logoby Dan Snapp

Were he to ever waste a precious second worrying about what fans think, Bill Belichick would hate “In Bill We Trust”. The honor brings more demands than plaudits. Like he doesn’t have enough to worry about.

Belichick has spoiled us. And being the spoiled children that we are, we expect a treat each time we go to the store. So at draft time, there are certain entitlements to be fulfilled.

We insist the Patriots nail their first round pick every time, regardless of where in the round they’re picking. It’s their own damn fault, really. They reaped rewards with Richard Seymour, Daniel Graham, Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork, Benjamin Watson, Logan Mankins, and Laurence Maroney (too early to know with Brandon Meriweather), so we’re well within our rights to demand the same each year.

Magnanimous as we are, we’ll offer some scant leeway. We’ll permit a second round screwup  from time to time, so long as it’s not habit-forming (and don’t think we forgot about the trades up for Bethel Johnson or Chad Jackson). It’s nice to see the early whiffs in the third round (Brock Williams, Guss Scott) rectified later with the Ellis Hobbs and Nick Kaczur picks. Not to nitpick, but when can we expect another David Givens seventh round surprise?

Fans are fickle. It’s the offseason, and there’s little else to talk about. So we obsess about the lean second day crop in ’04 or the “one-man draft” of ’07 (I know, I know: “two-man draft”).

The ’07 draft needs no justification. The Pats traded away a first, second, third, fourth and seventh round pick, and got in return the seventh overall pick this year, Wes Welker, a high third rounder, and Randy Moss. The underlying message from the team was clear: this draft stinks, but we still got value for our picks, and stocked up for what’s slated to be a great draft next year.

Next year is here, and expectations are running high. There should be no future considerations deals this year. From what the draft resources tell us, this is the draft to restock your offensive line, your cornerbacks, and to find another running back, so the Pats need to play their hand. The loss of the 31st pick severely hampers their leverage and flexibility to wheel and deal, but they’re still a player, what with the top ten pick and the extra third from Oakland.

So what will they do?

Everything about the way the team has drafted this decade screams, “Move down!” They have moved up twice in the first round – up 11 picks in ’02 to grab Graham, and up one pick in ’03 to nab Warren – but “value” is the Patriots buzzword. If the draft is as deep as we’re being told, and with such uncertainty on who the premium players are (and for such a high cost), the logical course is to trade into the teens, assuming a trade partner is there.

If no partner is in the offing, expect a big body at seven (Sedrick Ellis on defense, Brendan Albert on offense). As predicated last week, we don’t know the players well, but we can go on the Patriots’ patterns. Selecting that high, I think the Patriots will opt for the rare physical specimen, like they did in ’01 with Seymour.

The Jets are important, just not for the reasons people think. Much as Belichick and Eric Mangini detest one another, neither’s going to sacrifice what’s in the best interest of their team out of spite for the other. But since both are 3-4 teams in the top ten, they’re targeting the same people. Unless the Jets are eyeing quarterback Matt Ryan, the two teams will be fighting to race down, not up, the draft.

This draft has that “building a champion” feel, like the ’86 one where the 49ers found seven starters despite not having a first round pick, or the ’91 draft that netted Dallas eight starters. With seven picks in the top 103, this could be the draft that makes the Falcons. Same goes for Kansas City, with six picks in the top 100 after the Jared Allen trade.

For the Patriots, the ’86  49ers analogy is an apt one. Joe Montana turned 30 that year, and that draft restocked the Niners for a second run. This is the Patriots’ opportunity to do the same for Tom Brady.