What will the New England Patriots do in the NFL draft this week?

Good question.

The Patriots have a lot of draft capital this year – two firsts, two seconds, three of the top 95 picks – and can certainly address their needs. Offensive tackle. Tom Brady’s eventual replacement. Linebacker. Cornerback. Edge rusher. Tight end.

I would say that the Patriots probably won’t take a wide receiver, only because they already have 10 under contract. But among their 19 predraft visitors to Gillette Stadium were four wide receivers. So even then you don’t know.

The Patriots have never adhered to what most “experts” think they should do in the draft. And I am no expert. But this year, there’s a couple of glaring needs that simply have to be addressed.

Finding Tom Brady’s successor is one, but not in the first round.

I think they have to address the offensive left tackle position in the first round. Have to. And if they’re going to keep both first-round picks (23 and 31), the other pick has to be on defense.

Packaging those picks to move up in the draft is a possibility – Coach Bill Belichick has been known to dabble in draft-day trading – but even then it shouldn’t be for a quarterback, not when they need a left tackle.

UCLA’s Kolton Miller, a Nate Solder-lookalike at 6-foot-9, 309 pounds and athletic, is the guy most mock drafts have going to the Patriots. They had Miller in for a visit, as well as Texas’ Connor Williams (another projected first-rounder), North Carolina State’s Will Richardson and Oregon’s Tyrell Crosby. Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey is another projected first-round pick.

They could get one of the top three tackles at 23, and it’s possible that one of them will be there at 31. If the Patriots pass on them, they could still get a good tackle, such as Pittsburgh’s Brian O’Neill, in the second round.

I just think they need to make that pick in the first round. It’s not sexy, I know, but protecting Brady’s backside is worth it, don’t you think?

If they’re going to keep that second first-round pick, it’s got to be a defensive player. And it should be a linebacker. Three names jump out: Tremaine Edmunds (6-5, 253) of Virginia Tech, Rashaan Evans (6-5, 232) of Alabama and Leighton Vander Esch (6-4, 256) of Boise State. If the Patriots want Edmunds – projected as a future Pro Bowl-caliber player – they’re probably going to have to trade up to get him.

Evans is a logical pick because of Belichick’s ties with Alabama Coach Nick Saban and the presence of former Alabama star Dont’a Hightower, a 2012 first-round pick by New England.

The Patriots should come out of the first round with one of those. Because of injuries last year, they ended the season with Marquis Flowers, Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts getting most of the snaps at linebacker. They need to get younger and more physical at that position.

Cornerback is another position I can see them taking in the first round. Losing Malcolm Butler to free agency was a big loss no matter how his career ended with that Super Bowl fiasco. Mock drafts have connected the Patriots to Louisville’s Jaire Alexander, Iowa’s Josh Jackson and Central Florida’s Mike Hughes. Will they make one of them a first-round pick? I don’t think so. I think they’ll address that position later in the draft (third round?), relying on veterans Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty and Eric Rowe to man the position this year.

When you’re trying to predict what the Patriots will do in the draft, you’ve got to figure somewhere along the line they’re going to make a trade. Right now, they don’t have any picks in the fourth or fifth rounds and you know they’re not going to want to watch 103 players go off the draft boards between the third round and the sixth.

Since joining the Patriots in 2000, Belichick has made 20 draft-day trades to move up, 21 to move down and 21 involving players and/or future considerations.

I can see the Patriots trying to move up in the first round but everything depends on how the early picks unfold. If someone Belichick covets – say a Bradley Chubb, the game-changing defensive end from North Carolina State – slips and slips, will the Patriots package some picks to get him?

For Chubb, yes. Even Edmunds. For a quarterback? No. Louisville’s Lamar Jackson – the 2016 Heisman winner – was the only quarterback the Patriots brought in for a visit. Can they get him at 23? Probably.

But there’s plenty of good quarterbacks: Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph, Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta, Washington State’s Luke Falk, among them.

Whomever they take isn’t playing immediately (unless Brady is injured). So they can develop him.

But they’ll need to address the quarterback position in the second round, as well as tight end. They didn’t bring a tight end in for a visit, but this has suddenly become a position of need with Rob Gronkowski’s threat of retirement. How much longer will he play? No one knows, though Gronkowski did commit on Tuesday to playing in 2018, which is why the Patriots need to prepare.

There are several high-value tight ends. South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst and South Dakota State’s Dallas Goedert would be good fits in New England.

They could be first-round picks, too, pumping up the Patriots’ passing game. We’ll see what happens.

I’m never comfortable trying to predict what Belichick is going to do in the draft. After all, this is a man who said, in his predraft press conference, that “needs” mean little when it comes to the draft.

“I think it’s important to acquire good players wherever they are,” said Belichick. “If you take a player at a position that you might so-call ‘need’ but he’s not good enough to fill that need, then it’s a wasted pick. So, I don’t understand the whole ‘need’ thing. I understand player value and that’s what we try to go by.”

This year they need to value their needs.

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH