Foster rated as big-potential, big-risk prospect

Equally skilled as a run-blocker and pass-blocker, blessed with exceptional size, strength and quick feet, <b>George Foster</b> may have as much potential as any offensive tackle who will be taken in the NFL draft Saturday.

Thanks to a wrist injury that limited him to one start in his senior season at Georgia, George Foster also is rated by at least one publication as the biggest risk among tackles in the draft.

That combination of health questions and  unquestioned potential make Foster one of the more intriguing questions on the first day of the draft.

If not for the wrist injury that forced Foster to play with a big cast on his right hand in 2002, the Macon native probably would be rated with Georgia teammates Johnathan Sullivan and Boss Bailey as a certain first-round pick Saturday.

Instead, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said this week "I wouldn't be surprised if (Foster) dropped to the third round because of the injury.'' Kiper has pushed another Georgia offensive tackle, Jon Stinchcomb, ahead of Foster on his draft board.

Foster suffered a broken wrist in a car accident in August, forcing him to miss the first four games of the season and return in a limited role for the next few games. His only start, against Kentucky, came when Stinchcomb was out with an injury.

"The thing about the draft is you don't know what's going to happen,'' Foster said. "People ask and I say I don't know. People think you have the inside scoop but you don't. You don't know anything that's going to happen until your name is called.''

Some projections continue to list Foster as a potential late first-round pick. If he joins Bailey and Sullivan as first-round picks, it would be the first time Georgia has had three players taken in the first round. If the wrist is not a long-term concern, Foster could be a long-term starter.

Still, the fact Foster started only 11 games in his career may make it difficult for a team to expect him to make an immediate impact.

"I think it's going to take him a little bit longer to adjust to our game just because he hasn't played a whole lot,'' said Atlanta Falcons supervisor of college scouting Mike Hagen.

Hagen said Foster's potential is attractive, but he said Stinchcomb and another Georgia tackle in the draft, Kareem Marshall, "have played a lot more.''

"First and foremost, production is the first thing you want to look at,'' Hagen said. "After that you take size into account with everything else. With George's deal, you've got to look a little bit more at the potential you see and you feel is there.''

Added Hagen: "He's the kind of guy that you're betting on to come. He's a big guy, he's got athleticism, he competes pretty well and he plays both (left and right tackle) positions.''

The Sporting News rates Foster as the third-best tackle in the draft but also calls Foster the biggest risk. Foster did not lift at the NFL combine, but he hopes he answered concerns about his wrist in his workouts for scouts at Georgia's pro day last month in Athens.

At the pro day, Foster lifted 405 pounds in the bench press and 500 pounds in the squat. Foster also practiced and tested well at the Senior Bowl.

"(The wrist) is feeling good, feeling better,'' Foster said this week. "I think I did well (in the pro day workouts). I stacked up well as far as the average of the (other tackles in the draft). I was happy.''

Foster's effectiveness was limited by the cast he had to wear last season, but he plans to play with a custom-made splint on his hand as an NFL rookie.

"It's lightweight, kind of like a glove,'' he said. "That works well. I don't see any reason not to wear it. Better to be safe than sorry.''

Foster says he has no regrets about playing in nine games last season with the cast on his right hand.

"I think my future was protected as much as it could be,'' he said. "I wasn't pushed against my will to come back and play. I just wanted to play. That was the only thing that was in my mind. I did what I had to to. I don't think it damaged anything.''

Kiper says teams have ongoing concerns about Foster's wrist, but Foster has made himself available to some team doctors and hopes those examinations answered any questions.

Baltimore, St. Louis, New Orleans and San Francisco invited Foster to their respective team headquarters for private interviews the last few weeks. "If the team is talking to you, evidently they have interest in you,'' Foster said.

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