Christian Gonzalez

Patriots Ink Top Two Draft Picks To Conclude Rookie Signings

The Patriots followed the league’s recent trend, wrapping up their rookie contract signings today, inking their last two remaining unsigned players. The team announced today that Oregon first-round cornerback Christian Gonzalez and Georgia Tech second-round edge Keion White have both signed their rookie contracts.

Gonzalez transferred to Oregon after two years of college at Colorado. After stepping in as a one-year starter for the Ducks, Gonzalez is set to step in as a starter for a new team once again this year. During his one year in Eugene, Gonzalez was a no-doubt first-team All-Pac 12 cornerback with four interceptions, 11 passes defensed, and a blocked field goal. That single-season performance alone was enough for many teams to place him atop their draft boards as the top cornerback prospect.

In New England, Gonzalez is likely to start across from Jonathan Jones at cornerback. Marcus Jones and Jack Jones are both expected to step up in expanded roles in their sophomore seasons, but with Jalen Mills making a likely transition to safety, Gonzalez could make an earlier impact on the first-team defense.

Gonzalez will be playing on a fully-guaranteed four-year, $15.10MM rookie contract with a $7.98MM signing bonus, according to Doug Kyed of the Boston Herald. He’ll also receive roster bonuses of $521.494 in 2024, $675,000 in 2025, and $550,000 in 2026.

White was also a transfer in college, joining the Yellow Jackets after three years at Old Dominion. He only had two years of dominance over his five college seasons, but in those two seasons, he combined for 11.0 sacks and 22.0 tackles for loss. Injuries and a position change from tight end kept White from fully developing as a pass rusher at the collegiate level, but a high motor and natural abilities allowed White to lead Georgia Tech in both sacks and tackles for loss last year.

At 6-foot-5, 290 pounds, White is a perfect fit for the Patriots’ defensive line, where he can move along the line as a rotational substitute. With Lawrence Guy and Deatrich Wise returning as long-time starters, White will almost certainly rotate in as a rookie but could develop into an eventual replacement for one of the two veterans. It shouldn’t take long for White to become a regular contributor as a rotational disruptor for the Patriots’ defense.

White’s deal is a four-year, $7.79MM contract, according to Kyed. He’ll receive a $2.67MM signing bonus, and the first two years of his rookie contact (worth $750,000 and $1.10MM, respectively) will be fully guaranteed. $802,008 of his 2025 salary (worth a total of $1.46MM) will also be guaranteed. This doesn’t quite match the three guaranteed years we saw with 39th-overall pick Jonathan Mingo‘s deal, but over two and a half years’ worth of guarantees continues the recent growth of contracts for second-round picks.

With an early concentration on defense and two special teams selections, the Patriots certainly came into the 2023 draft with a plan. Here is New England’s completed draft class:

Round 1, No. 17 (from Steelers): Christian Gonzalez, CB (Oregon) (signed)
Round 2, No. 46: Keion White, DE (Georgia Tech) (signed)
Round 3, No. 76 (from Panthers): Marte Mapu, LB (Sacramento State) (signed)
Round 4, No. 107 (from Rams): Jake Andrews, C (Troy) (signed)
Round 4, No. 112 (from Jets): Chad Ryland, K (Maryland) (signed)
Round 4, No. 117: Sidy Sow, G (Eastern Michigan) (signed)
Round 5, No. 144 (from Falcons from Raiders): Atonio Mafi, G (UCLA) (signed)
Round 6, No. 187 (from Panthers): Kayshon Boutte, WR (LSU) (signed)
Round 6, No. 192: Bryce Baringer, P (Michigan State) (signed)
Round 6, No. 210: Demario Douglas, WR (Liberty) (signed)
Round 6, No. 214 (from Raiders): Ameer Speed, DB (Michigan State) (signed)
Round 7, No. 245 (from Falcons through Bills): Isaiah Bolden, CB (Jackson State) (signed)

Latest On Patriots CB Christian Gonzalez

Not much is certain at the cornerback position for the Patriots heading into training camp, but the presence of Christian Gonzalez should give the team a notable contributor over the short- and long-term future. The first-round rookie is in line for a signficant role right away, and it will likely include playing on the boundary.

Gonzalez was widely viewed as one of the top two corners in this year’s class, along with No. 5 pick Devon Witherspoon. The Commanders’ preference at the position was Emmanuel Forbes, who was selected one spot before the Patriots added Gonzalez with their first-rounder. The latter enters the NFL with signficant expectations after his lone season spent at Oregon in 2022.

Gonzalez recorded four interceptions and seven pass deflections with the Ducks, making him a first-round lock and an obvious target for a New England team looking to add further to their secondary. The team ranked third in the NFL with 19 interceptions last season, but only 16th in terms of passing yards allowed. Gonzalez could help in both departments with a strong rookie season, one in which he appears to have earned a starting spot.

“We’ll work him into a number of positions like we do almost all players at this point in time in the spring, and then narrow it down a little bit when we get to training camp,” head coach Bill Belichick said during an interview with Mike Tannenbaum of the 33rd Team (video link). “Ultimately, he’s most likely going to be a perimeter corner, but I think there are other situations where he could play inside or in a deeper part of the field, depending on what the call is or how things present themselves from a game-plan structure from time to time.”

That comes as little surprise, considering Gonzalez’s skillset and size (6-2, 201 pounds), as well as the uncertainty surrounding Jack Jonesfuture with the team. League or team discipline handed down to the latter would leave the Patriots short on perimeter options in particular, something which would add further to Gonzalez’s value in 2023. He will face a large workload as a rookie and likely a variety of alignments, making him a crucial member of the team’s secondary from the outset.

Latest On Patriots’ CB Situation

In his rookie season, fourth-round pick Jack Jones graded out as the league’s 17th-best cornerback, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). His recent arrest is the latest of a series of off-field incidents. If the NFL hands out a punishment, the Patriots may need to figure out how to field a secondary without him.

New England was able to nab one of the draft’s best cornerback prospects in the middle of the first round in Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez. The 17th overall draft pick this year has gotten off to a hot start in New England. According to Karen Guregian of MassLive, Gonzalez is “on the fast track to get one of the starting boundary” positions at corner.

The Patriots seemingly had a desire for the upcoming season to move Jonathan Jones back to a more consistent slot role. Jones had spent the first six years of his career mostly in the slot for New England before shifting to the outside for 85 percent of his snaps last season. With Jack Jones establishing himself last year, the team could move Jonathan Jones back inside and let Jack handle boundary duties, giving the team a strong starting three.

Jack Jones was the favorite to start opposite Gonzalez, especially if Jonathan Jones were to move inside to nickelback. His arrest brings that scenario into question a bit more. After a tumultuous college career that included academic issues and another arrest, Jack Jones had trouble separating himself from that reputation after getting hit with a two-game suspension enforced by the Patriots for a violation of unspecified team rules last year. If the NFL sees this history and decides to make a statement after his most recent arrest, Jones could be facing a lengthy absence.

If Jones is forced to miss time, the Patriots luckily have another high-performing second year cornerback and, coincidentally, another Jones in Marcus Jones. Marcus made four starts as a rookie last year while playing mostly on the outside. He’s also a top return man for the Patriots, though, finishing his rookie year as a first-team All-Pro, so they might be hesitant to start him full-time on defense, as well. If they can afford to, though, he would fill in nicely during Jack Jones’s absence.

Myles Bryant is also set to contribute at cornerback for New England, both at slot and out wide, but the Patriots likely don’t want to have to rely on him starting full-time. Behind them, the team currently rosters Isaiah Bolden, Quandre Mosely, Rodney Randle, Ameer Speed, and Shaun Wade, but none of them are strong candidates to make the 53-man roster, let alone finish the offseason as a starter.

So, there you have it. If Jack Jones is forced to miss significant time due to his arrest, the Patriots have a good number of options. They can leave Jonathan Jones on the outside and count on Marcus Jones and Bryant to cover the bulk of responsibilities on the inside. They can also start Jonathan outside until bringing on a third cornerback and shift him to the slot while Marcus takes over on the outside. Or they can stick to the plan of moving Jonathan inside and give Marcus some run as a starter until Jack returns.

Latest On Patriots’ First-Round Trade Talks: Commanders, CBs, Jones, Jets, Steelers

The Patriots’ decision to trade their first-round pick (No. 14 overall) to the Steelers produced some fallout, with the Jets believed to have been targeting Broderick Jones at No. 15. The Commanders factor into this interesting decision as well, having also discussed a trade-up with the Pats.

Washington GM Martin Mayhew spoke with Patriots scouting director Eliot Wolf during the run-up to New England’s No. 14 selection. The terms discussed (via a video showing Commanders draft-night proceedings; h/t’s Mark Daniels) point to Washington not wanting to give up its third-round pick (No. 97) in a deal to climb two spots.

Mayhew indicated the team might be willing to send its fourth-rounder (No. 118) to the Patriots for No. 14, and a second phone conversation revealed the Pats were willing to throw in a sixth-rounder to acquire the Commanders’ third. But after the Packers chose Lukas Van Ness at No. 13, the Commanders stood down. Ron Rivera and Commanders exec Marty Hurney referenced the likelihood of either Emmanuel Forbes or Christian Gonzalez remaining on the board at No. 16 as a reason not to complete a trade with the Pats. As it turned out, both Forbes and Gonzalez were available.

Forbes, who returned six interceptions for touchdowns during a prolific career at Mississippi State, did not end up being docked for his size (6-foot, 166). Despite ESPN’s Scouts Inc. slotting Gonzalez as this draft’s eighth-best prospect and ranking Forbes 21st, Washington preferred the smaller player to the Oregon prospect. The Pats chose Gonzalez at No. 17.

The Commanders’ decision not to complete a trade to ensure they ended up with Forbes led to the Patriots sending their pick to the Steelers, who took Jones. The Pats ended up with a fourth-round pick (No. 120) two spots below the one they may well have been able to obtain from the Commanders, but the much-rumored bonus of denying the Jets a first-round tackle likely sweetened the deal for Bill Belichick and Co.

I’m not going to delve into the relationship between New England and the Jets; let’s just say I’m glad we found a partner,” Mike Tomlin said during a Rich Eisen Show appearance (video link). “I’ll put it this way: there wasn’t a lot of hesitation on New England’s end.”

Both Tomlin and GM Omar Khan confirmed the view inside the Steelers’ war room pointed to a Jets plan to take Jones. While the Jets have denied indicated they were comfortable with Will McDonald at No. 13 — their draft slot before the Aaron Rodgers trade — or 15, the belief around the league was a Jets preference for Jones. The Steelers are expected to give Jones a shot to unseat two-year left tackle incumbent Dan Moore.

We were speculating there. We knew with the acquisition of Aaron Rodgers and so forth, [the Jets] might be fishing in those waters,” Tomlin said. “And so we did what we thought we needed to do to get the player and the position that we coveted. … There was a run on the position, starting with, I think [Bears selection] Darnell Wright at about 10 where they were coming off pretty clean. We just had that as a position of priority and we had Broderick as an individual of priority.”

The Commanders chose corners in Rounds 1 and 2, selecting Illinois’ Jartavius Martin at No. 47. The team moved on from a William Jackson miscalculation last season and will expect Forbes and Martin to make significant impacts alongside Kendall Fuller and Benjamin St-Juste. Despite Fuller’s past as a slot corner, the Commanders are planning to leave him on the outside in their zone-based system, John Keim of tweets. Ron Rivera said OTAs have featured Forbes and St-Juste being used both inside and outside. Rivera noted the team liked what St-Juste, a 2021 third-rounder, brought as a slot defender last season.

As for the Patriots, Gonzalez marks the first pure corner Belichick has chosen in Round 1 since he took the reins in 2000. The team expected the Commanders to choose Forbes, leaving them Gonzalez, whom the Pats — despite their three-spot trade-down maneuver — universally held in high regard.

Teams have to wait a little bit here in the first round before they get their picks in. We didn’t know, but we had a pretty good feeling as to how Washington was going to play it out,” Pats player personnel director Mike Groh said (via Daniels). “So that sped things along for us. Again, it’s nice when you’ve got a consensus on a player. So from the coaching staff, to the scouts, we’re fairly unified grade wise on Christian. That just sped the process along.”

Jets Targeted T Broderick Jones; Latest On Patriots’ Trade Process

The Jets exited draft week with one of the biggest quarterback upgrades in many years, but they paid far more than it took to execute a similar transaction 15 years ago. It cost the Jets a conditional third-round pick to acquire Brett Favre‘s rights in 2008; the Aaron Rodgers trade cost New York a second-rounder, a likely 2024 first and a first-round pick swap this year. The last component here became key to start this draft.

Connected to tackles for weeks leading up to the draft, the Jets saw three of this year’s top four options — Paris Johnson, Darnell Wright, Peter Skoronski — go off the board between Nos. 6-11. With Broderick Jones still available at No. 14, the Steelers traded up one spot in front of the Jets — who moved from No. 13 to 15 in the Rodgers trade — to obtain the former Georgia blocker. This maneuver generated some attention in the days since.

Some around the league believe the Patriots made an effort to help ensure the Jets did not land the tackle they coveted at No. 15, with Jason La Canfora of the Washington Post noting select staffers viewed the Jets’ choice of Iowa State edge rusher Will McDonald as a bit of a panic move. The Jets were reported to have given Jones positive feedback on their “30” visit with the tackle, and La Canfora adds the team was targeting him at No. 15. Several GMs also said (via NBC Sports’ Peter King) they believed the Jets were planning to select Jones at No. 13, but the Rodgers trade gave the Packers that pick (which became Iowa defensive lineman Lukas Van Ness).

The Patriots sold the 14th pick to the Steelers, moving down three spots and picking up a fourth-round pick (No. 120) to do so. One GM whose team was monitoring a potential trade-up move with the Pats told La Canfora that Pittsburgh should have needed to fork over a third-rounder to move from 17 to 14 to land its potential long-term left tackle. The Giants gave up more than that — a fourth and a seventh — to move up from No. 25 to No. 24 later Thursday night. Rival execs viewed the Pats as giving the Steelers a friendly route to leapfrog the Jets, given the AFC East rivalry in play and Bill Belichick‘s checkered history (the 2000 hiring snafu and the 2007 Spygate whistle-blowing incident) with the organization.

Scouts Inc. rated McDonald 25th on its big board. Even if this was a perceived reach, far worse stretches have occurred in modern draft history. The undersized pass rusher joins a Jets team rostering Carl Lawson, Jermaine Johnson and John Franklin-Myers. Lawson’s contract expires after this season. At tackle, the Jets face more uncertainty.

Left tackle Duane Brown‘s two-year contract runs through 2023, but the veteran will turn 38 this year and is coming off surgery. The team declined Mekhi Becton‘s fifth-year option, and the once-promising left tackle has played one game over the past two seasons. Becton has lost more than 40 pounds and is on track to compete for the right tackle job again in training camp, but he cannot exactly be relied upon to anchor that spot. The team signed ex-Nathaniel Hackett Broncos and Packers charge Billy Turner on Monday; Turner missed nine games last season. Jones would have offered Gang Green a high-ceiling option, and if the one-year Georgia starter develops in Pittsburgh, the Jets’ 2023 draft plan will encounter more scrutiny.

The Patriots ended up with Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez at No. 17. Scouts Inc.’s No. 8 overall prospect, Gonzalez was not expected to fall that far. It is worth wondering what the Patriots’ tackle plan will be, seeing as Trent Brown is an annual injury risk and UFA pickup Riley Reiff is 34 and did not begin last season as the Bears’ right-side starter. But the Pats passed on Jones and loaded up on interior O-linemen on Day 3.

Belichick’s well-earned reputation for trading down aside, Pats director of player personnel Matt Groh said (via ESPN’s Mike Reiss) a move up was in play. The team placed Gonzalez in a cluster of players with similar value, per’s Albert Breer, who adds second-round Pats pick Keion White was in that cluster. The Pats not viewing the Jets as likely to draft a corner contributed to the team’s decision to resume talks about trading down with the Steelers, Breer adds. Belichick hired ex-Steelers O-line coach Adrian Klemm to the same position. Klemm spent last season at Oregon, helping with Gonzalez intel. The Pats had not drafted a pure corner in Round 1 during Belichick’s previous 23 years at the helm.

The Pats attempted to move back into Round 1 later Thursday night, with Reiss indicating the team engaged multiple clubs in those talks. New England’s actual trade, depending on who you believe, may have left the Jets scrambling. Jones’ Pittsburgh path could make for an interesting “what if?” for the Jets, who may need to make another tackle investment as Rodgers readies for his New York debut.

Draft Notes: Young, Chiefs, Saints, Addison, Vikings, Patriots, Campbell, Lions

Panthers brass joined other front offices in being wowed by Bryce Young during his 2021 Heisman-winning season, and the team had mostly decided on the Alabama prospect by the time Frank Reich arrived. David Tepper and Panthers scouts had zeroed in on Young — prior to making the trade with the Bears — and Reich learned of the staff’s preference early during his tenure.

And it was unanimous with every guy in that room, starting from [GM] Scott [Fitterer] on down, that Bryce was the guy. That was great for me to hear,” Reich said of an early-February meeting, via The Athletic’s Joe Person (subscription required). “But what I appreciate about the way Scott handled it, he was like, ‘Frank, you take your time.’ … And it wasn’t much convincing.”

Fitterer said he sought Reich’s final stance late in the process. It would have been interesting had Reich, who was initially mentioned as preferring a taller passer, stood his ground for another prospect. He was believed to also be intrigued by Anthony Richardson. But the veteran HC will be coaching a 5-foot-10 quarterback in Carolina.

Here is the latest from the draft, as we head into Day 2:

  • The Vikings closed the record-breaking run on wide receivers at No. 23, selecting Jordan Addison, the fourth straight receiver taken from Nos. 20-23. But Minnesota received interest in the pick. The Chiefs and Saints contacted the Vikings about moving up to 23, per KTSP’s Darren Wolfson, who adds the belief is at least one of the teams eyeing a trade-up would have taken the USC wide receiver (Twitter link). The Vikings appear to have received an offer, but they instead chose Addison. The Chiefs were mentioned as a team pursuing a move up the board, and the defending Super Bowl champions — after J.J. Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman‘s exits — had done a lot of work on this year’s wideout class. The Saints have not re-signed Jarvis Landry and have not seen much of a healthy Michael Thomas since the 2010s. Both teams will probably be on the hunt for receivers tonight.
  • It is not surprising to see Patriots first-round trade-downs, and the team allowing the Steelers to leapfrog the Jets for tackle Broderick Jones likely made the move doubly intriguing for Bill Belichick. But the Pats turned in their draft card quickly at No. 17, selecting cornerback Christian Gonzalez. New England was high enough on the Oregon product it was close to finalizing a trade-up move from No. 14, Jeff Howe of The Athletic tweets. The Commanders had been in on corners, but they chose Mississippi State ballhawk Emmanuel Forbes over Gonzalez at No. 16.
  • While the Patriots have been praised for nabbing a high-end prospect a bit later than he was expected to go, the Lions bucked pre-draft rankings by taking a running back (Jahmyr Gibbs) at No. 12 and an off-ball linebacker (Jack Campbell) at 18. Campbell, in particular, was not viewed as especially likely to be a first-round pick, and GM Brad Holmes admitted he probably could have nabbed the Iowa defender if he had traded down once again. “It’s not about just don’t pick a running back [in Round 1] because that’s not how we really view [Gibbs],” Holmes said, via the Detroit Free Press’ Dave Birkett. “And then it’s the same thing about don’t pick an off-ball linebacker. That’s not really how we view Jack. If you put them in boxes and you put on a sheet of paper and you run mock draft analytics, yeah, you can come up with those stats. But all the hours and research and all the time that we put in, in terms of looking at these players, it becomes very, very visible that what kind of impact they can bring.”

Patriots Take Christian Gonzalez At No. 17

Christian Gonzalez has seen a slight drop down the draft board, but his fall has landed him in New England. After trading down three spots with the Steelers, the Patriots selected the Oregon cornerback with the No. 17 pick. The Pats picked up a 2023 fourth-rounder from the Steelers to move down.

Gonzalez spent his first two collegiate seasons at Colorado, but he firmly put himself on the first-round radar in 2022 thanks to his performance with the Ducks. He notched the only four interceptions of his college tenure at Oregon, adding a career-high seven pass breakups along the way.

That performance helped put him in the conversation to be the draft’s top corner this year. His main competition for that title, Devon Witherspoon, was selected earlier in the first round, but the Commanders surprised some by selecting Emmanuel Forbes at No. 16.

This looks to be a value add for the Pats. ESPN’s Scouts Inc. graded the Oregon product as the seventh-best prospect in this draft;’s Daniel Jeremiah slotted him 11th. This is the first cornerback the Patriots have chosen in Round 1 in Bill Belichick‘s 24-draft tenure.

The Pats have managed to find gems later in the draft (Asante Samuel) or in post-draft free agency (Malcolm Butler, Jonathan Jones, J.C. Jackson). For the most part, Belichick’s recent early-round corner picks (Cyrus Jones, Duke Dawson, Joejuan Williams) have not panned out.

New England let Jackson walk in free agency last year, par for the course during Belichick’s tenure, but re-signed Jones this offseason. Jones has fared better in the slot but provided some value as a boundary defender last season as well, giving the team some flexibility. The Pats also reached a new agreement with Jalen Mills, who has corner and safety experience. Two other Joneses — Jack and Marcus — will join Gonzalez at corner.

Raiders Targeting Defensive Upgrades, Meet With DE Tyree Wilson

Reliable defenses have eluded the Raiders for most of this century. Last season marked the franchise’s 20th straight ranking in the bottom half in scoring defense. Patrick Graham‘s unit ranked 26th in points allowed and 27th in DVOA, making it logical to expect the AFC West franchise to seek help in the draft.

The team will do so, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Vincent Bonsignore notes help will be sought on all three defensive levels. Although the Raiders have added a few pieces on defense, they have not devoted much money beyond the midlevel Marcus Epps contract. After the Davante Adams trade cost Las Vegas’ first- and second-round picks last year, the team should be expected to add defensive help early in this draft.

Substantial guarantees remain on Chandler Jones‘ deal, but after the former Cardinals All-Pro did not live up to expectations last season, Bonsignore adds the Raiders are eyeing edge help that would both prepare them for Jones’ departure — which could happen in 2024 — and give the veteran pass rusher more rest in 2023. The team met with Texas Tech edge rusher Tyree Wilson on Thursday, Albert Breer of tweets.

Jones, 33, finished with just 4.5 sacks last season; three of those came in one game. His 2023 base salary and roster bonus represent a $16MM guarantee for the Silver and Black. Due to the void years tacked onto Jones’ three-year contract, it would cost the Raiders $7.2MM in dead money to cut him (without a post-June 1 designation, that is) in 2024. The Raiders signed ex-49er Jordan Willis as a backup but look to be targeting edge help. Both’s Daniel Jeremiah and ESPN’s Scouts Inc. rate Wilson as a top-six player, but teams’ quarterback maneuvers could push him down to the Raiders at No. 7. Iowa’s Lukas Van Ness also sits as a possible edge upgrade for the Raiders, who have also done considerable homework on quarterbacks.

The Raiders have hosted each of the top quarterbacks available this year, including Hendon Hooker, but their defense may have too many needs for Josh McDaniels’ team — which already signed Jimmy Garoppolo to a three-year deal that guarantees him $33.75MM — to take a quarterback in Round 1. Instead, cornerback looks like a strong consideration. The Raiders should be monitored for a corner at 7, Jordan Reid of notes. They hosted Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr. and Maryland’s Deonte Banks on visits, and Reid adds the team has also work on top corners Devon Witherspoon (Illinois) and Christian Gonzalez (Oregon). Mel Kiper Jr.’s most recent mock sends Witherspoon to Vegas.

Robert Spillane (two years, $7MM) could be ticketed for a full-time role with the Raiders, being on the radar to wear the green dot signifying communication. The Raiders should be expected to look into this year’s linebacker class, per Bonsignore, but that will not happen until at least Round 2. On Day 2, Las Vegas holds the Nos. 38, 70 and 100 overall picks.

A Jalen Carter visit surfaced, with word of that meeting coming out shortly after a report indicated the Raiders would not consider the Georgia defensive tackle, and could be in position to select the high-risk proposition. But The Athletic’s Vic Tafur adds the Carter meeting has not yet transpired. The Bears (No. 9) and Eagles (No. 10) have both emerged as potential Carter landing spots, though the Seahawks (No. 5) have as well.

Steelers Host CB Christian Gonzalez

Cornerback has frequently been named as a position of need for the Steelers entering the draft, and the team is unsurprisingly doing its homework on some of the top options in the 2023 class. Among the invitees to Pittsburgh’s Thursday visit is Oregon product Christian Gonzalez (Twitter link via Mark Kaboly of The Athletic).

Gonzalez spent the first two seasons of his career at Colorado, but put himself on the first-round radar in 2022 in his lone campaign with the Ducks. He notched the only four interceptions of his college tenure at Oregon, adding a career-high seven pass breakups along the way. That helped put him in the conversation for the draft’s top corner this year, along with the likes of Devon Witherspoon, Joey Porter Jr., Deonte Banks and Emmanuel Forbes as probable first round-locks.

The Steelers met with Porter on a local visit last week, which came as no surprise given his connections to the team through his father along with his skillset. Gonzalez sports a similar length to Porter (6-2), but is generally viewed as a better athlete. That could give him a higher upside, and put him in contention to hear his name called in the first half of Day 1.

Pittsburgh owns the No. 17 pick, which should put them in range for at least most of the CB prospects available. An early addition at the position would come as no surprise, since the Steelers saw Cameron Sutton depart in free agency. His loss was only partially (and, in all likelihood, temporarily) filled by the signing of Patrick Peterson. The 32-year-old could see time at safety as he moves further into the latter stages of his career.

Peterson is the only outside addition the team has made so far in free agency, so at least one notable selection is likely to be used on bolstering the cornerbacks room. The Steelers hold pick No. 32 (a second-rounder this season), which will give them another opportunity to land an impact cover man, though Gonzalez is expected to be off the board by that point.

Oregon CB Christian Gonzalez Declares For Draft

As the college football bowl schedule emerges, a handful of NFL hopefuls will pass on those games. Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez is one of them. The highly rated cornerback is declaring for the 2023 draft, he announced (on Twitter).

Gonzalez played two seasons at Colorado and one at Oregon, transferring within the Pac-12 this year. He will join several players who are passing on bowl games to guard against injury. Ohio State wideout Jaxon Smith-Njigba is passing on a College Football Playoff semifinal, though he has missed most of this season due to injury.

ESPN’s Todd McShay slots Gonzalez as the second-ranked draft-eligible corner — behind only Georgia’s Kelee Ringo — while Mel Kiper Jr. pegs him as the class’ fourth-best corner. Gonzalez’s declaration follows the NCAA exits of Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr. and South Carolina’s Cam Smith; both are consensus top-five prospects at the position and will thus be on the first-round radar. Oregon has not produced a first-round corner since Alex Molden in 1996.

Following the transfer, Gonzalez intercepted four passes — the first four of his career — and finished his 12-game season with a career-high seven passes defensed. While the 6-foot-2 defender only played six games during 2020’s COVID-19-altered Pac-12 season and will pass on his senior year, he closes his career having never missed a contest.

Oregon is set to play North Carolina in the Holiday Bowl. Next season will mark the last of the four-team CFP. The change will further diminish the bowls’ standing and put draft prospects who are on CFP-bound teams’ rosters to tests regarding participation.