Was Marte Mapu a luxury pick for the Patriots in the 2023 NFL Draft? That depends on how they plan to use him.
If New England sees Mapu as another versatile safety with the ability to play linebacker in certain packages, he could be viewed as redundant on a roster that already features Kyle Dugger, Adrian Phillips and Jabrill Peppers (though Dugger is entering the final year of his rookie contract). But if Bill Belichick plans to make linebacker Mapu’s primary position, he has the potential to become the undersized, athletic second-level defender that many Patriots fans have long clamored for.
That type of linebacker has increased in popularity around the NFL in recent years. But not in New England, with Belichick continuing to favor bigger, more physical players at the position.
As of Monday afternoon, the Patriots had Mapu listed as a 6-foot-3, 216-pound linebacker on their online roster. If the third-round draft pick does indeed join that position group — rather than meeting and practicing with the defensive backs, as Dugger, Phillips and Peppers do — he’d be easily its lightest member. Tied for second on that list are 2022 practice squadders Terez Hall and Calvin Munson, who check in at 235 pounds. Nearly every other Patriots ‘backer weighs 240-plus, including last year’s off-ball starters, Ja’Whaun Bentley (244) and Jahlani Tavai (246).
Mapu played nickel back at Sacramento State, a multifaceted position that had him lining up everywhere from the slot to free safety to linebacker to edge defender. He excelled in that role — he was the Defensive Player of the Year in the Big Sky Conference, and his team went 12-1 and reached the FCS quarterfinals — but the breadth of his responsibilities made it tricky to predict exactly how he’ll fit into New England’s defense. The significant jump in quality of competition also complicates that projection.
Belichick, who reportedly “loves” Mapu as a player and passed on notable prospects at wide receiver (Josh Downs) and tight end (Tucker Kraft, Darnell Washington) to select him, didn’t offer many clues on draft night, saying the 23-year-old’s role “might change from week to week dependent on our opponent and what we’re playing in the defense and so forth.”
“He’s shown versatility in his skill set,” the Patriots head coach said in a video conference. “He’s a smart kid. Definitely understands defensive concepts and what they did and how they were doing it. So when we get a chance to work with him, we’ll start to figure that out.”
Senior Bowl director and former Patriots scout Jim Nagy recently told ESPN’s Mike Reiss that Mapu reminds him of former Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith, who played the position at 6-3, 215.
“In the 9-on-7 inside run drill, he comes downhill and he just buckles people,” Nagy said, referring to Mapu’s eye-opening Senior Bowl showing.
Pre-draft surgery to repair a torn pec likely will prevent Mapu from fully participating in organized team activities, which begin May 22, but he expects to be ready by training camp “at the latest.”
For more on Mapu, check out the clip above from the “NESN Patriots Podcast,” or listen to the full episode in the player below.