Coined as the best cornerback in the 2023 NFL Draft class, Christian Gonzalez has been turning heads, but do the Detroit Lions each for him?
The surface level answer is yes, but like any human and football player there’s more to dig into.
The real question is can he fit into the Detroit Lions defensive scheme and new-era culture? Another yes, but he’s likely going to go in the first round, so the Lions would have to use one of their two picks in that round.
When scanning through mock drafts, an overwhelming amount of them have Detroit selecting him somewhere in the first round. It’s a positional need for the team, so it fits the bill, but a mock-draft is simply that. Calculated placements and assessments, but ultimately make-believe fairy dust.
So who is Christian Gonzalez, and what are his strengths and weaknesses on the field?
Gonzalez on the field
Right off the bat, Gonzalez size turns heads. With a 6’2” frame at 201 lbs, he’s an intimidating foe in the eyes of a wide receiver. After two years at Colorado, he followed his cornerbacks coach to Oregon, where he had a solid year. He had 45 tackles, four interceptions, three touchdowns and a 60.9 reception percentage, according to PFF. His coverage in man formations is exceptional, and in zone he’s solid.
For starters, he’s shown great foundations at the position. Despite his size, he’s able to flip his hips to adjust to deeper routes with ease. He’s able to press his man at the line, extremely well, and typically is able to read the eyes of the quarterback while in tight coverage. Rarely is he behind the receiver with his head turned away from the quarterback.
In zone coverage, he plays a little more loose, but still effective. He’s not as good as he is in man, but his open field tackling makes up for it. While he’s a coverage guy, he still is able to read situations outside of his job. Gonzalez often drops in coverage to make a tackle, and he hits hard.
His aggressiveness on the field is what make Gonzalez a top cornerback prospect, but sometimes that not the case. Like most young players, consistency isn’t an attribute associated with players like Gonzalez. Most likely, it won’t affect his stock greatly, but at times he looks as though he’s playing to prevent rather than attack. Technically, “preventing” is what the defense is on the field for, but in today’s NFL, the cornerback position is more than that.
Gonzalez the Person
There’s no real way to define who a person is without having any relationship with the person, but being a public figure blurs those lines slightly.
In an interview on Duck Insider Gonzalez gave some insight on the person he is. Mentioned earlier in the article, Gonzalez followed his cornerbacks coach Demetrius Martin from Colorado to Oregon.
“I don’t look at him as a coach anymore, it’s more like an uncle, he’s somebody that’ll be there for you if you need it,” said Gonzalez. “… I was moving, I just moved into an apartment, and I needed to pick up a couch, called him up, and he was the first one there to help me with the couch…”
From snippets like this, it seems as though Gonzalez values loyalty over situation. It’s reminiscent of the way Dan Campbell has run the Detroit Lions. Nearly all of Detroit’s position coaches and coordinators have worked with Campbell in the past. Lions linebacker Alex Anzalone played while Campbell was coaching in New Orleans.
Loyalty, hard work and dedication to one common goal is the new identity of the Detroit Lions. Don’t be surprised if the Lions target him with the sixth or 18th pick.
Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas – USA TODAY Sports
Photo Edit: Noah Wulbrecht – Woodward Sports