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Morry: Surprise in Round 1?

Can you be surprised by anything the unpredictable Patriots do? If you haven't learned to expect the unexpected by now, you haven't been paying attention.

I like to think of myself as a keen observer of this club I am assigned to cover, but obviously I haven't been paying attention because I was stunned to hear the name Logan Mankins called as the Patriots first round selection. Flat out stunned.

My reaction wasn't because of where some prognosticator had Mankins ranked because I don't generally trust what is written about a guy even though it's all most of us have to go by in draft preparation, but rather because he was listed as a guard and I'd have bet the house against Bill Belichick picking a guard at 32.

The shock waned some, though, when I found out that Mankins spent his entire career at Fresno State playing tackle because while I stated all afternoon on Patriots.com radio that New England would not take a guard on the first day (never mind the first round), I, and my PFW cohorts, never ruled out a tackle.

I was not alone in pegging a cornerback as the pick at 32, but thought if the Patriots went what I considered outside the box, they would take a wideout or a tackle rather than a corner or linebacker.

So even though the so-called draft experts have Mankins pegged as a guard, the Patriots must feel he projects as a tackle if not as a rookie, then in the near future because they don't draft guards in the first round. This I insist and am sticking to it.

Mankins could be Joe Andruzzi's replacement in his rookie season before moving out to tackle at some point. He may even be given a chance to unseat Tom Ashworth and Brandon Gorin at right tackle out of the gate while Gene Mruczkowski and Russ Hochstein battle it out at guard.

But while Mankins will be expected to vie for a spot among the starting five as a rookie, his biggest value to New England will be his left tackle experience and the depth he provides behind Matt Light at that spot while also potentially contributing as a starter somewhere else on the line.

After losing the oft-injured Adrian Klemm in free agency, the Patriots were left without any backup for Light with experience at left tackle. And while Light has been durable in his first four seasons, playing without a true backup at the line's most critical spot is sort of like spinning the chamber, pulling the trigger and hoping lady luck gives you a click instead of a bang.

The info on Mankins is positive. He is smart, competitive, aggressive and has been referred to as the "the most technically sound lineman" in the college ranks. He was rated as the best offensive guard prospect in college football heading into his senior season despite never playing the position. And while he reportedly struggled at guard during Senior Bowl week, Belichick cited his position flexibility as a factor in drafting him.

Then there is the Pat Hill factor. Hill is a respected offensive line coach and worked under Belichick as an assistant in Cleveland during the early 1990s. Belichick said that Hill recommended Mankins. Also, highly respected offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia visited Mankins in Fresno, Calif., and obviously came away impressed with the kid's makeup and overall package.

Mankins has a nasty streak just as Andruzzi did while leading the Pats line and he devoured Virginia outside linebacker Darryl Blackstock, a decently rated draft prospect, in the 2004 MPC Bowl. Hill awarded Mankins with a "Bad Dog" Award for his dominating performance last season, an honor Hill rarely gives, but felt compelled to do after Mankins failed to allow a sack or a pressure in 2004.

The comprehensive draft web site, nfldraftscout.com, rated Mankins as a third round prospect and cited a 2003 ACL tear as possibly scaring teams off. It would seem, then, the Patriots drafted him too high, but picking at the bottom of each round might have made New England's brass uneasy about waiting. With their second round pick on the cusp of the third round, the Pats might have felt Mankins would be gone. They took him where they were certain to get him.

So while he may have been available at the end of the second round, it's tough to be critical of the pick even as observers look for a more glamorous selection. And let's face it, the Patriots personnel department has proven smarter than its critics in recent years so it does earn some deserved benefit of the doubt even while not immune from criticism.

So after allowing the initial shock to subside, it seems like this is a solid pick. It's a bottom-of-the-first-round selection that should compete for playing time immediately at a position where New England is hardly brimming with individual talent even though its line has performed well as a unit. But if the Patriots project Mankins as a guard, I will revert to my previously stunned state because I just don't believe they would spend first round money on that position. I have to think he is, or will be, a tackle in New England.

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