The New England Patriots drafted Sacramento State linebacker/safety Marte Mapu with the No. 76 overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft. Mapu is a hybrid defender that will be appropriately utilized by defensive-minded head coach Bill Belichick. Mapu could be the next small-schooler to thrive in Foxboro.
Mapu exploded onto the NFL draft scene with an outstanding senior season for the Hornets. Mapu recorded career-highs in tackles (76) and tackles for loss (6.5). He also accounted for 20 pass breakups and six interceptions across his final two campaigns. Mapu was named the Big Sky Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2022 for his efforts.
Mapu parlayed his strong season into an invite to this year’s Senior Bowl. Mapu wasn’t a fish out of water among talented prospects from the Power 5. Much like his collegiate tape showcased, Mapu flew all over the field and made plays. It served as a pivotal moment in determining his pre-draft stock. His performance in Mobile made the Patriots comfortable enough to invest a top-100 selection in him.
Mapu is a legitimate Swiss army knife. Mapu was typically utilized in a nickel safety role by the Hornets. It allowed Mapu to impact offenses both near the line of scrimmage, in man coverage, and as a single-high safety on occasion. Versatility is Mapu’s calling card. Belichick is the ideal candidate to deploy him accordingly based on down-and-distance and various in-game situations.
Mapu is long, rangy, and violent. Mapu’s physical traits were routinely on display. Mapu’s athleticism jumps off the screen. A tone-setter that pairs closing speed with lower-body flexibility, Mapu equally impacted the passing game and running game.
Mapu is a quick post-snap processor. It’s an ability that allows him to read and react to developing action. Belichick will appreciate his high-level football IQ. Mapu is an effective blitzer from the second level. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Belichick send Mapu after quarterbacks. The Patriots are creative with their defensive packages. Mapu fits the mold.
Mapu will help fill the “STAR” position in New England’s defense as a safety/linebacker hybrid. His skill set is comparable to fellow small-school safety Kyle Dugger, who the Patriots selected in the second round of the 2020 draft. Ironically, like Mapu, Dugger electrified audiences at a rather unknown program (Lenoir-Rhyne) before standing out at the Senior Bowl.
Dugger is entering a fate-deciding contract season in 2023. Dugger could be in line for a multi-year extension that pays him approximately $15 million. The Patriots should retain Dugger, but drafting Mapu could protect the Patriots in case extension talks go south.
Dugger and Mapu aren’t the only small-schoolers Belichick has shown an affinity for. Matthew Judon, who played collegiately in the GLIAC for Grand Valley State, has accounted for 28.0 sacks across the previous two campaigns, including a personal-best 15.5 quarterback takedowns in 2022. Judon wasn’t drafted by Belichick and the Patriots, but he’s elevated his game to new heights since joining the organization.
The list goes on and on for Belichick. Kent State quarterback-turned-receiver Julian Edelman won a Super Bowl MVP. In the 2022 NFL Draft, Belichick utilized a first-round selection on Chattanooga guard Cole Strange. Defensive end Sam Roberts was drafted in the sixth round from D-II program Northwest Missouri State. Mapu was next in line.
Dugger is joining a talented secondary that accounted for a second-ranked 19 interceptions in 2022. Mapu wasn’t the lone potentially difference-making defender selected by the Patriots. He joins former Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez and Georgia Tech defensive lineman Keion White. Mapu could help make up one of the most ascending secondaries alongside Gonzalez, Jack Jones, and Marcus Jones.
Mapu checks so many boxes for a Belichick-influenced defense. Above all, he’s versatile, physical, and rangy. Mapu landed in the ideal destination for his jack-of-all-trades traits to shine. Mapu will join a lengthy list of small-school difference-makers.
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