Thursday February 23rd, 2012

Nick Mangold has anchored the Jets' offensive line since being drafted in 2006. (Getty Images)

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. Track all the choices here.

The No. 29 Pick: Nick Mangold, 2006, Jets

His Credentials: 94 career regular-season starts, including 80 consecutive from 2006-11; four-time Pro Bowler; three-time All-Pro selection

Others in Consideration: Hakeem Nicks (2009, Giants)

There have been some other first-round No. 29 picks that turned in solid NFL careers: Marc Colombo, Ryan Pickett and Michael Jenkins, to name a few. When it came right down to it, though, this was a matchup of New Yorkers, with Mangold and Nicks standing above the rest.

You could make a legitimate case for Nicks, too, especially in light of his recent playoff heroics -- Nicks caught 28 passes and delivered four touchdowns during the Giants' Super Bowl run, including a Hail Mary TD against Green Bay and 10 receptions against New England.

In just three seasons in the league, Nicks has more than 3,000 yards receiving and has established himself as a star.

And yet, it's hard to discount what Mangold has accomplished while anchoring the Jets' line from his center position. His Pro Bowl appearance this year marked his fourth consecutive season on the team -- his 2011 effort may have been his best year, as he earned the honor despite missing two games with a high ankle sprain and being surrounded by inconsistent line play.

Mangold also earned his third straight All-Pro honor, claiming a second-team spot behind Pittsburgh's Maurkice Pouncey.

"He's really irreplaceable," Jets tight end Dustin Keller said early in 2011, when Mangold was dealing with his injury. "You can get a guy in there and coach him up as much as you want, but you can’t replace all the knowledge and the time that he’s put in with these guys."

Case in point: The Jets lost both games that Mangold missed this past season (at Oakland, at Baltimore). Mark Sanchez was sacked six times in those two games and the Jets mustered a mere 38 yards rushing against the Ravens.

New York thinks so highly of Mangold that it handed him a whopping eight-year, $57.4 million contract before the 2010 season, which made him the NFL's highest-paid center and could keep him in the Big Apple through the 2017 season. At the rate Mangold is going, there's no reason to think the Jets will cut ties with him long before then.

He has, quite simply, been one of the league's best centers -- not to mention one of the league's best linemen, overall -- for several years. Pro Football Focus graded him out as the second most effective center in 2011, behind only Houston's Chris Myers. He finished second in that metric in 2010 as well and topped the center chart in '09 and '08. A three-year starter at Ohio State, Mangold has more than repaid the Jets' faith in him as a first-round pick. Nicks might be closing the gap in this race, but for now, the Jets' punishing lineman holds the edge.

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