Former Patriots exec Michael Lombardi spoke at length about the NFL Draft process on his podcast over at the Ringer. He shared stories about his times with the Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders, and the New England Patriots.
Lombardi talked about how teams trade down in the draft if they need to buy time, especially in the special case where all of their desired selections go off the board in the picks prior.
But the part I found most interesting was about the 2015 NFL Draft when Lombardi was a member of the Patriots front office.
Lombardi talked about looking at mock drafts to figure out where a prospect might go on draft day- (“They give you a range of where the player is going to go,” Lombardi explained.)- and how if a player has a range of going 50th through 100th in mock drafts, a team can’t expect the player to be on the board at his average draft rank of 75th.
The Patriots were hoping to draft Missouri C Mitch Morse with their second or third round pick and they thought Morse would still be on the board in the second round. All the mock drafts and projections had Morse going in the third round.
“Like, two years ago, Mitch Morse the offensive center for the Chiefs. His name was never mentioned in these mocks, okay?,” Lombardi said. “So we were picking in the bottom of the second round in New England. We felt really good that we would be able to get him. We felt really comfortable that we could get him. Because there was no indication on this survey [mock draft] here that he was involved in any of them. And yet the Chiefs picked him in the middle of the second [49th overall]. So what does that tell you?”
Morse has gone on to be a pretty good center for the Chiefs and is arguably the team’s best offensive lineman.
“C Mitch Morse was the team’s best player,” Pro Football Focus writes about the Chiefs offensive line. “He went through the season without allowing a sack, giving up just 13 total QB pressures over 628 pass-blocking snap”
The Patriots ended up talking S Jordan Richards, who hasn’t done much in his two years in the league. New England also selected guards Tre Jackson and Shaq Mason in the fourth round and added David Andrews as an undrafted player after the draft.
Selecting Morse would have had a butterfly effect on the offensive line (would the Patriots have also picked Mason if they had drafted Morse?), but a hypothetical interior of Joe Thuney, Morse, and Mason would be absolutely outstanding.
Lombardi explained that Bill Belichick is the type of general manager that doesn’t get too caught up on individual prospects because he has a few in mind that he considers roughly equal. Apparently Richards was roughly equal as a prospect to Morse, as were players like Missouri EDGE Markus Golden (58th overall)...
@NEPD_Loyko @mlombardiNFL that's interesting. I had heard another Mizzou guy — Markus Golden — was the one they wanted.— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) April 26, 2017
...and possibly a player like South Carolina OG A.J. Cann.
Morse and Cann have started almost every game they’ve been in the league. Golden is coming off a 12.5 sack season. Richards played a total 18 defensive snaps in 2016.
Not all prospects are equal.
Lombardi also believes that the Patriots will sit on their hands until their first scheduled pick at 72nd overall because the team lacks the draft capital to move around the board in the 2017 NFL Draft.
He believes the Patriots will retain both QB Jimmy Garoppolo and CB Malcolm Butler because Bill Belichick doesn’t think the players expected to be on the board in the draft with the picks the Patriots could acquire are worth the trade.
In other words, if the Patriots traded Butler to the Saints for the 32nd overall pick, which prospects would still be on the board? And is one-year of contract controlled and All Pro Butler worth more than whatever player would be available? Lombardi believes that both Butler and Garoppolo are better than the players the Patriots could obtain.