Christian Gonzalez made a career-defining decision to join the Oregon Ducks football program.
Fortunately for him, that choice was the right one. After just one season under Dan Lanning, Gonzalez went from a lesser-known, potentially late-round guy in the NFL to a bonified starter that’s almost a guaranteed first-rounder. Now, our Ducks look ahead to the draft where Gonzalez aims to become the next top talent in the draft for the Ducks. What’s even more remarkable? How fast his stock has boosted in the past 12 months.
Make no mistake, Gonzalez didn’t pop on tape by pure luck. He demonstrated truly dominant play at the position, and looks to carry all the skills and character traits that you need to excel at the next level. It took a ton of effort on his end, and his work ethic, determination, and all-class personality cannot be overstated.
But we all know that isn’t alone enough to be picked inside of the top ten of the NFL Draft. So what gives him an edge?
Why Is Christian Gonzalez a Top Draft Target?
First off, we have to think about the direction the league’s going in terms of quarterbacks. Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, Patrick Mahomes, and a myriad of other superstars at the quarterback position have begun lighting it up at an elite level.
Now, tack on supreme wide receiver play? Who couldn’t use a shutdown corner at the pro level? Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase, AJ Brown, and the rest of the league’s best aren’t going anywhere. You need a superstar at the position more than ever, and Gonzalez is the perfect prospect to get it done.
He combines size, instincts, and top-gear speed to set himself apart in that upper echelon of cornerbacks being drafted. Additionally, he’s proved time and time again that he could lineup against any of the top receivers he faced and lock ’em down. Now we just have to find a spot for him.
After this past weekend with the Panthers shaking things up and moving to the top slot, we have the Detroit Lions, Las Vegas Raiders, Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears, and Philadelphia Eagles all as the leading contenders for drafting Gonzalez with their respective first selections in this year’s NFL Draft.
Who Pulls the Trigger on Drafting Gonzalez?
One NFL mock draft has Gonzalez going 8th overall to the Falcons, but I think a handful of suitors have great potential to draft him as well. Most mock drafts hover around just about the five spot, which is where I could see a handful of teams passing on an edge rusher or pass protector and grabbing the top defensive back in this year’s draft.
At the No. 6 spot, the capital might be a bit much to miss out on a top pass rusher and instead elect to take another cornerback. If you’ll recall, the Lions in just the 2020 NFL Draft selected Jeff Okudah third overall from Ohio State. While he hasn’t been a complete bust, injuries have derailed much of his career so far and may put Detroit’s management in a tough spot to pull the trigger on drafting another cornerback already.
With the No. 9 pick, I can absolutely see the Bears making a play on Gonzalez. Kyler Gordon was selected at pick No. 39 just a year ago, and made some plays to stand out on the Chicago defense as a game-changer, and could really use a partner like Gonzalez to lockdown the deep part of the field. However, the Panthers’ capital they’ve acquired could push them to trade back up and take a top pass rusher. If they do “stick and pick” though, Gonzalez would be a great building block for a defense that needs a real spark in 2023.
That leaves my top contender. The Eagles made the Super Bowl this year, and lucked out with New Orleans’ draft pick at 10th overall. With a ton of talent on the defensive side of the ball, they’re actually losing a handful of their top players in the secondary to free agency. C.J. Gardner-Johnson was a huge pickup for them who’s on his way out of town, and James Bradberry is at the same juncture.
When it comes down to it, Philadelphia is my prime pick for getting Gonzalez right at 10th overall. I believe he’s a great fit for their scheme, and should be a dominant presence opposite Darius Slay, who will have a big role in making Gonzalez take a big leap at the NFL level.
Above all this, though, and where Gonzalez lands, we have to consider the immense positive impact he’s had on this program.
What’s Our Biggest Takeaway From the Gonzalez Transfer?
Well, if anyone said this past offseason that Christian Gonzalez would be the best NFL prospect on this Ducks team, hats off to you. Most of us didn’t see it coming, and all of us up in Autzen were pleasantly surprised by his play.
Why was he available, though? How did he even end up on the Ducks?
Our biggest takeaway from this offseason has to be that the transfer portal is a proven, viable route to change the course of your team’s future, and something we have to respect the value of at all positions moving forward. That said, recruiting will remain paramount to creating sustained success. Lanning’s going to have to continue to bring his A-game (which he certainly has, by the way) day in and day out throughout the year.
Still, filling a defensive gap, stealing a pass protector, or grabbing an underutilized deep threat is entirely possible through the portal today.
You can even get a signal-caller like Bo Nix to become the face of the program. That doesn’t mean I expect Nix to be a first-rounder next year, but a Heisman Trophy might change my tune. Regardless, he has created a mold for what the Ducks’ staff should look for, and demonstrated what the right people in the building are capable of with Lanning at the helm. Now, the only place to go is up.
What Does This Mean for Oregon’s Recruiting Success in the Future?
Overall, having fantastic talent at the top of each NFL Draft is huge for the Ducks’ program exposure. This can be a complete game-changer in the future.
Gonzalez going top-10 in the NFL Draft this year would mark the fourth consecutive season that our Ducks have produced a top-10 prospect (following Justin Herbert, Penei Sewell, and Kayvon Thibodeaux).
This kind of pro-level exposure for the Ducks is going to elevate the program to legitimate College Football Playoff contention. Not to mention, add some more late-round players onto the pro scene as well, with Jevon Holland making a name for himself in Miami, and Deommodore Lenoir (who you might recall picking off Cowboys’ superstar Dak Prescott this last playoff season) earning a role in San Francisco. Even Juwan Johnson found himself “fantasy-relevant” a few weeks out of this past season, earning a more significant role as a redzone-threat tight end for the New Orlean Saints.
The point is: Oregon’s most talented players are translating into pros at an unprecedented level. If Gonzalez does prove to keep the trend going and finds himself selected at the top of the draft next month, the sky is the limit for this Lanning-led recruiting blitz that’s been catching fire over the past several months.
Enough from me, though, Oregon fans. Where do you think Gonzalez will end up? How will the rest of the Ducks’ draft picks like Noah Sewell and DJ Johnson work out? Do the Ducks have a top pick for next year’s NFL Draft too? Let us know your thoughts on the FishDuck Forum with decorum!
Los Angeles, California
Top Photo By: Harry Caston
Alex Heining is an Oregon alumni from the graduate class of 2021. After studying sports business and media studies, he has moved into the field of digital marketing as a copywriter and content manager in the Los Angeles area. Still, he loves his Ducks and goes to local high school games all over the Los Angeles and Orange County area to check out new recruits of the future (and a SoFi game or two with the pros). On any given Saturday, expect to find him doing martial arts, playing the guitar, or screaming at the tv over a missed holding penalty.
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