Pats have 6 of top 92 draft picks, open to deals

Bill Belichick is a wheeler-dealer during the NFL draft. In each

of the last two years he made seven trades while it was going

on.

Expect more of the same.

The coach of the New England Patriots has six of the top 92

picks in the three-day draft – two in each of the first three

rounds – plenty of attractive pieces to move up to get a player he

covets or down to add an extra choice or two.

”There definitely seems to be a lot of interest in our draft

picks. As you know, we’re not afraid to trade them,” Belichick

said in an interview with Sirius/XM radio this month. ”We’ll do

what’s best for the team. We’ll evaluate those opportunities if

they come up on draft day and take it from there.”

In the first round, the Patriots have the 17th pick acquired

from Oakland for defensive end Richard Seymour just before the 2009

season, and their own 28th. In the second round, they have the

first pick, the 33rd overall, as a result of a trade that sent

their third-round pick last year to Carolina, and their own

60th.

In the third round, last year’s trade of Randy Moss brought them

the 74th pick from Minnesota to go with their 92nd pick.

Having both the 28th and 33rd choices could be a big bargaining

chip.

”We kind of have two picks there, pretty close to each other,

and sometimes that has some dynamics,” Belichick said. ”It’s one

of two spots somebody can move into, instead of just one. One way

or another, if teams want to deal, I think we’ll be one of the

teams that they might want to talk to.”

Two first-round trades worked out for the Patriots last year.

They traded their own 22nd pick for Denver’s 24th and a

fourth-rounder that they used on tight end Aaron Hernandez. Then

they shuffled that 24th pick to Dallas in a trade that brought the

27th. They held on to that and selected cornerback Devin McCourty,

who made the Pro Bowl.

New England’s biggest needs this year are pass rushers and

offensive linemen.

The Patriots’ 36 sacks were tied for 14th in the NFL last year.

Rookie linebackers Brandon Spikes and Jermaine Cunningham had

decent seasons playing with star middle linebacker Jerod Mayo, but

are still developing. The offensive line needs youth with the

retirement of guard Stephen Neal, the free agency of tackle Matt

Light and the bad feelings between the Patriots and guard Logan

Mankins, who sat out the first seven games in a contract dispute

and was designated their franchise player after the season.

If the Patriots want to get linebacker Von Miller of Texas

A&M, they’ll probably have to move into one of the first five

spots. Linebacker Robert Quinn of North Carolina should go lower,

but still before the Patriots’ No. 17 pick.

By holding onto that choice, they should have a chance to draft

linebacker Ryan Kerrigan of Purdue or defensive ends J.J. Watt of

Wisconsin or Cameron Jordan of Cal.

”I think when we look back on it in a couple of years, and

evaluate it, it will probably come down to which teams are able to

evaluate those front-7 (defensive) positions the best,” Belichick

said. ”There are going to be a lot of those players taken high,

whether they (are) defensive linemen or defensive ends/outside

linebackers.”

First-round offensive line possibilities include Gabe Carimi of

Wisconsin. Danny Watkins of Baylor could be available at No.

28.

One position where the Patriots don’t need help is tight end.

Hernandez was their third leading receiver last year with 45

catches, six for touchdowns. Rob Gronkowski, a second-round pick,

caught 42 passes with 10 touchdowns.

They helped the Patriots to the NFL’s best record (14-2), and

were major contributors to the team’s league-high 32.4 points per

game. But the Patriots lost in the AFC divisional round, 28-21, to

the New York Jets. It was the second straight season New England

lost a home playoff game prior to championship weekend.

Despite all the scouting and analysis done for the draft,

director of player personnel Nick Caserio said sometimes teams must

decide whether to gamble on a player.

”In the end, you sort of have to, I don’t want to say go with a

gut instinct, (but) maybe there’s an example of a player in

previous years who was in a similar situation,” he said.

So, he might compare the potential draftee to how a current pro

was viewed when he was entering the draft. But this year is

different with the current NFL lockout of players, although that

hasn’t changed the way the Patriots get ready for the draft.

”Our approach this year is no different than it’s been in years

past,” Caserio said. ”We’re evaluating the player for his skill

set based on the information that we’ve gathered. And then, we’ll

move forward from there.”