University of Maryland offensive tackle Jared Gaither, who figures to generate plenty of interest from NFL scouts, on Thursday officially applied for entry to the supplemental draft.
Barring any paperwork hang-ups, Gaither will be part of the July 12 lottery, which has now expanded to four known prospects. Gaither joins Georgia cornerback Paul Oliver, Nebraska offensive lineman Chris Patrick and Morgan State defensive tackle Robert Armstrong as players in the supplemental draft.
A starter in 17 of his 23 appearances for the Terrapins over the past two seasons, Gaither might challenge Oliver for top billing in the supplemental draft. The summertime lottery, which is limited to "special cases" prospects, typically includes about three or four players every year. It is believed there are still one or two players deliberating over whether to apply for the 2007 special draft.
Gaither was declared academically ineligible two weeks ago and, after much consideration, decided the NFL was his best career option.
"The plan is still to return [to school] and earn my degree," Gaither said Thursday night. "But after going over all the academic stuff as it affected me right now, and where I stood, this is the best thing."
It is not yet known when Gaither will audition for NFL scouts. But when he does work out, he is likely to draw a pretty healthy crowd. And if Gaither performs well in front of scouts, he could earn a spot in the first three rounds of the supplemental draft. To this point, Oliver, a solid cornerback who lacks top-end speed, has been viewed by most talent evaluators as the prime prospect in the supplemental pool.
Any team that chooses a player in the supplemental draft must forfeit its corresponding pick in the regular-phase draft in April 2008.
Blessed with great size (6-feet-9, 350 pounds according to the Maryland roster), Gaither has surprisingly quick feet and is regarded as an outstanding pass protector, a blocker who might project as a left tackle at the professional level. In 2005, Gaither did not surrender a sack in his 11 starts.
"He's expressed a desire to get his degree, but I think the opportunity to make a living and the chance to be successful at the next level was deciding factor," Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen told the Baltimore Sun. "We wish him the best of luck and hope he achieves success in the NFL and in life."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.