Frank Okam: Setting the Record Straight

Frank Okam  (Getty Images)

Looking to add to talent to their defensive line, the Texans drafted University of Texas defensive tackle Frank Okam. He joins a defensive line that already sports two of the best young defensive linemen in the NFL, Mario Williams and Amobi Okoye. Now he looks to make his own mark as the Texans head into training camp.

From a five-star recruit to a fifth-round draft pick, Frank Okam has seen his stock rise and fall faster than a Silicon Hills start-up. He arrived in Austin with much fanfare and by all accounts, he was destined for greatness. He was built like Shaun Rodgers and supposed to put up numbers like Casey Hampton. When he wasn't the second coming of either of them, people started to question his desire to play the game. Once branded with the scarlet letter "U" (underachiever), it became tough to convince NFL teams that he was worth a high-round draft pick.

Once thought of as a blue chip prospect, Okam found himself falling all the way to the 151st overall pick in April's draft. In all, there were 13 defensive tackles taken before him. However, it could be easily argued that his production still ranked among the best of the defensive tackles drafted in 08.

After his breakout sophomore season, his production took a downturn his junior year. His detractors point to this season as proof of his questionable motor. What is missing from the stat line is that he was playing on an injured leg that would eventually sideline him for the game against Baylor. Add in the probable stats from that missed game and his junior year is on par with the numbers from his sophomore season.

Nevertheless, Frank Okam bounced back in 2007 with an outstanding senior season that saw him rack up 52 tackles with 11 for loss, 9 passes defensed, 16 quarterback hurries, and a career high 5 quarterback sacks. For comparison, the 49ers first round draft pick Kentwan Balmer had a senior year with an almost identical stat line. Balmer had 59 total tackles, which is slightly higher than Okam's 52, but Okam bests Balmer in tackles for loss (+1.5), sacks (+1.5),and passes deflected (+9). Despite Balmer's 6'4" height, he failed to register a single pass deflection. A look at the career numbers of the two, and its apparent that Okam had a more productive collegiate career.

A productive senior season wasn't enough to silence his critics when he showed up to the NFL combine overweight. The added weight had a detrimental effect as he did not do well in the speed and agility drills. In a conference call with the media, he said it was due to mishandling his creatine intake, which left him with excess water weight, adding that as soon as he stopped, he dropped back down to his playing weight of 328.

Creatine could be the reason as he did put up an impressive 32 reps in the bench press, only 5 off the high mark set by Vernon Gholston and Jake Long. Nevertheless, showing up heavy to the combine helped further promulgate the perception that he wasn't interested in playing pro ball. So much so that Texans' GM Rick Smith needed one more interview with Okam to make sure that his heart was in the right place:

"We brought him in and interviewed him again, just to go through in terms of his passion of the game. What I just wanted to do when he came here to meet with us was to see how important football was to him. You can have all the talent in the world and if a guy doesn't have it right here in his heart and have the passion to play this game - because it's a hard game to play then you are wasting a pick. Our time here spent together, he said the right things I wanted to here. And we're fortunate that we were able to get him at that pick."

Okam has the following to say about their meeting--

"I just want to let them see my talents and my focus personally. Before you can judge someone fully you have to get to know that person, and they brought me in and really sat down and talked to me. They just wanted to see where my head was, and they knew that I'm passionate about this game. I basically told them that they are going to get a guy that can stop the run and get at the quarterback when you need that."

What Frank Okam brings to the Texans is far more than an ability to clog the middle. He is a cerebral player who should fit in with fellow whiz kid Amobi Okoye. Lauded for much more than his play on the field, Okam was recognized for his achievements in the classroom. Okam graduated with his degree in Sports Management in just 3 1/2 years. Despite the class load, Okam was a five-time member of UT's Athletic Director's Honor Roll.

Not bad for an underachiever. So while he may have not lived up to the expectations of his five-star billing, you would be hard pressed to say that he had bad go of it at the University of Texas. Here's a quote taken from Frank's pre draft diary:

"Being able to finish in three-and-a-half years and know that you've graduated and you can go on in life and do the things you want to do since you have a degree from a great University, it's a great feeling. There are a few things Coach Brown told me I could do when I came to college. One was win a National Championship and one was to graduate and get a T-Ring. Having done both, I can say that my time was spent very well here"

In Big Frank Okam, the Texans drafted a player who anchored the defensive line for a perennial powerhouse and won a national championship. He's proven his ability to pursue the quarterback, disrupt passes, and stop the run. He's a heady player who should have no problems digesting the playbook. The only real knock on him is his desire, but something tells me that slipping to the fifth round gives him enough motivation to prove everyone wrong.

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