FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Bill Belichick did what he does best on Day 2 of the NFL draft Friday: confound the experts who try to tell him what he should do, and ensure the future success of the New England Patriots.

While every draft expert said the Patriots desperately needed to get a pass rusher, Belichick & Co. went through the first two days filling just about every other role.

After taking an offensive tackle on Day 1, the Powers That Be at Gillette Stadium started Friday by not only keeping the 33rd pick of the draft — the first of the second round — but by using it on an injury-prone cornerback, Ras-I Dowling of Virginia.

Then they turned to the offense, grabbing a couple of running backs, Shane Vereen of California and Stevan Ridley of LSU, and the possible successor one day to Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett of Arkansas, an immense talent who slipped to the third round because of character issues.

And then Belichick strengthened the Patriots’ 2012 draft by trading with Oakland, getting the Raiders’ second-round pick next year for one of their three third-round picks this year. That gives the Patriots two 1s and two 2s next year and a total of seven picks, two more than they had before this year’s draft started.

“Coming out of the draft with the five players we have, a lineman, three skilled offensive players and a cornerback on defense, and a couple of high picks next year, we think we had a pretty decent couple of days,” said Belichick. “We’ll just go back tonight and take a look at what’s left on the board.”

The Patriots made two picks Friday that made people notice for different reasons: Dowling at 33 and Mallett at 74. Dowling, considered a top defensive back after his junior season, played only five games as a senior because of a sprained knee, strained hamstring and fractured ankle.

Mallett, who passed for 3,869 yards and 25 touchdowns last year, had some off-field issues that prompted teams to drop him. But Belichick had Mallett in for a visit and not only liked what he saw talent-wise from the 6-foot-6, 238-pound 22-year-old, but also what he heard when the two talked football.

“He’s definitely a football guy,” said Belichick, who noted that Mallett’s father, Jim, is a coach. “He’s very into football; you can’t wear him out. As long as you want to talk about it, he’ll be there.”

As far as character issues, Belichick said the team researched Mallett thoroughly. “Obviously we feel comfortable, we took him,” he said.

Mallett said he was essentially mislabeled by accusations about drug use and drinking.

“I’m going to go up there and be the person that I am. I’m a people person,” said Mallett. “I love being around people.

“Mislabeled, all right, if that’s what you want to call it. I think I was portrayed in a different light than the people that know me and know who I am.”

He admitted it was frustrating to last into the third round when everyone knew he had first-round talent. But he added, “It’s a dream come true for me and I can’t wait to get started.”

When that will be has to be decided. Since the 8th U.S. District Court of Appeals in St. Louis essentially restored the NFL lockout, no one knows when camps will be held or if drafted rookies can have playbooks.

Mallett said he’s simply glad his name was called.

“I know Tom (Brady) is a great player, and the opportunity to learn from him and further my knowledge under that coaching staff was something I was excited about when I got that call,” he said. “I can’t wait to get started.”

Dowling, meanwhile, had to prove he was healthy, something Belichick said he did in a private workout.

Then again, Belichick isn’t afraid to take chances on injured players. He did that last year with tight end Rob Gronkowski, who missed his senior year at Arizona. The Patriots took him in the second round, and he became one of the best tight ends in the AFC.

Dowling said his injuries are no longer a concern.

“I’m feeling great, I’m 100 percent,” said Dowling. “If we had camp tomorrow, I’d be ready.”

Vereen and Ridley offer contrasting styles as running backs. Vereen, 5-foot-9, 205 pounds, projects as a third-down change-of-pace back, shifty and a good receiver. Ridley, 5-11, 225, is more of a power back.

Both rushed for more than 1,110 yards last year, and Belichick said both can add to special teams.

Vereen, whose father Henry is a cousin of actor Ben Vereen, said he’s just “looking for an opportunity to play in the game.”

He also plays special teams as a returner or gunner.

Ridley, meanwhile, is a power runner.

“I’m not a blazer by any means,” he said. “I’m a downhill runner and I play my heart out every game.”

As far as the lack of a pass rusher among the picks, Belichick didn’t seem concerned.

“We have some young players on our roster that I think will continue to develop,” he said.

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

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