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NFL draft strategy: Will closing the 49-pick gap on Day 2 be a priority for the Patriots? Not necessarily.

Related: Limited information could make for a fascinating draft this year

NFL: NOV 29 Cardinals at Patriots Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The New England Patriots are entering the 2021 NFL draft with 10 selections in the fold. Even though the team owns picks in all seven rounds, however, they are not evenly distributed. One area to look at from this perspective is the second day: after New England is scheduled to make a selection at No. 46 in Round 2 there is a 49-pick gap before the next one in Round 3.

The Patriots originally would have had a selection right in between at No. 77, but it was forfeited as part of the league’s penalty for filming the Cincinnati Bengals’ sideline during the 2019 season. As a result, New England will have one fewer selection to work with on Day 2, and a sizable gap on its draft board.

Given the depth in this particular area of the draft, and New England’s need for high-upside talent at multiple positions, there is a belief that the team should therefore try to move around the board to try to close that gap. Either through a trade down in the second or a jump up in the third round the Patriots addressing this seems like a reasonable projection.

However, that is not necessarily what they might have in mind. Just take a look back at last year’s draft as an example.

Courtesy of the Mohamed Sanu trade the Patriots had a 63-pick gap between their first- and third-round picks. They eventually ended up moving out of Round 1 in a trade with the Los Angeles Chargers to pick up selections No. 37 and No. 71 — right in the middle of that gap. While that sounds like a blueprint for 2021 as well, Nick Caserio’s post-draft media conference call told a different story.

“Not necessarily,” the Patriots’ then-director of player personnel said when asked about whether or not closing that gap was important. “Everything is looked at on a case-by-case basis. I would say it’s more circumstance than anything else.”

The Patriots taking a case-by-case approach in 2020 was nothing new, and a continuation of previous drafts. In 2018, for example, they eventually had an 86-pick gap between their second- and fifth-rounders after a series of trades. One year before that New England made just four selection in total.

No two drafts and no two selections are alike, so trying to predict what Bill Belichick and company will do — even with Nick Caserio no longer part of the operation — is a fool’s errand. There are, after all, too many variables at play as Belichick himself noted during his pre-draft press conference call earlier this month.

“You can only move back if somebody else wants to move up so ultimately you have to be ready to pick,” he said when talking about the possibility of trading down from the 15th overall selection.

“It wasn’t something that we said we definitively have to move, try to bridge that gap a little bit,” Belichick’s right-hand man, Caserio, noted last year. “I don’t think that was the discussion. If we didn’t trade, we would have talked about the same thing, a player we picked at 23, then could have been talking about picking back in the second round possibly. I would say there wasn’t any intentionality behind it. I think it’s kind of just what the end result was.”

At the end of the day, New England will be ready to make selections at its currently assigned slots regardless of how far apart they might be. Before making those decisions, however, it is important to have a clear understanding of the board and the players identified as potential targets in a move up or down.

There is little doubt that the Patriots’ decision makers will have just that, and it might just lead to the 49-pick gap between Round 2 and Round 3 staying intact after all.