Commentary

For Patriots, it's two drafts in one

With two picks in each of first three rounds, Belichick knows he has unique opportunity

Updated: April 26, 2011, 5:39 PM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

To most, what will unfold Thursday, Friday and Saturday is known as the 2011 NFL draft, although Bill Belichick's Patriots-centric view is a bit different.

"Having two picks in each of the first three rounds, it's almost like having two drafts," he said.

Maybe, then, we should be calling it the 2011 NFL drafts here in New England.

It's sort of catchy. Unique, for sure.

The bounty the Patriots bring to Radio City Music Hall this year, with six of the first 92 selections, is impressive. Five are within the first 75 picks, which is the highest number for any club in the past 20 years (1991 Dallas Cowboys).

The possibilities are many, which can be a scary thought to the rest of the NFL when considering the Patriots were 14-2 during the 2010 regular season.

"It gives us a lot of flexibility," said Belichick, who has valued that freedom the last two drafts, when he's made a total of 14 draft-day trades.

"It's not like '08, where we were 7 and 62, and there's not a whole lot you can do when you make picks in that range. We have the flexibility to move up, to move down, to trade into next year. All those things could happen."

Good luck to those trying to predict which avenue the Patriots ultimately choose, but one thing seems certain: Belichick, a.k.a. Trader Bill, figures to be swapping early and often. It would be a Bills-over-Patriots type of upset if the team makes all nine of its 2011 draft picks.

"Where the picks are now, and where they end up by this weekend, I don't think it affects your preparation," Belichick said of the process to this point. "You prepare for the entire draft. You can end up picking where you're at or end up moving picks to a different position, and you're prepared for that, too. It's happened in the past. You want to know the whole board, the rest of the league, and position yourself to try to gain an advantage."

That is the essence of the Belichick Way on draft day. By building draft-pick currency, he has ammunition to strike if an unexpected opportunity presents itself as the board unfolds.

In his previous 11 drafts with the Patriots, he's made 42 trades. Of that total, he's traded up 15 times, and down or into future years 27 times. That provides a road map for how things might unfold this week; it's more likely he'll move back or into future years than up the board.

Regardless of the direction, how the Patriots have already positioned themselves for this year's three-day draft has opened eyes among analysts.

"It's extremely unique when a team has that many picks, and does as good a job of drafting as they do," said Gil Brandt, the former vice president of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys (1960-89) who now hosts a show on Sirius NFL Radio.

There is potentially one danger, however. With all the picks, could the Patriots possibly become too young?

After selecting 12 players apiece in each of the last two drafts, they sure could. And that's why a realistic course of action is for the team to draw some of the value out of this year's draft -- such as along the defensive line, offensive line and at running back -- before trading into future years.

Team president Jonathan Kraft, at Saturday's ESPNBoston.com SportsCenter Patriots draft special event, noted that the team would have an eye toward the future if the opportunity presented itself.

"We're going to use those picks to continue to rebuild the nucleus, but also make sure that with the 2012 and 2013 drafts, we have a lot of currency to play with, too," Kraft said.

So let the fun begin, with the Patriots in a power-broker position because of all those draft picks. It's the much-anticipated 2011 NFL draft.

Or better yet, from a Patriots perspective, the 2011 NFL drafts.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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