The New England Patriots have had their eyes on Christian Gonzalez for a long time.
Patriots director of player personnel Matt Groh was actually at one of Gonzalez’s practices at Oregon last summer, but didn’t get to meet him. However, Groh, along with Patriots West national scout Tony Kinkela, kept tabs on him throughout his breakout season, in which he recorded four interceptions to become one of the top cornerback prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft.
“A player we have certainly been on here for the last year,” Groh said in a video conference following the first round of the draft.
LIVE: Matt Groh Draft Day 1 Press Conference#PatsDraft | April 28-29 on NFLN/ESPN/ABC https://t.co/aiqJ14k2lD
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) April 28, 2023
Even though Groh and much of the Patriots’ scouting staff have liked what they’ve seen from Gonzalez for such a long time, they passed on him the first time they had the chance to draft him. The Patriots traded out of the No. 14 overall pick, moving back to No. 17 in a trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers and picked up a fourth-round pick as Gonzalez, who was constantly viewed as a top-10 pick, was still on the board.
Groh and the Patriots calculated the risk. They knew the Steelers would select offensive tackle Broderick Jones when they traded up. The New York Jets, who had the No. 15 overall pick, didn’t have a need for a corner at that spot. The risk was the Washington Commanders, who held the No. 16 overall pick, or a possible trade.
But Groh and the rest of the Patriots’ brass had a “pretty good feeling” the Commanders would select Mississippi State cornerback Emmanuel Forbes with their pick, and they did, proving Groh correct.
“There was a feeling that he might still be available. We thought he was a good player. Would have certainly understood if he wasn’t,” Groh said when asked if he had a good sense that Gonzalez would be on the board when they picked at No. 17. “You listed off those teams, but we had just traded. So you can’t just count on, ‘OK, we know these teams, they’re not going to take a corner,’ or whatnot. It changes so quickly.
“So it’s tough to say really, ‘This guy’s going to be there.’ I think it really came more down to having a comfort level on multiple players to be able to pick up a pick and really just give us that much more currency in the fourth round. I couldn’t guarantee that Christian was going to be there, but felt good that a player that we felt good about would be there.”
Oregon CB Christian Gonzalez is headed to the Patriots as the No. 17 pick in the #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/Ogu6sAMLht
— ESPN (@espn) April 28, 2023
Once the Patriots were on the clock, though, it was an easy pick for them to make.
“It’s nice when you have a consensus on a player,” Groh said. “From the coaching staff to the scouts, we’re fairly unified on Christian.”
Groh admitted “there was probably some surprise” that Gonzalez fell to them twice, and he couldn’t help but feel well about the Patriots’ first day of the draft.
“To be able to pick up Christian and pick up an extra fourth-round pick, I feel very encouraged by Day 1,” Groh said.
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