- Mike Reiss, ESPN New England Patriots reporter
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Here are 10 things for New England Patriots fans to watch for in the draft:
1. TRADER BILL: Last year, the Patriots made seven trades on draft day. Bill Belichick loves to move around the board, so it would be an upset if they don't swing at least one deal. Belichick has traded up in past first rounds (e.g., 2002 for Daniel Graham, 2003 for Ty Warren), but his recent first-round trades have had the team moving down the board. Overall, trade activity figures to be highest in Rounds 1, 2 and 4 because of the new three-day format -- Round 1 Thursday night, Rounds 2-3 Friday and Rounds 4-7 Saturday.
2. QUARTERBACK ACTION: In two of the past six years, the No. 22 spot has been where teams looking to get back into the first round for a franchise quarterback re-enter. The Bills did it with J.P. Losman (2004) and the Browns thought they had their man in Brady Quinn (2007). If Jimmy Clausen slides or a team is especially high on Colt McCoy or Tim Tebow, the Patriots could be in an advantageous situation at 22 and could deal the pick.
3. RUNS ON DEFENSIVE ENDS AND OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS: The draft is probably the Patriots' best chance to add impact players at defensive end and outside linebacker, so if there is a run on those positions in the second round, they might have to make an aggressive move.
4. CHIEFS/BRONCOS EFFECT: Given the need for an outside linebacker and defensive end, the Patriots must be cognizant of teams with similar systems that will be seeking the same type of players. The second round figures to be crucial as the Patriots own picks 44, 47 and 53, while the Chiefs (36, 51) and Broncos (43, 45) are also in the neighborhood.
5. HEIGHT AT OUTSIDE LINEBACKER: If the Patriots had their druthers, an outside linebacker would be closer to 6-foot-5, but some of the best in this class are shorter, such as Brandon Graham (6-foot-1) and Jerry Hughes (6-1). If those players are available, one wonders if it affects the Pats' decision-making.
6. DEZ BRYANT BUZZ: If receiver Dez Bryant is available by pick 16, and the Patriots are convinced that his off-field situation checks out, will they make a move for a possible No. 1 receiver slipping that low in the draft?
7. VETERAN ACQUISITIONS/DEPARTURES: Last year, it was a surprise when cornerback Ellis Hobbs was traded to the Eagles. In 2007, it was equally surprising when receiver Randy Moss was acquired in a trade. If the right opportunity surfaces, such as Redskins defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth, Belichick hasn't hesitated to strike in the past.
8. THE ROLE OF 2011 DRAFT PICKS: Traditionally, Belichick has liked to add chips in the following year by sacrificing position in the current year. But given the needs of the team, and the added importance of landing impact contributors, that strategy might be altered. The Patriots already own two first-round picks next year.
9. TOP OF THE TIGHT END MARKET: One of the Patriots' top needs is tight end, but the two top prospects -- Jermaine Gresham and Rob Gronkowski -- didn't play in 2009 because of injuries. Would the Patriots be comfortable selecting one of them? Belichick said this is one aspect that makes this draft unique.
10. EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED: After all the analysis from the past three-plus months, look for the Patriots to do something outside the box that few forecasted. That's about the only certainty at this point.
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.
Ten things to watch for from the Patriots in the NFL draft.