Finishing first is not unusual for the New England Patriots. But this accomplishment is somewhat of a surprise.
The Patriots became the first NFL team to sign its first-round draft choice, inking offensive lineman Logan Mankins to a five-year deal yesterday.
Mankins was the last player taken in the first round of the NFL Draft (32d overall) in April, but the first to sign in part because the Patriots asked their rookies to report sooner than any other team and Mankins's desire to get to camp and compete for a starting job.
A year ago, tight end Benjamin Watson, also the No. 32 pick, held out for nearly three weeks, not joining the team until three days after the first exhibition game.
Mankins's signing means New England has all seven of its draft picks under contract and in camp, making it the only team to manage that.
Later in the day, the 49ers agreed to terms with No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith, toppling the most important domino in the chain reaction of signings. The Eagles also signed their first-round pick, defensive end Mike Patterson, who was taken just before Mankins.
The Patriots already have signed third-round picks Ellis Hobbs, a cornerback from Iowa State, and Nick Kaczur, a tackle from Toledo, as well as fourth-rounder James Sanders, a safety and Mankins's college teammate, fifth-round selection Ryan Claridge, a linebacker from Nevada-Las Vegas, and seventh-round choices quarterback Matt Cassel (Southern Cal) and tight end Andy Stokes (William Penn).
Mankins, 23, was a four-year starter at Fresno State. He spent time with the first team in the Patriots' June minicamp, lining up at left guard next to tackle Matt Light, with center Dan Koppen, right guard Stephen Neal, and right tackle Brandon Gorin. Joe Andruzzi, a five-year starter at left guard, left as a free agent in the offseason for Cleveland.
Light said he is impressed with Mankins and Kaczur.
''Nick and Logan have done a great job," Light said. ''They do their due diligence, know what's expected of them. I think they will do well."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick has said that Mankins's versatility would make him a valuable component. Mankins (6 feet 4 inches, 307 pounds) started 40 of 42 games at Fresno State at tackle, but a number of NFL teams projected him as a guard in the league. As a redshirt freshman in 2001, he protected the blindside of quarterback David Carr, the eventual No. 1 pick of the Houston Texans, allowing just two sacks that season.
''The thing I think of when it comes to Logan, is someone working hard, giving 100 percent every day and being all about team," Carr said this past spring.
Despite a mild manner and quiet personality, Mankins built a reputation at Fresno State as a tough, even nasty, blocker with an on-the-field mean streak. Belichick said he likes that about him, because he would rather try to tone a player down than pump him up.
A champion cattle roper and father of two, Mankins is a native of Catheys Valley, Calif., a small gold rush town about 70 miles north of Fresno.
He is the ninth offensive lineman drafted in the first round by the Patriots, the best of which is Hall of Famer John Hannah (fourth overall in 1973).