The Patriots' top pick is already in ... it's Brandin Cooks

With New England having traded the No. 32 overall pick for Brandin Cooks, comparing Cooks to whomever the Saints select might be the highlight Thursday for Patriots fans. Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- As anticipation and excitement builds in many locales for Thursday night's first round of the NFL draft, the New England region falls into a different ho-hum type of category for the second year in a row.

No first-round pick. No major buzz.

But unlike 2016, when the Patriots didn't have a selection as a result of the NFL's penalties for Deflategate, the team's absence from the first round this year is by its own doing: trading the No. 32 overall pick to the New Orleans Saints for wide receiver Brandin Cooks.

So this will be part of the fun Thursday night when the final pick of the first round rolls around, and the question can be asked: Who would you rather have here, Cooks or (insert prospect name)?

That's the same outlook the Arizona Cardinals adopted last year after acquiring defensive end Chandler Jones from the Patriots for a second-round pick.

"I'll be so happy when the second round comes in, I’ll put Chandler Jones’ name in. There isn’t going to be anyone on that board close to him," Arizona coach Bruce Arians said in March 2016 after the trade.

The Patriots might as well do the same thing Thursday night with Cooks, who was a first-round pick of the Saints in 2014 (No. 20 overall).

In late March, Robert Kraft said, "Since I’ve owned the team, the only player that could make an impact like that at wide receiver was Randy Moss. [Cooks] doesn’t have his height, but it looks like he has his speed. I think that’s complementary to what we have on the team, and I’m excited about enjoying this.”

Cooks, for his part, is getting into the spirit of professional sports in the region as he attended Wednesday night's NBA playoff game between the Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics at the TD Garden. When initially shown on the large videoboard above the court alongside teammate Stephon Gilmore, there wasn't a noticeable reaction from the crowd. But when Cooks and Gilmore had their names added under their image, the Garden roared.

Meanwhile, Gillette Stadium is expected to be quiet Thursday night. Reporters have the option to watch the draft from the stadium, but with the Patriots (first selection currently at No. 72, early in the third round) highly unlikely to be swinging a trade to move back into the first round, there isn't expected to be any formal media access or interviews.

If anything, it would be timely for Cooks himself to be center stage, because Thursday night will represent what the Patriots surrendered to acquire him.