Gonzalez has played 277 snaps in press coverage over the past two seasons, fourth-most among Power 5 players in that span. From 2017 to 2021, New England played man at the highest rate in the NFL (62%). Last season that fell to 17th (42%).
Round 2, No. 46 overall: Keion White, DE, Georgia Tech
My take: Bolstering the line of scrimmage and pass rush is never a bad thing, especially when it comes with a versatile prospect who might be able to play multiple spots. He'll have solid veterans to look up to in Matthew Judon, Deatrich Wise Jr. and Josh Uche. Shortly after being selected by the Patriots, White said: “I'm a very big businessperson, so I'm not too big into the glitz and glamour of football. I want to work, and I want to win. I feel like that's what the Patriots offer.”
Key stat: White's 7.5 sacks last season were tied for fourth most in the ACC. He lined up primarily at defensive end in 2022 (71% of his snaps) with two of his sacks coming from that spot. The Patriots were tied for the third-most sacks in the NFL last season and their four-man rush posted the third-highest pressure rate (31%), trailing only the Cowboys and Packers.
Round 3, No. 76 (from Carolina): Marte Mapu, LB, Sacramento State
My take: The 6-3, 221-pound Mapu wasn't invited to the combine but was one of the standout prospects at the Senior Bowl. He can do different things for a defense that values versatility -- from a potential box-type safety in base defense to a linebacker-based role in sub packages. Those who scouted him note his aggressive playing style, which should also make him an immediate contributor on special teams. Mapu said he took pre-draft visits with 15 teams, making him one of the league’s most well-traveled prospects. He believed part of it was related to not being invited to the combine, while medical evaluation was likely another factor -- he sustained a torn right pectoral muscle in February and said Friday that he expects to be ready by the start of training camp at the latest.
Key stat: Mapu is the first Sacramento State player drafted since 2004 (Marko Cavka, OT selected 178th by the Jets), and the highest player selected from the school in the common draft era.
Round 4, No. 107 overall (from L.A. Rams): Jake Andrews, C, Troy
My take: Securing the future at center was on the radar entering the draft, in part because this was considered a strong class at the position. The 6-2, 319-pound Andrews was projected by analysts to be a later-round selection, but scouts and coaches around the NFL have noted that the disparity where teams have players rated seems to be greater in this year's draft compared to other years. Andrews can learn behind veteran incumbent David Andrews (no relation) and also has experience at guard, making him a possible option as a top backup at all three spots on the interior on game day.
Round 4, No. 112 overall: Chad Ryland, K, Maryland
My take: The Patriots traded up, moving up eight spots by giving the Jets a fourth-rounder (120) and sixth-rounder (184). This pick has shades of the selection of Stephen Gostkowski in 2006, meaning that the team doesn't pick a kicker in the fourth round unless it has high confidence that it is ready to pass the torch at the position. Ryland is known for his big leg, which also means he could handle kickoffs. While veteran Nick Folk is under contract for 2023, it's hard to imagine he beats out Ryland for the job, barring something unexpected.
Round 4, No. 117 overall: Sidy Sow, G, Eastern Michigan
My take: The 6-4, 323-pound Sow is one of the most experienced blockers in the draft, having started a school-record 55 games. A Quebec native, he started his career at left tackle before moving inside to left guard. A fourth-round pick is generally assured a roster spot and Sow should have the luxury of developing behind the scenes with the tutelage of offensive line coach Adrian Klemm ideally helping him develop into a reliable option at either guard or tackle. Starting right guard Mike Onwenu is scheduled for free agency after the season, while 2022 first-round pick Cole Strange returns at left guard.
Round 5, No. 144 overall (from Las Vegas), Atonio Mafi, G, UCLA
My take: The Patriots are loading up on the offensive line, putting a lot of faith in Adrian Klemm, the new OL coach, to build a pipeline of young talent. Mafi is 6-2 and 338 pounds, which when paired with fourth-round pick Sidy Sow (6-4, 323), adds size and power on the interior to develop. Mafi is still developing, having converted from the defensive line midway through his college career. From a big-picture standpoint, it sparks a question: Are the Patriots targeting potential insurance in the event starting right guard Mike Onwenu departs as a free agent after the 2023 season?
Round 6, No. 187 overall (from Carolina): Kayshon Boutte, WR, LSU
My take: This is the part of the draft where teams are more comfortable taking a risk and the 5-11, 195-pound Boutte falls into the category of a player whose talent and potential is obvious, but who has yet to put it all together. In one game as a freshman, he had 14 receptions for 308 yards and 3 TDs, but he never carried that momentum throughout his three years at LSU. The Patriots have DeVante Parker, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Tyquan Thornton and Kendrick Bourne atop their WR depth chart, with TE Mike Gesicki essentially another WR-type option. So Boutte will compete for a possible fifth spot at the position, with the possibility of landing on the practice squad as well.
Round 6, No. 192, Bryce Baringer, P, Michigan State
My take: No-brainer. The 6-1, 221-pound Baringer is widely viewed as the top punter in the draft and the Patriots had an obvious need after things went off the rails in 2022. The surprise was that it took this long for them to pounce. Baringer also has experience as a holder on field goal attempts. This overall draft wasn't considered as strong as others, so at this point, teams might be picking players who have trouble making a 53-man roster or project more to the practice squad. It's different with a punter like Baringer, who will grow alongside kicker Chad Ryland, the Patriots' fourth-round pick.
Round 6, No. 210 overall: Demario Douglas, WR/PR, Liberty
My take: A shifty slot receiver with high-end character, the 5-8, 179-pound Douglas was productive over the last two seasons with 131 receptions for 1,694 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also has experience as a punt returner and kickoff returner. His quickness and style of play is something the Patriots' offense could potentially benefit from, similar to how the team moved CB Marcus Jones to offense in a niche role in 2022. At the least, he could land on the practice squad.
Round 6, No. 214: Ameer Speed, CB, Michigan State
My take: The 6-3, 209-pound Speed ran a 4.33 time in the 40-yard dash, and he was a top special teams player at Georgia early in his career. So it appears to be a combination of elite physical traits and projecting a possible fourth-down role for him that led the Patriots in his direction at this later stage in the draft. This is similar to when the Patriots drafted Keion Crossen late in the 2018 draft based on his high-end testing results and projected special-teams role.
Round 7, No. 245 overall (from Atlanta via Buffalo): Isaiah Bolden, CB/PK, Jackson State
My take: Bolden was the only player from an HBCU selected in the 2023 draft, with the Patriots having tipped off their interest by hosting him on a pre-draft visit. The 6-2, 201-pound Bolden ran a 4.33 time in the 40-yard dash, has one year of starting experience at cornerback, and led the FCS in kickoff return average in 2021 with a 36.9-yard average. The physical traits are intriguing and that's usually what the Patriots are looking for at this point in the draft, and it couldn't hurt that he was coached by Hall of Fame cornerback and kick returner in Deion Sanders.