Some takeaways coming off an interesting 2023 Patriots Draft weekend:
1) As nice as it would have been to see the Patriots potentially draft a top WR on Thursday night, the addition of Christian Gonzalez definitely remains one of the most intriguing.
Some have talked about the fact New England has had a fair amount of success addressing this need in either the later rounds or even as undrafted players (ie: Malcolm Butler, J.C. Jackson, etc.) but it doesn’t change the fact that the team was in serious need of adding quality depth. They were in rough shape down the stretch both in 2021 and 2022 thanks in large part to injuries, with last season seeing guys at the bottom of the depth chart thrust into roles they weren’t necessarily ready for.
Adding Gonzalez rounds out a pretty good secondary, which now has three young players (Gonzalez, Jack Jones and Marcus Jones) as terrific building blocks for the foreseeable future. Factor in bringing back Jonathan Jones, who has been their most steady and reliable player, and they head into 2023 with a pretty formidable group.
Everybody loves a big-play receiver, but it certainly doesn’t hurt that the Patriots now potentially have someone in Gonzalez who might shut down teams that do have players like Justin Jefferson (9 catches, 139 yards, 1 TD) who made things tough on them last year. It’s hard not to be excited about that.
2) The lack of selecting an offensive tackle essentially tells us the Patriots didn’t have any of the remaining players highly-graded enough to make a selection, so they instead opted to grab two incredibly physical players inside in both Sidy Sow and Atonio Mafi.
Both guys are nasty in terms of their playing style, with Mafi’s film being incredibly intriguing. He’s insanely powerful and just absolutely mauls people, which is certainly going to help an offense that prides itself on imposing its will on opponents. Sow is also rumored by SI.com’s Albert Breer as potentially getting some reps at tackle, which does give them some additional versatility.
At the same time, those two selections certainly leaves you wondering, given that they already have Michael Onwenu and Cole Strange at guard, if we could see more changes up front heading into training camp.
Strange, who played tackle in college, was referenced by Mike Reiss over the weekend regarding the second-year lineman having made a change in his diet this offseason, which could be a potential plus as he looks to take a step forward. But the fact the club took a center (Jake Andrews), which many thought would potentially be Strange’s role at some point when David Andrews calls it quits, along with two guards, would make you think things may look very different by the time we get to Week 1 this September.
3) LSU’s Kayshon Boutte, who was the first receiver taken by the club with their first pick in Round 6, remains an interesting X-factor. He’s a player who was expected to be a potential first-round talent in 2021, but an ankle injury and some other issues saw his stock drop in 2022, and his misfortune could ultimately be New England’s gain.
Boutte, who comes in at 5’11”, 195lbs, is a solid inside player who has shown moments of being a potential playmaker in the NFL. Greg Cosell, who contributed to scouting reports for the 33rd Team, wrote that, “There were reps in Boutte’s LSU career in which he showed a playmaking dimension, and it will be interesting to see if he can become that kind of receiver at the next level, which would change what he would then be in the NFL.”
With questions coming after this season as Kendrick Bourne and Devante Parker are each free agents and could be playing elsewhere, they appear to at least have one possible answer. Should he develop, Boutte could end up being a key reason the club still has some firepower in 2024 in the event one or both of those players doesn’t return.
4) The fact that Bill Belichick decided to at least give Mac Jones a bit of support Friday night was interesting, as it certainly seemed to close the book when it came to the amount of animosity many thought still existed between the two.
Jones, who has been in the building all offseason and has seemingly been part of every workout to this point, seems to slowly be winning his coach back, likely due to those efforts.
Considering the Patriots didn’t use a single one of what ended up as 12 selections this weekend on that position tells you that they’re at least comfortable with Jones, Bailey Zappe, and Trace McSorley.
However, by bringing in undrafted free agent Malik Cunningham, the Patriots continue to make things interesting. The standout from Louisville, who replaced Lamar Jackson for the University, was clearly a player they targeted and they made a pretty good effort to get him. As Doug Kyed of AtoZSports pointed out, the $200,000 contract Cunningham received was given the largest guaranteed contract New England has ever given to an undrafted player.
As a result, they clearly feel strongly about him, and it will be interesting to see what role he ultimately carves out for himself with the team.
5) One final area I’m a little curious about is who is going to handle the additional reps this year behind Rhamondre Stevenson, as that remains a slight area of concern after Damien Harris departed to the division-rival Bills this offseason.
Last year saw limited playing time with rookie Pierre Strong Jr., who was terrific catching the ball in space but not quite as tough inside as Stevenson. J.J. Harris showed flashes but isn’t as effective as Strong Jr. in the passing game, while Kevin Harris is a tough insider runner, but he also doesn’t feel as though he’s dynamic enough with the ball in his hands to be a threat out of the backfield catching the football.
The Patriots did sign James Robinson this offseason,who will be interesting to watch depending on how healthy he is. But for a team that used to have one of the most formidable duos in the league the last two years, 2023 remains a pretty big question mark.
Overall, when you factor in they added both a place kicker and a punter, they certainly covered plenty of needs. The big question is obviously going to be how it all comes together, with that process starting in the coming weeks when the team begins their minicamp and OTAs.
Posted Under: 2023 Patriots Draft
Tags: 2023 Patriots Draft