by Scott Benson, Patriots Daily Staff

picThe clock on the wall above the PD First Day Draft Board is spinning ever more furiously now as we grow closer and closer to the draft. It’s time to fuss with the prospect name tags a final time and live with it.

Today, the offensive line.  

Early First Day (Trade Up)

To be honest, I haven’t given a lot of thought to the idea of the Patriots going all in for one of the top four offensive tackles.  This year, anyway. Matt Light and Dan Koppen are the only starting linemen the Patriots have signed beyond next season. Why would the Pats pick now to trade up for a left tackle? Is there someone that special from the group of Monroe, the Smiths and Michael Oher? No disrespect intended, of course.

Mid First Day (Picks 23, 34)

Let’s begin at the beginning. Logan Mankins, Stephen Neal and Nick Kaczur will all play out their contracts in 2009.

I have to believe the Patriots intend to re-sign Mankins, the best Patriots guard in more than twenty years. Even then, there is the matter of the whole right side of the line. Kaczur can certainly be challenged, and contract aside, Neal’s long-term durability is a question.

So I’m thinking, as perhaps you have, that New England may need to hedge its bets here with a couple of line prospects in this draft. One inside, one outside, is the way I’d figure. First, I’d like to see someone who – worst case – could pass as a competitive left guard if Mankins couldn’t be signed, and best case on the right side, paired with Mankins for the next several seasons.

A second pick could perhaps go towards an agile pass-blocking tackle with a chance to develop behind Light.

C-G Max Unger didn’t start out at the top of the PD offensive line board, but he’ll finish there barring an embarrassing personal indiscretion in the waning days of the campaign. The versatility (Mike Mayock called him a five-position player), quickness, agility, size, toughness and durability (four-year starter never missed a game) – they all seem to perfectly fit the profile of a New England lineman. Kind of like Mankins in that he is a one-time college left tackle better suited inside for the pros.  The one thing that may get him inside is his height – it may be tough for him to get leverage on some of these bowling balls they throw out there. Still, considering that offensive line is often a position of fair value in the draft, I could almost straight face Unger at 23.

T Eben Britton is the player that Unger dethroned from the top of the board, but you have to like a guy with this size, strength and athleticism. Again, like Unger, the versatility (started at both left and right tackle; some project him to guard) and solid makeup (like Unger, a team captain and quick study) are key.  One concern raised by reports is whether he’s quick enough to be a pure left tackle. I’m not sure that’s what the Pats would be drafting here anyway. Like Unger, Britton would be in play for a few positions along the line. He could even be a 23. Certainly a 34.

Late First Day (Pick 47, 58)

C-G Alex Mack and C-G Eric Wood are kind of in the same boat here, on the bottom half of our PD Day One board. There’s a lot to like about two more players who can play multiple positions, but each lacks a certain quality that seems to make them tougher fits in New England. For Mack, his size, aggressiveness, smarts, and dependability (39 straight starts) are offset by questions about his athleticism. Wood has a similar skill set and make up, but scouts worry about his mobility. In both cases, that would seem to preclude them as hot Pats prospects. Still, it’s not considered a strong draft for o-linemen, so a team in need of players who can contribute right away can’t afford to take either of them off the board. I can’t see slotting them any higher than the pick 47 range though. I should note that Mack has often been projected as a late first rounder.

I might prefer T-G Andy Levitre at 58. Another guy that fits the Pats mold – smart, versatile (started at both tackles and at right guard), moves well and is durable (38 straight starts). He’s thought to be another guy who can contend for a starting position right away. He’s not considered a particularly powerful player, and he doesn’t have the height and wingspan desired in an every down tackle. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t work inside (the PD board’s top priority) and still cover the edges in a pinch.

If the Pats would rather move towards a tackle prospect with that 58th pick, they may consider T Troy Kropog.  This is more a developmental shot – Kropog’s top agility and athleticism, and his intelligence and work ethic, offsets (for the time being) concerns about how he’ll hold up to a power game. As incredible as it may seem, at 316 lbs. he’s not considered bulky enough. I figure that will change as he matures and perhaps grows over time into a starting position with the Pats, even at left tackle.   

That’s the first day board for offensive linemen. Tomorrow, Chris Warner has a crack at the second day group.

Scott Benson can be reached at