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NFL Draft

Moving thoughts about Patriots' draft

By Christopher L. Gasper
Globe Staff / April 25, 2009
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Trying to predict in what direction Patriots coach Bill Belichick will go in the draft is like trying to foretell what the stock market will do in the current economic climate - go up, go down, remain stagnant.

Belichick enters his war room today in Foxborough with a war chest of 11 picks with which to work, including four first-day picks and six in the top 97. The Patriots' first pick in the draft, which commences today at 4 p.m. with the first two rounds, is slated at No. 23. They also have three second-round selections (Nos. 34, 47, and 58) and two third-rounders (Nos. 89 and 97).

Those are the picks with which the Patriots will start the day; where they'll end up is anyone's guess.

Belichick said in his predraft press conference that he felt the Patriots had the potential to move into the top 10, and league sources confirmed a report by Peter King on SI.com yesterday that New England offered its first-round pick and one of its second-rounders (No. 47) to the Jaguars for the eighth overall pick.

The Jaguars rebuffed Belichick, saying it would take more than that for the Patriots to pick in the top 10 for the second straight year (linebacker Jerod Mayo was the 10th pick last year). But if Belichick wants to move up in the first round - something he hasn't done since 2003, when he jumped one spot to draft Ty Warren with the 13th pick - he has the ammunition to get a deal done.

"I don't think I have ever been in a draft where we've had the potential flexibility that we have this year," said Belichick Tuesday.

The question is, whom would the Patriots select in the top 10? Possible targets are left tackle Andre Smith of Alabama and cornerback/safety Malcolm Jenkins of Ohio State, both of whom made visits to Gillette Stadium.

The 6-foot-4-inch, 332-pound Smith was a projected top-five pick at the end of last season, but teams have concerns about his maturity and focus. Smith was suspended from Alabama's Sugar Bowl loss for improper contact with an agent, and his stock dropped after he abruptly left the NFL Combine in February without working out, claiming he had started training too late and wasn't properly prepared. He also recently switched agents.

Belichick could get a thorough briefing on Smith from Alabama coach Nick Saban, one of his closest confidants in the coaching community. Smith would provide an immediate upgrade at right tackle and could be the replacement for Matt Light (whose contract expires after 2010) at left tackle.

The 6-foot, 204-pound Jenkins is the draft's top-rated cornerback and won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back. He has the versatility to play corner or safety in the NFL and showed great change of direction by clocking the best time at the combine in the three-cone drill. However, a pedestrian 4.54-second 40-yard dash has left doubts as to whether he has the top-end speed to be a shutdown corner.

If the Patriots stay at No. 23, they could address their need for another 3-4 outside linebacker to help replace Mike Vrabel, who was traded to Kansas City along with Matt Cassel for a second-round pick (No. 34). Northern Illinois pass rusher Larry English, Clay Matthews of Southern Cal, and Connor Barwin of Cincinnati, who was a tight end until being switched to defensive end his senior season and has drawn comparisons to Vrabel, fit the bill.

The Patriots could look to go cornerback at No. 23, with University of Connecticut coverman Darius Butler. The last time New England picked a cornerback at No. 23, it worked out quite well, as it tabbed Ty Law in 1995. Overall, No. 23 has been good to the Patriots; it also netted them left tackle Bruce Armstrong in 1987.

But Belichick is into player addition and not superstition, so staying at No. 23 will depend on who is available and what the opportunity is of moving up or moving out.

"It's a little bit unusual because we have a little more flexibility with the three second-round picks, so we could move up in the first round," said Belichick. "Maybe once a player starts dropping into a certain range and you really like that player, then maybe you can consider moving up for him if someone is willing to trade out. Those are the kind of things we need to be prepared for and whether or not it's worth it to give up one, two, or three picks to move up to take a particular player and give up the opportunity to draft other players in the 40s and 50s."

Mike Reiss of the Globe staff contributed to this report; Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at cgasper@globe.com.

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