The 2023 NFL Draft was full of surprises for the New England Patriots.
First, they were able to land an elite cornerback prospect after an unexpected Day 1 slide. Then, they opted not to make any moves up the board on Day 2 for the first time in six years despite owning a boatload of fourth- and sixth-round selections to use in potential deals.
By the time Day 3 wrapped up Saturday evening, the Patriots had selected 12 total players — their most in a draft since 2010 — yet no offensive tackles and no tight ends. This tight end class was viewed as the deepest in recent memory, and tackle was arguably their biggest draft need.
The Patriots took three interior offensive linemen. They became the first team in more than two decades to draft a kicker and a punter in the same year. The only wide receivers they grabbed came off the board at picks No. 187 and 210.
This class will be dissected in much greater detail in the coming weeks and months, but here’s an initial introduction to the Patriots’ 12 new rookies:
First round, 17th overall: CB Christian Gonzalez, Oregon
What a coup this was. Gonzalez was widely considered either the best or second-best cornerback in this year’s draft and a likely top-10 prospect, yet the Patriots were able to land him in the back half of Round 1 — after trading down three spots. At 6-foot-1, 197 pounds, he’ll add much-needed size and length to New England’s shorter cornerback group. Gonzalez is an athletic marvel who showed improved ball skills and tackling last season — Adrian Klemm, who watched him up close at Oregon, said he “made big plays continuously” — and at just 20 years old, he still has room to grow. He still has work to do as a run defender and could play with more tenacity, but he projects as a Day 1 starter at outside cornerback.
Second round, 46th overall: DE Keion White, Georgia Tech
Bill Belichick suggested the Patriots might have drafted White on Day 1 if the board had fallen a certain way. Instead, they waited until pick No. 46 to grab the big, powerful, relentless edge rusher with freaky athleticism. At 6-foot-5, 285 pounds, White looks like a fit for the Deatrich Wise role as a versatile D-lineman who can handle multiple alignments and occasionally stand up on the edge. He’s a converted tight end who just switched to defense a few years ago, so there’s still untapped potential in his game, though he will be a 24-year-old rookie. White had zero contact with the Patriots during the pre-draft process but believes his all-business personality will fit in well in New England.
Third round, 76th overall: LB/S Marte Mapu, Sacramento State
A classic Belichick pick, the hard-hitting Mapu gives the Patriots yet another safety/linebacker hybrid to join Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips and Jabrill Peppers. He was the Defensive Player of the Year in the Big Sky Conference and handled himself well against top competition at the Senior Bowl before suffering a torn pec in February that kept him out of pre-draft testing. The Patriots announced Mapu as a linebacker, but at 6-foot-3, 217 pounds, he’s built like a safety. Belichick said his role “might change from week to week dependent on our opponent and what we’re playing in the defense.” As for when he’ll be recovered from his injury, Mapu said he expects to be ready by training camp “at the latest.”
Fourth round, 107th overall: OL Jake Andrews, Troy
No relation to David Andrews, this interior offensive lineman started two seasons at right guard and one at center for Troy. His position coach last season was former Patriots’ O-line coach Cole Popovich. Standing 6-foot-3, 305 pounds, he projects as a backup to and, perhaps, eventual replacement for the other Andrews, who turns 31 in July and has two years left on his contract. The Patriots’ starting interior trio appears set with David Andrews at center, Cole Strange at left guard and Mike Onwenu at right guard, but they didn’t have much quality depth there last season, with James Ferentz serving as the top backup for all three spots. Onwenu also is entering a contract year.
Fourth round, 112th overall: K Chad Ryland, Maryland
The Patriots traded up eight spots (with the AFC East rival Jets!) to land one of this year’s top kicking prospects. Ryland was the second kicker off the board after Michigan’s Jake Moody, and his arrival could spell the end of Nick Folk’s successful New England tenure. Folk beat out younger challengers in each of the last three training camps, but fourth-round draft picks — and especially ones selected after trade-ups — are expected to make the roster. Ryland handled field-goal duties for all five of his collegiate seasons (four at Eastern Michigan, one at Maryland) and had a success rate above 82% in each of the last three. He also can handle kickoffs — a weakness of Folk’s that wound up burning the Patriots last season after punter Jake Bailey landed on injured reserve. From White through Ryland, New England used four consecutive picks on Senior Bowl alums.
Fourth round, 117th overall: OL Sidy Sow, Eastern Michigan
In Sow, the Patriots are getting an uber-experienced, highly athletic lineman who started 55 games in college and has experience at left guard and left tackle. He never missed a game at Eastern Michigan and was a first-team All-MAC selection in 2021 and 2022. Sow projects as a guard, but at 6-foot-5, 323 pounds, he has the size to play tackle if the Patriots want to try him out there. They loaded up on interior linemen in this draft despite tackle being one of their biggest perceived needs. Some fun facts about Sow: He grew up in Quebec with French as his first language (his introductory conference call featured several questions from French-speaking outlets) and said the Patriots have a strong fanbase up there. He’s also good friends and “Call of Duty” buddies with Ryland from their time together at Eastern Michigan. The two shared an emotional FaceTime after they learned they’d be NFL teammates.
Fifth round, 144th overall: OL Atonio Mafi, UCLA
After a trade-down from No. 135, the Patriots took a player they coached at the 2023 East-West Shrine Bowl. Mafi is a converted D-tackle and former high school rugby star who dropped from 411 pounds to 329 over the course of his college career. With just 16 starts at guard under his belt, his technique still is a bit raw, but he’s a big, stout, powerful blocker who also moves better than expected for a player with his frame. Mafi, whose father played on the Tongan national rugby team, also has a couple of tangential Patriots connections behind his work with them at the Shrine Bowl. Former New England tight end Devin Asiasi is his cousin, and his high school, Junipero Serra in San Mateo, Calif., also is Tom Brady’s alma mater.
Sixth round, 187th overall: WR Kayshon Boutte, LSU
If the Patriots get 2021 Boutte, this could go down as the savviest pick of their entire draft. If they get 2022 Boutte, he probably won’t make it out of training camp. This is the definition of a low-risk upside play, which New England could afford to make at this late stage of Day 3. Boutte was the No. 2 receiver recruit in the nation in 2020, and he looked like a future first-rounder after he racked up 38 catches for 509 yards and nine touchdowns in just six games as a sophomore. But his 2022 campaign was a nightmare, defined by clashes with LSU’s coaching staff, a rocky injury rehab and underwhelming on-field production. Then, he turned in a poor performance at the combine, further tanking his draft stock. Patriots fans shouldn’t expect much from Boutte, but this was the team buying low on a player with a sky-high ceiling.
Sixth round, 192nd overall: P Bryce Baringer, Michigan State
Pop quiz: When’s the last time a team selected a kicker and punter in the same draft? Answer: way back in 2020, when the Oakland Raiders drafted Sebastian Janikowski and Shane Lechler. The Patriots would love to get that kind of return from Ryland and Baringer, who worked together at the Senior Bowl. The latter was the consensus top punter in this year’s draft class after leading the nation in yards per punt and net punting average last season. Baringer, who sports a, shall we say, distinctive on-field look, will compete with veteran newcomer Corliss Waitman for a roster spot.
Sixth round, 210th overall: WR Demario Douglas, Liberty
Another player the Patriots got an up-close view of at the Shrine Bowl, Douglas is a 5-foot-8, 178-pound slot receiver who ran a 4.44-second 40 and jumped out of the gym at the combine, though his agility testing fell short of New England’s traditional standards for the position. He had 50 more catches than any of his Liberty teammates last season (79-993-6) and was a big-play threat both after the catch and on punt returns. Douglas said he actually modeled his game after multipositional Patriots weapon Marcus Jones. If he cracks the roster — no guarantee for a sixth-round pick — he could fill a role similar to the one Jones did on offense last season.
Sixth round, 214th overall: CB Ameer Speed, Michigan State
As his surname suggests, Speed is fast. He ran the 40 in 4.33 seconds at his pro day after measuring in at 6-foot-3, 209 pounds. He saw only sporadic playing time on defense during five seasons at Georgia but started 11 games at cornerback in 2022 after transferring to Michigan State. Speed was a major special teams contributor for the Bulldogs, however, and won an award as the most outstanding special teams player on Georgia’s 2021 national championship team. That’s the role he’ll likely play in New England, with the potential for developing into a rotational defender down the line.
Seventh round, 245th overall: CB Isaiah Bolden, Jackson State
The Patriots closed out the draft by grabbing another tall, super-fast corner. Bolden, who visited the Patriots pre-draft, began his college career at Florida State before transferring to play for Deion Sanders. He led all of Division I in kick-return average (36.9 yards per return) before taking on a larger defensive role this past season and notching seven pass breakups in 13 games (11 starts). Like Speed, Bolden ran a 4.33-second 40 at his pro day at 6-2, 201 and added impressive marks of 38 inches in the vertical jump and 10 feet, 9 inches in the broad jump. In a draft class loaded with high-end athletes, he was a fitting capper.