Judge Farrell: DT 2002 - 2004
Sounds like the perfect time for Rivals.com National Recruiting Director Mike Farrell to put on his judge’s robe and take a look at the top two defensive tackles each year since our inception.
Today, Judge Farrell looks at 2002-2004, which includes NFL star Haloti Ngata.
2002: No. 1 Haloti Ngata vs. No. 2 Rodrique Wright
The skinny: Ngata had an extremely hectic recruiting process, with commitments to Nebraska and BYU, before he finally flipped to Oregon on National Signing Day. Ngata dominated collegiate opposition, which led him to be selected by Baltimore with the 12th overall pick in 2006. His domination continued into the NFL, where he quickly established himself as one of the top defensive tackles in the league, totaling five Pro Bowl and All-Pro seasons with the Ravens. Ngata had a somewhat disappointing season while dealing with a few nagging injuries after making his way to Detroit prior to the 2015 season.
Farrell’s take: The best prospect ever out of Utah? Yep, at least in our history. Ngata was the best defensive tackle I’ve seen prior to this 2016 recruiting year when it comes to the size/power/athleticism combination, so that’s saying something since he was ranked way back in 2002. There are guys more athletic, some that are bigger but few that are stronger and his combination of all three is why he was a college star and has had a great NFL career.
The skinny: Wright favored Texas from the start of his process, and despite pressure from Oklahoma, LSU, Texas A&M and Tennessee, he followed his intuition and committed to the Longhorns. Wright saw immediate playing time in Austin and culminated his career with the Longhorns by being named First-Team All-American as a senior. After being selected in the seventh round by Miami in 2006, Wright spent two seasons with the Dolphins, before having a short stint with the New York Jets, and then in both the Canadian and Arena Leagues. He is currently the defensive ends coach at Sam Houston State.
Farrell’s take: Wright was an absolute monster back in 2002 and one of the first taller defensive tackles who showed he could play with leverage. He took a while to get his college career on track and never made it in the NFL due to a shoulder injury and, ironically, difficulty playing with leverage as defensive tackle and lacking explosion as a defensive end.
Judge Farrell's Verdict: Ngata clearly wins here.
2003: No. 1 Nathaniel Robinson vs. No. 2 Lawrence Dampeer
The skinny: Robinson had his choice of elite programs nationally, but his process always seemed destined to come down to either Miami or Rutgers. Despite committing and signing with the Canes, he never actually played in Coral Gables. During the summer, Miami notified Robinson that he had not met their academic requirements, which basically made the five-star a free agent. Soon after, he took a return visit to Rutgers and committed to the Scarlet Knights a few days before the start of summer camp. However, Robinson only played two seasons at Rutgers, as he was dismissed from the team for violating team rules. After finishing his collegiate career at Akron, Robinson went undrafted, which led to unsuccessful attempts with the New York Giants, plus in both the United Football League and Canadian Football League.
Farrell’s take: Robinson had it all and was college-ready in high school, but it clearly never came together. First, it was academics, then it was off-field issues and by the time he got settled in college, his skills never developed the way we expected. He’s one of the most talented players I’ve scouted who never impacted.
The skinny: Dampeer took official visits to Oklahoma, Illinois and Ohio State before making his commitment to the Sooners. After a promising redshirt freshman season in Norman, things began to fall apart for Dampeer, which eventually led to his transfer to Joliet Junior College and then Northwest Missouri State. After battling through conditioning issues and a kidney condition which saw his weight soar to over 400 pounds, Dampeer’s dream of playing in the NFL was never reached. However, as recently as 2014, he was still playing semi-pro football for teams such as the Springfield Foxes, Cedar Rapids Titans and Bloomington Edge in the Mid States Football League.
Farrell’s take: Dampeer wasn’t as physically gifted as Robinson, but he was athletic and a better pass rusher from the tackle position. His career was derailed by a lack of work ethic overall as he continued to disappoint in conditioning, and he also wasn’t heading to class. He showed a few flashes one season and the rest was a massive disappointment.
Judge Farrell: Robinson in a close call between two busts.
2004: DeMario Pressley vs. Franklin Okam
The skinny: While Pressley did his due diligence with his recruiting process, N.C. State was always seen as his likely destination. When it finally came time to make a decision on National Signing Day, Pressley had trimmed his list down to N.C. State, North Carolina and Florida State, which led to his commitment to the Wolfpack. After reaching some of his potential as a junior and senior in Raleigh, Pressley was selected with the 144th overall pick in the fifth round by the New Orleans Saints. In his one full season with the Saints, which culminated in the Super Bowl, Pressley totaled 20 tackles. He then saw time with Houston, Carolina, Denver, Chicago and Indianapolis before seeing his playing days come to an end prior to the start of the 2012 season.
Farrell’s take: Pressley was a superior athlete for his size with plenty of room to grow as a high school prospect, but took a while to develop and never reached his full potential. He does have a Super Bowl ring however, so all was not lost, but I expected so much more from his career in college and beyond.
Skinny: Okam was a big recruiting priority for Texas since the day they offered, but the huge in-state defensive tackle still took official visits to Florida, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Stanford before finally committing to the Longhorns on National Signing Day. Okam had a successful, yet unspectacular career with the Longhorns, finishing his career with 160 tackles, 28 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks. Selected in the fifth round of the 2008 NFL Draft by Houston, Okam spent a little over two seasons with the Texans before seeing some time with Tampa Bay, Seattle and the New York Giants. His most recent attempt in the NFL was with the Giants, when he was waived two weeks prior to the 2013 season.
Farrell’s Take: Okam reminds me of Wright in stature out of high school as well as potential and he reached more of it than his former teammate, but again he fell short of expectations. His career at Texas was solid but not off the charts as many of us expected and he never gained enough traction in the NFL. After starting off as a freshman star at Texas, he never seemed to kick it into that next gear but he did make some big plays for the Longhorns and was always on the cusp of putting it together completely.
Judge Farrell: Okam was better in college and the NFL.