The New England Patriots followed a familiar blueprint on Day 1 of the 2023 NFL Draft, albeit with an unexpected result.
They traded down three spots to No. 17 and still were able to land Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez, who’d been widely viewed as a likely top-10 pick. That Gonzalez slid that far surprised even those in the Patriots’ draft room, but the path New England took to get him was a familiar one. Bill Belichick now has traded down in the first round in three of the last four drafts, and several others before that.
Trade-downs always trigger groans from Patriots fans, even if most likely were satisfied with Thursday night’s haul. The good news for those critics: History suggests aggressive moves are coming Friday.
New England swung trades to move up the board in Round 2 in each of the last five drafts, including a four-pick jump to grab wide receiver Tyquan Thornton last year, an eight-pick leap to take defensive tackle Christian Barmore in 2021 and an 11-pick vault for linebacker Josh Uche in 2020. (The Patriots surely want to forget the other two, which landed them second-round busts Joejuan Williams and Duke Dawson.)
The Patriots enter the draft’s second day with just one pick in the second round (No. 46 overall) and one in the third (No. 76). But they now own four selections in Round 4 after acquiring No. 120 in Thursday’s trade with Pittsburgh, plus four more in Round 6 and one in Round 7. With all of that ammo, they’ll easily be able to trade up for one or more Day 2 prospects if they so choose.
“I think we’re the 15th pick here in the second round,” director of player personnel Matt Groh said in a video conference late Thursday night. “Having those fourth-round picks does give us a little bit of currency. We’ll have to take a more in-depth look here in the morning. We’ll regroup, take a look at some of these players that we’ve got, go through a couple different scenarios as a staff and do our best to plot it out.”
Which players might be on the Patriots’ radar? For starters, there are a host of intriguing pass-catchers still on the board.
Wide receivers Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Zay Flowers, Quentin Johnston and Jordan Addison all went in Round 1, but North Carolina’s Josh Downs, Ole Miss’ Jonathan Mingo, Cincinnati’s Tyler Scott, Michigan State’s Jayden Reed, Oklahoma’s Marvin Mims and Houston’s Tank Dell could pique New England’s interest in the second or third. Nearly every member of this year’s blockbuster tight end class also is available. Only Utah’s Dalton Kincaid heard his name called Thursday, leaving players like Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer, Georgia’s Darnell Washington, Iowa’s Sam LaPorta, Oregon State’s Luke Musgrave, Sout Dakota State’s Tucker Kraft and Michigan’s Luke Schoonmaker in play.
The Patriots could use more talent in their receiver room, and they have a looming need at tight end with Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki both entering contract years.
The top offensive tackles available, after five went Thursday night, include Syracuse’s Matthew Bergeron, Ohio State’s Dawand Jones, North Dakota State’s Cody Mauch, Alabama’s Tyler Steen and Oklahoma’s Wanya Morris. Bergeron was rumored as a potential surprise first-rounder pre-draft, so he might not last long on Friday. Steen is one to watch, as he played under current Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien last season. Tackle is one of the Patriots’ most obvious draft needs with projected starters Trent Brown and Riley Reiff both on expiring contracts.
Defensively, the Patriots could target an edge rusher like Georgia Tech’s Keion White, Auburn’s Derrick Hall or Notre Dame’s Isaiah Foskey; a D-lineman like Florida’s Gervon Dexter, South Carolina’s Zacch Pickens or Alabama’s Byron Young; or an off-the-ball linebacker like Arkansas’ Drew Sanders or Clemson’s Trenton Simpson. There also wasn’t a single safety drafted on Day 1 — Alabama’s Brian Branch and Jordan Battle, Illinois’ Jarvavius Martin, Penn State’s Ji’Ayir Brown and Florida State’s Jammie Robinson all would make sense for New England — and if the Patriots wanted to double up at corner, there are a bunch of talented prospects left there, too, headlined by expected first-rounder Joey Porter Jr. from Penn State.
And, if the Patriots want to add some insurance and/or competition at the quarterback position, Kentucky’s Will Levis and Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker both enter Round 2 unclaimed, with the former plummeting after being projected as a top-five pick. New England reportedly is not trading Mac Jones and decided before the draft that it would not use a first-round pick on a QB. But a second-rounder? A third? We’ll see.