Marte Mapu visited the New England Patriots before the 2023 NFL Draft. He clearly made a strong impression.
The Patriots used a third-round pick on Mapu, taking the Sacramento State safety/linebacker with the 76th overall selection Friday night.
Mapu’s positional versatility and hard-hitting play style make him a natural fit for New England’s defense, and he reportedly was a favorite of head coach Bill Belichick entering the draft.
“Bill loves him,” a team source told the Boston Herald’s Andrew Callahan after the pick was announced.
Belichick isn’t alone there. Though Mapu played in the obscure Big Sky Conference — where he was Defensive Player of the Year last season — and wasn’t invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, NFL Media’s Daniel Jeremiah called him his “favorite player in this entire draft.”
“The Patriots are getting an absolute playmaker,” Jeremiah tweeted Friday night.
Mapu, who visited a total of 15 teams during the pre-draft process, was the 73rd-ranked player on Jeremiah’s prospect big board. The Athletic’s Dane Brugler had him ranked No. 100.
It’s unclear how the Patriots plan to deploy Mapu — he was announced as a linebacker at the draft but played all over the field in college, including some cornerback — but he joins a well-stocked group of hybrids that also features Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips and Jabrill Peppers.
Dugger’s path to New England was similar to Mapu’s, as he played at Division-II Lenior-Rhyne before legitimizing himself as a draft prospect with an impressive showing at the 2020 Senior Bowl. Mapu took part in this year’s Senior Bowl, and his defensive coordinator at that all-star game was Patriots D-line coach DeMarcus Covington.
It’s unclear how the 6-foot-3, 221-pound Mapu compares to Dugger — who’s entering the final year of his rookie contract — as an athlete, as he tore his pectoral muscle in February and couldn’t work out for teams before the draft. The 23-year-old said in his introductory conference call that he expects to be good to go “by training camp at the latest.”
Mapu said in a pre-draft interview with The Draft Network’s Justin Melo that his favorite position to play at Sacramento State was “that extra safety in third-down packages,” which he said was “super different from what you usually see.” The Patriots are known for utilizing more three- and even four-safety looks than most NFL teams, so his skill set should translate.
If the Patriots intend to play Mapu at linebacker, he’ll join a position group that features Ja’Whaun Bentley, Jahlani Tavai, Raekwon McMillan, Mack Wilson, Calvin Munson, Terez Hall and veteran newcomers Chris Board and Olakunle Fatukasi. He’d represent a shift in strategy for New England, which traditionally has shied away from the undersized, athletic ‘backers that have become increasingly popular around the NFL.
The Patriots also used their first two picks on defensive players, trading down to take Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez in the first round (No. 17 overall) and grabbing Georgia Tech defensive end Keion White in the second (No. 46).