No telling what Patriots will do

Picks Nos. 27, 31 are starting points

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / April 26, 2012
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After months of speculation, mock drafts, and opinions that range from highly educated to purely passionate, the 2012 NFL draft will at long last get under way tonight at New York’s Radio City Music Hall.

The Patriots currently own just six picks, but all are in the first 126 spots - in the first round, they own spots 27 and 31, the earlier selection coming via a trade with the Saints at this time last year.

In the second round, the team has picks 48 and 62. The 48th pick came from a trade last year, this time with Oakland.

The Patriots also have their own picks in Rounds 3 (93d overall) and 4 (126th). They surrendered their own late-round spots in trades for Chad Ochocinco, Tracy White, and Jarrad Page.

Those are the nuts and bolts. But the real question is, what will happen with those picks? That’s a little less easy to predict.

As any New England fan knows, the story of most Patriots drafts in recent years is the trade. Bill Belichick has become a master at manipulating the board, but more often that not, those moves entail his team moving backward and not up to get a player it covets.

In the Twitterverse, fans have been expressing hope that New England will use both of its first-round picks, and preferably on the defensive side of the ball - perhaps on a pass-rushing end/linebacker hybrid or maybe a cover cornerback.

Some even hold out hope that Belichick will package 27 and 31 to move into the top 20 to ensure the team could grab a player such as defensive lineman Chandler Jones of Syracuse. But the last time New England traded up in the first round was in 2003, moving one spot to get Ty Warren.

The more likely scenario, and one that a league source mentioned more than a month ago, is the Patriots shopping one of those first two picks to a team interested in moving back into the first to get Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden - perhaps Cleveland. Or there could be a repeat of 2009, when the Patriots moved out of the first round completely and had four second-round picks.

For the purposes of this exercise and the sake of Patriots fans’ sanity, let’s assume they’ll hold onto 27 and 31, highlighting players they might target.

■ CB Trumaine Johnson, Montana - Johnson is tall (6 feet 2 inches) but still fast and agile. It is believed the Patriots are going to keep Devin McCourty at safety, and while Ras-I Dowling should be healthy, they could go for depth at the position.

■DE/OLB Shea McClellin, Boise State - McClellin played defensive end, outside linebacker, and even some inside ’backer, and he says he has tried to mold himself after versatile former Patriot Mike Vrabel. With the Patriots switching between three-man and four-man lines, McClellin’s versatility would be an asset.

■G Kevin Zeitler, Wisconsin - Brian Waters is expected to be back this fall, but Zeitler would be ready to step in as soon as the veteran steps down. A football junkie who lives in the weight room, Zeitler is also incredibly smart.

■DE/OLB Vinny Curry, Marshall - The Patriots were said to like Curry, but at 6-3, 266 pounds, he measured in a bit undersized for the team’s liking during the predraft process. But he’s a pass rusher (11 sacks, 22 tackles for loss in ’11) and in case you hadn’t heard, New England needs one or two of those.

■ S Harrison Smith, Notre Dame - Lots of mock drafts have the Patriots going with the athletic Smith, but if McCourty is kept at safety, the need for another player at this position isn’t as high. Smith draws raves for his smarts in the backfield, which would endear him to the Patriots, who frequently ask their safeties to do a number of things.

■ WR Kendall Wright, Baylor - A league source said Wednesday night that the Patriots worked out Wright on campus this week. The 5-10, 196-pounder is a stellar athlete and was a four-year starter for the Bears who totaled 4,004 receiving yards.

Another player with pass-rushing potential is Troy’s Jonathan Massaquoi. Massaquoi projects more as an outside linebacker and is raw, reasons why he might be a good pickup in the middle rounds. Massaquoi had 19 1/2 sacks and 31 tackles for loss in two years at Troy.

Outside of the Colts and Redskins, who pick first and second and whose cards are all but turned in, part of the fun of the draft is never quite knowing how a team is going to pick.

In New England, the likelihood of there being a surprise, or, for fans, a measure of frustration, is generally higher than in other places.

All you can do is sit back and watch it unfold. And if you throw anything at the television, make sure it’s soft.

Greg A. Bedard of the Globe staff contributed. Shalise Manza Young can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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