Earlier this afternoon, we passed along the mock drafts from ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay, which presented an interesting debate on drafting for need versus value.
To oversimplify the picks, it was a case of need (Elam) versus value (Cooper).
Elam is regarded as a potential first-rounder and would beef up a Patriots secondary that could undergo a facelift this offseason. He would serve as a nice complement to Devin McCourty, who settled into a free safety role last season. Given those considerations, he's a player that would fill a need.
Cooper, conversely, would have a tough competition to crack the starting lineup as a rookie, as the Patriots have their left guard in place in Logan Mankins and a solid starter at right guard in Dan Connolly (who was signed to a handsome contract last offseason). But at pick 29 (Kiper had Cooper all the way at number 11), would he be too good to pass up?
Looking back at the first-round picks made by the Patriots under Bill Belichick, history suggests the team has found players who filled needs while also meeting first-round value.
2001: Defensive lineman Richard Seymour
2002: Tight end Daniel Graham
2003: Defensive end Ty Warren
2004: Nose tackle Vince Wilfork, tight end Ben Watson
2005: Guard Logan Mankins
2006: Running back Laurence Maroney
2007: Safety Brandon Meriweather
2008: Linebacker Jerod Mayo
2010: Cornerback Devin McCourty
2011: Offensive tackle Nate Solder
2012: Defensive end Chandler Jones, linebacker Dont'a Hightower
Of those players listed above, many contributed on an immediate basis, while others evolved into starters by their second year (Solder and Wilfork were groomed by Matt Light and Keith Traylor, respectively).
Using that sample as a baseline, the Patriots have excelled at finding first-round talent that has fit their team needs.
As it relates to Cooper, this isn't to suggest he wouldn't be on the team's radar, as he's a talented player and both Connolly and Mankins are 30 years old, meaning he could develop into a starter down the line. But looking back at the trends of Belichick's draft history, it seems the team has favored finding players that fit needs and offer value, not taking a player only because of the latter.