The New England Patriots best draft pick: Interior offensive line

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In determining the best draft pick ever at guard or center by the New England Patriots the list of potential players to choose from is long: centers Pete Brock, Damien Woody, Dan Koppen and Jon Morris and guards Logan Mankins, Charley Long, Billy Neighbors, Len St. John, and John Hannah were strong performers on the interior line for many years in New England with many Pro Bowls between them. Recent history finds the Patriots filling in their interior offensive line with a number of free agents, undrafted players, and developmental projects with great success.

One constant for the past thirty years on the offensive line has been offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. Scarnecchia retired this off-season after an amazing 44 years in the coaching business and 30 years with the Patriots organization. “Coach Scar” joined the Patriots in 1982 as offensive line coach. To put that in perspective that team featured Steve Grogan at quarterback, Ron Meyer as head coach, and future NFL head coach Jim Mora as defensive coordinator.

The highest draft pick in New England for an interior offensive lineman was Hall of Fame guard John “Hog” Hannah. Hannah was a ten time All Pro and nine time Pro Bowl player in his career with New England. Drafted in the first round as the number four overall pick in 1973, the University of Alabama product teamed with tackle Leon Gray and center Pete Brock (1976 first round draft pick) to make a solid combo on the left side of the offensive line for many years. Hannah was the first New England Patriots player inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Center Peter Brock was a 1976 first round draft pick at number twelve overall. He filled the gap after a decade of solid play across the mid-1960s to 1974 by seven time Pro Bowl center Jon Morris. Brock never had the success of Morris, but was an unsung hero of those teams as he ended up playing every position on the offensive line during his twelve years as a Patriot.

The New England Patriots began having draft success again in the early 1990s as they picked up Todd Rucci in 1993 in the second round. Center Dave Wohlabaugh was a 1995 fourth round draft pick who had a solid four year run in New England. The Patriots went back to the first round of the draft for interior offensive line help in 1999 with first round draft pick Damien Woody at number seventeen overall.

In the Bill Belichick era the Patriots had two dominant interior offensive linemen who came from the NFL Draft. The first was 2003 Boston College center Dan Koppen who was a fifth round gem. With starter Damien Woody injured in game one, the rookie Koppen stepped in and never relinquished the starting job for a decade. The other top interior lineman selected was 2005 guard Logan Mankins.

The 2005 first round draft pick at number 32 overall, Logan Mankins has been a six time Pro Bowl player in his tenure with New England. Mankins was a starter from day one as he replaced popular guard Joe Andruzzi who had departed in free agency. Mankins had a rough 2010 season as a contract dispute saw him miss the first seven games. In 2011 after being franchised, the team and Mankins finally put the contract dispute behind them as he signed a deal to be the highest paid interior offensive lineman at the time.

The battle to be the best draft pick ever at guard or center by the New England Patriots comes down to three players: center Damien Woody, guard Logan Mankins, and guard John Hannah. Woody only spent five seasons in New England as he landed in Detroit and then moved to tackle for division rival the New York Jets.

To choose between John Hannah and Logan Mankins as the best draft pick ever at guard or center by the New England Patriots is difficult. Hannah set the standard at guard in the NFL. Hannah is often considered one of the best interior offensive linemen in the history of the NFL.

However, Mankins has had a great career and is far from finished. At 32 years old, he potentially has many more years to contribute. Just this past season Mankins showed his importance as he seamlessly filled in at left tackle due to injuries on the offensive line. Despite not playing the position for a decade, he held his own and kept quarterback Tom Brady’s jersey clean during his fill in time.

It is close to call and subject to change as Logan Mankins’ career is still incomplete, but for now guard John “Hog” Hannah is the best draft pick ever at guard or center by the New England Patriots.