As part of our offseason coverage, we're taking a look back at some of the best first-round draft picks since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. We'll work our way up the draft board, starting with the best selection made with the No. 32 pick and ending with the top No. 1 pick.
The Pick: Logan Mankins, 2005, New England Patriots
His Credentials: 104 career regular-season starts, four Pro Bowl trips, three All-Pro selections, voted to Patriots' 50th anniversary team in 2009, two Super Bowl appearances
Others in Consideration: Ben Watson (2004, Patriots); Mathias Kiwanuka (2006, Giants)
The competition will get stiffer the further into this we venture. As it stands, though, there have been just 10 first-round selections at the No. 32 spot in NFL history. Only since 2002, when the Houston Texans hopped into the league, have there been 32 picks in Round 1. The 1995 draft also had a 32-pick first round due to an extra selection each for the expansion Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars -- defensive back Craig Newsome was the last player taken in Round 1, by Green Bay.
The 32nd pick in 2008 fell back to Round 2, since the Patriots forfeited their first-rounder due to the Spygate fallout.
The top No. 32 pick throughout NFL history, regardless of round? Probably Drew Brees, whom the Chargers snatched up atop Round 2 in 2001.
But back to Mankins ...
He missed the first seven games of 2010 because of a holdout and he wasn't quite as dominant in 2011 as he's been in the past. There's still no debating how important he is to the Patriots' offensive line, not to mention how reliable he's been. Aside from his '10 holdout, he has missed just one game since joining the Pats in 2005 -- Week 17 of this past season.
It certainly does not hurt Mankins that he has been able to set up shop next to left tackle Matt Light, a starter on New England's line since 2001. Few teams in the league can boast an experienced veteran pairing like that up front, let alone protecting their quarterback's blindside.
The glaring accomplishment missing from Mankins' resume is a Super Bowl crown. He joined New England right after the second of back-to-back titles in 2004 and '05 -- hence why the Patriots had the 32nd pick in the 2005 draft.
And while Mankins has been a part of five AFC East division title-winning teams and been around for seven postseason victories, he has twice been on the short end of the Super Bowl stick against the Giants, the latest heartbreak coming earlier this month.
Assuming the 29-year-old Mankins (he'll be 30 in March) can stay healthy, he may get a few more cracks at a crown. Prior to the 2011 season, he signed a six-year, $51 million contract that could keep him in New England through the 2016 season. That deal made Mankins the highest-paid interior lineman in the NFL, though New Orleans free agent Carl Nicks could surpass that total this offseason.
The Patriots have to consider it money well-spent, given Mankins' performance on the field and leadership in the locker room.
Teams hope they can find contributors at the bottom of the draft's first round. New England landed itself quite the gem back in 2005.