By HOWARD ULMAN, AP Sports Writer
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) _ The New England Patriots can make quick work of the NFL draft. With no picks after the fourth round, Bill Belichick and his braintrust could be done long before the seven-round selection process is over.
Don’t count on it.
Belichick usually stays busy making deals on draft day –trading up for a player he wants or down for a lower pick plus an additional choice the following year. In 2010, he sent the 22nd pick to Denver for the Broncos’ 24th and a fourth rounder. Then he shipped that 24th selection and his own fourth-round pick to Dallas
for the 27th and a third rounder.
As usual, his plans for the three-day draft starting Thursday night are shrouded in mystery. He didn’t even have a pre-draft news conference, sending director of player personnel Nick Caserio out to address reporters instead.
For now, the Patriots have two picks in the first round (the 27th and 31st), two in the second (16th and 31st), and one each in the third and fourth (both the 31st).
“Historically, there’s been a lot of movement as it relates to our picks,” Caserio said. “Right now is where we are, but the door is always open. I would say that those things kind of evolve as the draft sort of moves along.
“We’ll see how it goes.”
The Patriots sent their fifth rounder to Cincinnati before last season for WR Chad Ochocinco, who had a disappointing year with just 15 receptions. They traded picks in the next two rounds on the same day, Sept. 5, 2010, with the sixth rounder going to Philadelphia for linebacker Tracy White and the seventh rounder to Kansas City for safety Jarrad Page.
But they do have an extra pick in each of the first two rounds.
Of course, they could trade any of those, most likely for a pick in the current draft.
“You try not to look too far into next year because there’s an air of uncertainty,” Caserio said. “You don’t really know what that quantity of players is going to look like. You may have some idea throughout the course of the fall when you’re going through it, but I’d say for the most part you’re focused on (this) year.”
And this year they have plenty of positions to shore up despite reaching the Super Bowl against the New York Giants that wasn’t decided until the final play– Tom Brady’s desperation heave into the end zone that fell incomplete in a 21-17 Patriots loss.
The Patriots allowed the second most yards overall and in pass defense last season, and need help throughout the unit.
They were 14th in the NFL with 40 sacks, led by Mark Anderson and Andre Carter with 10 each. But Anderson signed with Buffalo as a free agent and Carter is a free agent whose season ended with a knee injury in the 14th game of the season. The secondary also could use help, especially at safety where 2010 first-round draft pick Devin McCourty moved over from his normal cornerback position.
Among those who could be available in the first round to help the pass rush are Nick Perry of USC, Whitney Mercilus of Illinois, Vinny Curry of Marshall and Shea McClellin of Boise State.
“I think the quantity of front seven players, I’d say is higher than it’s been in the past,” Caserio said. “There are some other positions where maybe there aren’t as many players. It evolves and it rotates every year. I’d say every draft is sort of different just in terms of quality and quantity of player.”
In the secondary, the Patriots could have a shot at cornerbacks Stephen Gilmore of South Carolina and Janoris Jenkins of North Alabama and safety Harrison Smith of Notre Dame.
New England also lacked a deep threat last season, but the signing of free agent Brandon Lloyd could make the need for a speedy young receiver less pressing.
There’s an unusually large number of underclassmen in the draft and that could pose a dilemma for teams.
“You need to delve in a little bit further, especially with underclassmen because you could have a player who let’s just say has been out of high school for three years,” Caserio said, “or let’s say he’s a redshirt sophomore, who only played one year of college football at a productive level or started for one year, so
you have to make that determination. Next year, do you think that performance would improve or would it decline?”
Another issue is the possibility that some veterans will retire.
Left tackle Matt Light and right guard Brian Waters may go that route.
“Our thinking won’t change,” Caserio said. “We’ll approach it the same way and we’ll deal with things on a day-to-day basis, however they unfold.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)