Adrian Peterson and Rhett Bomar were widely considered for a while to be the top college prospects at their respective positions in 2004, but it was a twist of fate that led to Drew Kelson of Houston Lamar becoming the safety prospect in America.
Kelson was seemingly stuck behind California Prep star Randy Estes during the summer of 2003, but Estes' off the field problems and consequential freefall on recruiting boards across the country landed the 6-2, 210 pound Kelson in the top spot.
Kelson, a March 2003 commit to Texas, was the headliner in what looked to be a very elite group of defensive back prospects in the state of Texas in 2004. The highest rated cornerback in the class was Waco High's Marcus Walker, who had one of the best reputations a prep corner might ever have in the state of Texas. Walker did not record an interception as a junior or a senior as opponents never threw the ball to his side of the field. His physical play and stature reminded many scouts of Antoine Winfield and he took that ability to Oklahoma was the Sooners won an eleventh hour recruiting battle with Florida State.
Rated as the nation's No. 3 cornerback by Scout.com, Walker was one of two four star corners in Texas in 2004 as he was joined by the No. 7 rated cover man in America, Fort Worth Dunbar's Bobby Tatum, who joined Kelson as a Texas signee.
Tatum's Dunbar teammate D.J. Davis led a strong group of three star cornerbacks that included Belton's Ramonce Taylor, Arlington Bowie's Ryan Palmer, and West Orange-Stark's Kerry Franks, all of whom were ranked among the top 50 corners in the nation. Houston Madison's Jeffery Jack, Gainesville's Darcel McBath, Port Arthur Memorial's Danny Gorrer, and Wilmer-Hutchins' Walter Hudson were all rated as three star players, as was Tyler Lee safety Martel Van Zant.
All of the aforementioned players were considered to be top 100 players in the state, as were Marlin's D'Nerian Wrighter and Duncanville's Pierre Brown.
How They Look at the End:
Some times college coaches ‘miss' on prospects, which does happen all too often as has been documented in the previous looks back at the class of 2004.
Then there is the case as to how in the heck coaches did not miss on evaluating, but missed Aqib Talib all together in the recruiting process.
Talib was a two star unranked safety prospect out of Richardson Berkner who signed with Kansas after getting lukewarm attention at best. Coaches simply missed the fact that Talib intercepted three passes in the first three games of his senior season at Berkner then teams refused to throw his way. Talib then used his self-reported 40-inch vertical leap to block seven kicks the rest of the way.
One he got to Lawrence the rest was history. He recorded 13 interceptions in just three years, was a freshman all-American and a two-time all-American, including earning consensus honors as a junior. After leading the Jayhawks to an 11-1 record and an Orange Bowl win, Talib declared for the 2008 NFL Draft where he was selected in the first round by the Tampa Bay Bucs.
As for the rest of the class, needless to say they did not meet the production of the lesser heralded Talib.
Shortly after Taylor played his final game at Belton I had a fellow sportswriter tell me with a straight face and then put in print that Mack Brown, "is an idiot," if he were to make Taylor a defensive back instead of leaving him at his prep position of running back. Brown apparently liked what he saw from Taylor as a prep player and left him at running back where he was a big time player for the Longhorns, especially in 2005 as he was one of the team's top rushers and scored a touchdown in Texas' Rose Bowl win over Southern Cal. That epic win for the 2005 national championship however would be Taylor's last game as a Longhorn as legal troubles that spring led to his dismissal from the program just prior to the start of the 2006 season. Taylor's legal issues have yet to subside as in February he was sentenced to five months in jail in Bell County for probation violations.
Walker was on his way to a redshirt season at Oklahoma before his shirt was burned late in the season against Texas A&M when he replaced Eric Bassey and helped OU rally from a two touchdown deficit to get a win. His play over the final three games (wins over A&M, Nebraska, and Baylor) and the Big 12 Championship game against Colorado had Walker looking like the next great Sooner defender. A preseason shoulder injury held him back significantly in 2005 and surgery the following spring held him back in 2006. Despite all of the injury setbacks Walker left Oklahoma as a three time Big 12 champion and a two-time all-Conference selection with three career interceptions, all of which came in 2006. Walker was signed as a priority free agent by the Minnesota Vikings right after the 2008 NFL Draft.
While at Texas Kelson was unselfish, almost to a fault because he never found a home and did absolutely anything the coaching staff asked, which was one reason why he never reached five star status as a college player. As a true freshman he played running back and as a sophomore he moved to linebacker where he excelled and made several big plays for the Longhorns. He stayed at linebacker in 2006 and moved to safety as a senior but he was not the impact player he was as a sophomore largely due to injuries. Kelson looked to have an NFL future, worst case scenario as a special teams player, but he was not signed as a priority free agent. He did get an invite to rookie mini camp with the Chicago Bears.
The Dunbar duo of Tatum and Davis failed to make much noise at all in college. Tatum saw significant action as a Longhorn but left Texas in 2005 and transferred to Abilene Christian while Davis' career at Texas A&M never got started as nothing can be found on his Aggie career beyond his redshirt year in 2004. The Aggies however did get a pair of solid receivers in Brown and Franks, both of whom will likely start as seniors this fall while Gorrer is expected to start at cornerback.
McBath is a two-time all-Big 12 selection for Texas Tech and enters his senior season as the anchor of the Red Raiders' secondary.
Van Zant is also one of the more interesting stories in the class because he enjoyed a solid college career with the Cowboys all the while dealing with the fact that he was born deaf. Van Zant at last report, Van Zant was still shopping his services to NFL teams after a torn ankle tendon caused some teams to shy away from him in the draft.
Head of the Class:
A three-time all-American, an Orange Bowl MVP honor, and a first round NFL Draft pick make for an impressive resume for Talib and make him a no-brainer pick.
Kelson and Walker were both had star quality coming out of high school and while they both had moments of brilliance, neither player was ever consistent enough (due to injuries and position changes) to put together all-American type careers.
However neither of those players was as disappointing as Davis, who had zero impact at Texas A&M. Taylor also receives an honorable mention here because a once bright career went up in smoke when it was just getting started, as does Tatum as his best football has been played at Division II ACU.
Much like the receivers from this class the defensive back group saw most of their top talent turn out solid, but not spectacular, even though Kelson and Walker both had huge moments during years in which their team reached the national title game.
Talib however will go down as one of the top recruiting steals of the decade as he was one of the main reasons for the turnaround Kansas had in 2007.