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Gross prize of OL class


The following is the sixth of 10 installments previewing the 2003 NFL draft class. Today, we feature offensive linemen.

Tackles are few and will be gone early. Guards and centers are many and should last into the late rounds.

It's a rare year for offensive line talent. Tackles are at a true premium this season, led by Utah's Jordan Gross. Meanwhile, there is uncommon strength at the center position, which could produce its first first-round pick since 1999.

Gross is the prize of the offensive line class. At 6-4, 300, Gross is said to be so natural that he makes it look easy. He's a certain top 10 pick and someone the Jaguars are almost certain to consider, should Gross be available with the eighth pick of the draft.

There are almost no knocks on Gross. He has the body and the mind to be one of the NFL's premier left tackles. Some question the competition he's faced in college, but that's only because there's nothing else to criticize.

But after Gross, teams seeking a tackle will be facing true risk. Stanford's Kwame Harris, Hawaii's Wayne Hunter and Georgia's George Foster are first-round prospects, but they are not in Gross' class.

Harris, 6-7, 310, is loaded with potential but is coming out early and may not be ready to be an immediate contributor. He has long arms, mobility and athletic talent, but he has struggled with technique and hasn't always dominated the competition.

Hunter, 6-5, 303, shot his stock up at the scouting combine with a display of power and athletic ability. Hunter is one of the true upside players in this draft, but he's only played the position for one year and Hawaii isn't exactly Michigan.

Foster, 6-5, 338, is another upside guy. He appears to have all of the size and athleticism necessary for the position, but he missed much of his senior season with an injury and there are concerns about his conditioning.

Florida State's Brett Williams and Georgia's Matt Stinchcomb are second-round prospects, Illinois' Tony Pashos will also go on the first day, and then the pickings get real slim.

Such is not the case at guard and center. Iowa guard Eric Steinbach is generally considered to be the second-best lineman in the draft and figures to be gone by the middle of the first round. Notre Dame center Jeff Faine may sneak into the first round.

Steinbach, 6-6, 297, has the power of a tackle and the speed of a tight end. He offers the potential to be one of the dominant run-blockers in the league.

Hawaii's Vince Manuwai, 6-2, 304, could sneak into the first round. Manuwai is also being projected as a center.

Florida State's Montrae Holland and Texas' Derrick Dockery are second-round prospects, and Southern Mississippi's Torrin Tucker, Virginia Tech's Anthony Davis, Northwestern's Jeff Roehl and Georgia's Kevin Breedlove are all first-day candidates.

Faine, 6-3, 303, is a true throwback. His abilities are punctuated by his toughness and dedication, but he is not without true skills. He is especially quick off the ball.

Other first-day centers include Wisconsin's Al Johnson, Iowa's Bruce Nelson, Boston College's Dan Koppen and Colorado's Wayne Lucier.

Of course, the Jaguars have need at either left guard or center, depending on whether Brad Meester's move from guard to center is permanent.

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