Many enhanced draft position at combine

Jerry Jones, Al Davis and Woody Johnson were just a few of the NFL owners who gathered with league brass at the RCA Dome last week for the 2003 combine. While this year's version has featured a few standout performances, for the most part the gathering of 300-plus prime pro prospects saw more than its share of players deciding against taking off the sweats, deciding to wait for another day to be timed and tested. But many came away with their prospects enhanced for the April draft.

Terrell Suggs, Jimmy Kennedy and Larry Johnson were some of the elite names opting out of the festivities here in Indianapolis, favoring individual workouts to show their talents to scouts.

Despite that, several players substantially enhanced their draft rankings since late February.

Several offensive linemen enhanced their stock with impressive performances. Jordan Gross of Utah stood out and after running as fast as any blocker in attendance, turned in a terrific drill session which garnered the attention of several teams. Gross is stating his case to be a top five pick and the recent rumors of Houston tabbing him with the draft's third selection may not be off base.

Eric Steinbach continued his tear from the Senior Bowl and after a vertical leap of 36 inches, again displayed the skill to be a blind side protector at tackle which endeared him to the hearts of scouts in attendance.

Vince Manuwai redeemed himself after a sub-par showing in Mobile and had a good session. The Hawaii guard was fleet across the surface of the RCA Dome but most importantly weighed in with only 18.6% body fat, which was a concern for teams.

Equally as impressive was Kwame Harris, the most athletic blocker on the field. The recent history of right tackles from college moving to the weak side in the NFL has not been good but Harris seemingly displayed the skills needed to be successful in that transition should he be asked to make it.

Obviously one of the headlines last week was Justin Fargas. Known mostly as a power back during his tenure in college, the USC product scorched the field clocking a pair of 40 times in the 4.3-area. Each time he sped across the turf scouts put down their watches and said, "WOW!" Factor in the pass catching skills Fargas displayed at the Senior Bowl and he jumped into the draft's initial 45 selections.

Defensive linemen also fared well in the spotlight. Junior Johnathan Sullivan of Georgia and Oklahoma State's Kevin Williams both displayed top-notch athletic skills and moved their 300-pound frames easily about the field, giving scouts the impression both would be effective in a two-gap (three-four alignment) scheme as well as holding their own as stand-alone tackles. Williams especially further enhanced his final grade.

Many of the smaller defensive ends were put through a battery of linebacker drills and some results were sterling. Clemson's Bryant McNeal and Cincinnati's Antwan Peek, a pair of players that lined up in a three-point stance in college, looked natural playing off the line off scrimmage and making plays in space. Even with that none compared to Shurron Pierson.

The little known junior prospect from the University of South Florida sped across the field with a pair of 40 times in the low 4.6-area. He then blew away the competition with a broad jump more than 6-inches longer than the nearest linemen. When placed at linebacker Pierson displayed the same quickness and explosion as he had earlier in the day. While the NFL rarely looks to the USF Bulls for pro prospects, Pierson has turned their heads and may now be headed towards the first day of the draft.

On the flip side, several of the invitees did not fare as well and performed poorly over the final days. Texas lineman Derrick Dockery looked slow and sluggish, or more to the point as one scout said, woefully out of shape. Washington State's Rien Long also looked heavy footed even though he did not run. There are still serious questions about where the Outland Trophy winner will be drafted.

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