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2017 NFL Draft: Michael Lombardi’s top prospect list shows why Patriots traded away top draft picks

The 2017 NFL Draft was supposed to be incredibly deep. The Patriots might not view it that way.

Former Patriots exec and Bill Belichick’s right-hand Michael Lombardi posted his top 14 prospects in the 2017 NFL Draft over at The Ringer and I think it’s important to read between the lines to fully understand what he’s saying.

Lombardi relays how he and Belichick worked at the Cleveland Browns to remodel their scouting grading system, and how it relates to this year’s draft.

“When Bill joined the Browns in 1991, the two of us spent the better part of his first season designing our grading system,” Lombardi writes. “We wanted to define the prospect’s role on our team, and we wanted to predict how long it would take for him to achieve that role. That’s it.

“Instead of predicting rounds, our system forced our scouts to grade every player as (1) a starter, (2) a potential starter, (3) a developmental player, (4) a backup, or (5) someone who couldn’t make any NFL team. In Belichick’s room, no one was permitted to mention rounds — that job was for useless coffee-guzzling scouts and cliché-spouting TV commentators.”

Lombardi notes that every Patriots “draft board features maybe 14 or 15 potential day-one starters ,” and Lombardi’s list of 14 players for the 2017 Draft is important. I don’t take what Lombardi says about the Patriots as gospel, but I do think it holds value.

The Patriots just didn’t think any day-one starter would be available in this draft, so they sent their first round pick to the New Orleans Saints for WR Brandin Cooks, who will be a day one starter.

Looking at Lombardi’s prospects, it’s easy to see why. He has just five offensive players on his list (TE O.J. Howard, RB Leonard Fournette, RB Christian McCaffrey, QB Deshaun Watson, and OT Cam Robinson); Robinson is the only player of the five that might be available at #32 overall and his draft grade is all over the place.

Lombardi lists nine defenders and eight of them (EDGE Myles Garrett, DT Jonathan Allen, S Malik Hooker, LB Haason Reddick, DL Solomon Thomas, S Jamal Adams, CB Marshon Lattimore, and EDGE Derek Barnett) are considered possible top 10 selections. The ninth is CB Adoree Jackson, whom Lombardi compares to “a waaaaay better Asante Samuel.”

So of the 14 prospects that Lombardi considers a day-one starter, only two- Robinson and Jackson- are expected to be available at the end of the first round. The Patriots decision to add a surefire starter in Cooks over makes a lot of sense when viewed through this lens.

And one last thing: if the Patriots do acquire the 12th overall pick from the Browns, look for Tennessee EDGE Derek Barnett. Lombardi compares him to a mix of Terrell Suggs and Trey Flowers, and Barnett would be a perfect complement to Flowers in the Patriots defensive front.