Happy Friday and welcome to Day 2 of the NFL Draft.
Anyone else getting Wilforkian vibes after the Patriots' selection of cornerback Christian Gonzalez with the 17th pick in Round 1?
In 2004, one of the greatest and most impactful Patriots in NFL history rappelled down the draft board for no particular reason. When the Patriots took Vince Wilfork with the 21st overall pick, it was a smash-and-grab of the highest order.
Perry: Why Patriots are 'fired up' internally after Round 1 of draft
Why did Wilfork drop? Simple. There weren’t a boatload of teams needing defensive tackles, and when the Texans took Dunta Robinson at 10 and the Bears took Tommie Harris at 13 instead of Wilfork, there was no landing spot for Big Vince.
"I remember at that draft in '04 sitting near Bill (Belichick), and I think Vince was projected to go in the top 10 and he slipped to 21 and I remember Bill saying, 'Wow, I can’t believe that kind of value was there at this point,'" owner Robert Kraft said at Wilfork’s retirement ceremony in 2017. "And I remember how excited he was that we got Vince at that point."
Here’s how Belichick recalled the Vince plummet.
"My first exposure to Vince was at the Indianapolis Combine. We sat in that hotel room and interviewed him for about 20 minutes. When he came in, the first thing I said to Scott [Pioli] and the other scouts was like, 'This is a waste of time. There’s no way he’s going to be there when we pick.' Just like Robert said, that was absolutely the truth," Belichick said.
"We were able to select him with that 21st pick in 2004. That was really, I’d say in my career, one of the real surprises that I’ve ever personally been a part of with the draft that Vince was actually on the board when we selected."
Even if Gonzalez' impact falls miles short of Wilfork’s, selecting him at 17 was a layup. And his drop mirrors Wilfork in that teams passed for really no reason in particular.
Patriots Talk: Picking Christian Gonzalez 17th overall in the 2023 NFL Draft is DREAM SCENARIO for Patriots | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube
There’s no injury concern. There’s no off-field character issue. Listening to the young man speak, there’s certainly no reason to think he’s not sharp. Greg Bedard of The Boston Sports Journal writes that teams may have shied from him because the 20-year-old was a tad reserved and didn’t ooze alpha dog vibes.
Bedard cited a top NFL executive saying, "Mental toughness, emotional issues, maturity, physical toughness - why he fell so far."
The Steelers, who were sitting at 17 and traded with the Patriots to go up and select a tackle, reportedly weren’t wowed by a Gonzalez response during a visit.
From Sports Illustrated:
A consensus top-ten player in the class, it didn't seem like Gonzalez was a realistic option for the Steelers, even with a small trade up in mind. They ended up passing up on the talented cornerback, and according to a source, it was a poor pre-draft visit with Mike Tomlin that took him off of their draft board.
When visiting the facility, Mike Tomlin inquired about why the breakout junior transferred to Oregon after beginning his career with Colorado. Gonzalez explained that he was simply following his position coach to his new school. Tomlin was hoping to hear him say something along the lines of facing better competition but was left underwhelmed by Gonzalez's answer.
Later that day, Tomlin was then heard telling one of the Steelers stars, Minkah Fitzpatrick, that he didn't think Gonzalez had the "competitive edge" and that they wouldn't be seeing him again.
He gave the "wrong" answer on an ambiguous fill in the blank? Guess that’s the NFL equivalent of leaving an upper-decker.
It really feels like the 16 teams passing on Gonzalez overthought it or didn’t need a corner. I haven’t heard "Can’t play…" or "Overrated" yet. I’ve heard "fluid, with great ball skills and elite speed."
Their loss should wind up being the Patriots' gain. And it could be an immediate gain.
The Patriots now have a grand total of two true outside corners: Gonzalez and Jack Jones. Jonathan Jones can play out there but his lack of size can be exploited. Marcus Jones and Myles Bryant are slots. Jalen Mills is likely headed to safety.
Business will be booming early for Gonzalez. Once the schedule is released, we’ll see the gauntlet of quarterbacks the Patriots will face and in what order. He’ll need to make an impact starting Week 1.
Which -- ironically -- was when Big Vince started making his massive splash.