It’s never easy to predict what Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots are going to do in the NFL draft. This year, it’s darn near impossible.

The team has only five picks, the lowest number in franchise history. They have the 29th pick in the first round, which will be held Thursday night in prime time. They have none in the fourth, fifth and six rounds where Belichick does his best work.

If you believe the draft experts, the Patriots have several needs: defensive end/pass rusher (as always), wide receiver, offensive line depth. And no one agrees on which is the team’s greatest need.

Do you draft for Vince Wilfork’s replacement? The big guy is 31 and it’s probably time to start thinking about that.

Do you draft a wide receiver to give Tom Brady another weapon? Right now, even with the free agent signings of Danny Amendola, Donald Jones and Michael Jenkins, no one is sure who will be the No. 1 receiver, or even if the Patriots have one.

Do you draft for the offensive line, to make sure Brady’s 36-year-old body doesn’t take many big hits?

It seems unlikely that the Patriots are going to select a wide receiver in the first round. It’s something that Belichick has never done. In fact, it’s rare that he spends a first-round pick on a skill player.

Since moving here in 2000, his first-round picks have been three offensive linemen, four defensive linemen, two defensive backs, two linebackers, two tight ends and one running back. The Patriots didn’t have first-round picks in either 2000 or 2009. They had two first-round picks in 2004 (Wilfork and tight end Benjamin Watson) and two last year, going defense on both with end Chandler Jones and linebacker Dont’a Hightower.

Of all those draft picks, seven remain on the roster: Two on offense — guard Logan Mankins (2005) and tackle Nate Solder (2011) — and five on defense — Wilfork (2004), Jerod Mayo (2010), Devin McCourty (2012), Jones and Hightower.

Notice there are no wide receivers there?

Belichick’s draft history with wide receivers is spotty at best. Yes, he drafted Deion Branch (second round) and David Givens (seventh round) in 2002 and they helped secure two Super Bowl titles. Since then?

The Patriots have drafted eight receivers. Only one, Julian Edelman (seventh round, 232nd player selected, in 2009) has had any impact on the club. Edelman, of course, recently re-signed with the Pats.

They used second-round picks on Bethel Johnson (2003) and Chad Jackson (2006) and a third-round pick on Taylor Price (2002). None of them added much, if anything, to the offense.

So do the Patriots take a risk and go for a wide receiver, someone who can stretch the field? Do they make a move for someone like West Virginia’s Tavon Austin, a game breaker? Or do they wait for someone like Oregon State’s Markus Wheaton, who has made a late surge up the draft boards?

That brings us to the secondary. The Patriots brought back cornerback Aqib Talib, giving them a lockdown there and keeping Devin McCourty (a 2010 first-round pick) at safety, where he looks much more comfortable.

But they need another corner. Do they use their first-round pick on Boise State’s Jamar Taylor? Or Houston’s D.J. Hayden (who might go much higher)? Or Washington’s Desmond Trufant?

Lots of choices at that position. Will any be available?

That is the beauty of the draft, the surprise picks, the guy who moves up when no one expected him to, the guys who drop to you when you never expected to have a chance at them.

Then, of course, the Patriots could always trade.

Given Belichick’s draft history, that’s a very strong possibility. In his 13 previous drafts, Belichick has made 50 draft day trades: 17 to trade up, 15 to trade down and 18 involving players and/or future draft considerations. Only once, in 2004, has Belichick failed to make a draft day trade.

He’s never been afraid to make a move to get a player he covets. He’s never been afraid to pass on a player to secure more draft picks.

You never know with him.

Belichick always talks about doing what’s best for the team. Starting Thursday night, we’ll find out exactly what he thinks are the Patriots’ needs.

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

mlowe@pressherald.com

Twitter: MikeLowePPH