One month away from most intriguing aspect of Patriots' 2016 draft

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- What currently represents the most intriguing aspect of the 2016 NFL draft for the New England Patriots will unfold one month from tonight.

Stripped of a first-round pick by the NFL as part of Deflategate penalties, the club will be on the sidelines for the first night of the draft April 28 barring an unexpected surprise. Thus, April 29 is the key day for the franchise, as that's when the second and third rounds will take place.

As part of their overall haul of 11 picks, the Patriots enter with picks No. 60 and 61 in the second round, and selections No. 91 and 96 in the third round.

Last week at the NFL's annual meeting, when I asked one general manager his opinion on the Patriots in the draft, the first thing he said was that it will be interesting to see what the Patriots do with their clustered picks at 60 and 61.

Do they package them and move up if a player with a high grade unexpectedly slips out of the first round? Do they stand pat and take two players? Or do they go the in-between route by selecting one player, and trading back/into a future year to accumulate more assets or better distribute them (they currently have a big gap between pick 96 and their next selection at 196 in the sixth round).

Using the one-month-away checkpoint as a springboard, some thoughts on the 60-61 cluster:

How high up could team trade? If the Patriots took the ultra-aggressive approach of packaging the picks, they would be on the fringe of the end of the first round, according to one version of the trade value chart used by some clubs. The picks have a combined value of 592 points. The final selection of the first round this year, No. 31, is 600 points. One reminder: As part of the Deflategate penalties, the Patriots would have to forfeit the better of their first-round picks if they moved into the first round (No. 29 or whatever they acquired in a trade). Overall, a move into the first round seems unlikely, but a jump to the top of the second round is in striking distance if the team wants it and finds a dance partner.

Five times under Belichick with clusters. The Patriots have made back-to-back selections five times under head coach Bill Belichick (2000-present). In 2006, they had consecutive picks in the sixth round and selected guard Dan Stevenson (205) and defensive lineman Le Kevin Smith (206). In 2007, it was a similar situation in the sixth round with running back Justise Hairston (208) and offensive lineman Corey Hilliard (209). In 2009, they had them in the second round with defensive tackle Ron Brace (40) and cornerback Darius Butler (41). The 2010 draft had a late seventh-round cluster with defensive linemen Brandon Deaderick (247) and Kade Weston (248). In 2011, they did it in the third round with running back Stevan Ridley (73) and quarterback Ryan Mallett (74). Clusters haven't produced the best results for the Patriots.

Belichick's view. At the NFL annual meeting last week, Belichick said, "At this point, we’re just trying to go through the draft process and learn the players and learn the draft. How that matches up to how many and where we pick is something maybe we’ll look at later. You can only move if somebody else wants to move with you, so you can’t just move on your own. We have to always be prepared to be where you are. If opportunity comes up, evaluate it, and make a decision at that point."