Oregon Ducks football has a long history, though it wasn’t until the 2000s that it became a national powerhouse. For decades, Oregon was seen as a regional program that toiled around toward the middle of the Pac 10 Conference at best, but with a larger investment into the athletics programs by Phil Knight, the Ducks are now recruiting around the United States.
As a result, there have been some recruits to make their way to Eugene who are considered to be among the best high school football players in history. Let’s take a look at the five best high school football recruits who signed with Oregon, how they did in their Ducks careers, and how their professional careers fared.
Before we start the list, here are some of the names that just missed the cut: Cameron Colvin, De’Anthony Thomas, Josh Conerly, Arik Armstead, and Canton Kaumatule.
5. Noah Sewell
After his older brother Penei attended Oregon and became a first-round NFL Draft selection, it seemed like a no-brainer for Noah Sewell to head to Eugene, as well. Instead of playing tackle like his brother, though, Noah spent his college days at linebacker and was considered the second-best at the position in his class and 13th overall player in the country.
Sewell’s first year was dragged down by the COVID-19 pandemic but he was still able to see significant playing time. In his second season, Sewell played in all 14 games and picked up four sacks, adding another 56 tackles in his third season. Sewell declared for the 2023 NFL Draft, finishing his Ducks career with 218 tackles and 7.5 sacks over 33 games.
4. Jonathan Stewart
When he was coming out of high school in 2005, Jonathan Stewart was considered the top running back in the country and was the 12th overall recruit in the nation. Stewart didn’t have to wait to show off his skills as Oregon used him quite a bit during his freshman year, rushing for 188 yards and six touchdowns. Things only got better for Stewart, and by his third season, he rushed for 1,722 yards and 11 touchdowns, adding another 145 yards and two touchdowns through the air.
Stewart was named an All-American twice during his college days and he won the 2007 Most Valuable Player Award at the Sun Bowl. Stewart then became the 13th overall selection in the 2008 NFL Draft and had a long career with the Carolina Panthers (and one year with the New York Giants). As a pro, Stewart finished with 7,335 rushing yards and 51 touchdowns.
3. Haloti Ngata
Every college team in the United States was vying for the services of Haloti Ngata, who was ranked as the top defensive tackle in the nation and the second-best player behind only Vince Young in 2002. Ngata played for four seasons with Oregon, finishing his career with 151 tackles, 10 sacks, and an impressive seven blocked kicks.
The Baltimore Ravens made Ngata the 12th overall selection in the 2006 NFL Draft, and he’d spent much of his career there before playing with the Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles. Ngata was a five-time All-Pro and was named to the Ravens Ring of Honor.
2. Justin Flowe
Oregon has seen an increase in skill at the linebacker position in recent years, and that trend continued in 2020 with the signing of Justin Flowe. Flowe was the sixth-highest-rated player in high school football and the top linebacker in the nation. He chose Oregon over the countless other schools that offered him a scholarship, making him the second-best recruit that the Ducks have ever landed.
Flowe didn’t see much playing time in his first two seasons, appearing in just one game each and amassing 15 total tackles. He saw an expanded role in his third year, collecting 35 tackles over 10 games. Injuries didn’t allow Flowe to live up to the hype he had coming out of high school and he would end up transferring to Arizona to continue his football career.
1. Kayvon Thibodeaux
Defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux was the second-highest-rated recruit in the nation, and surprised some when he chose Oregon over every other school. Many felt he would have an instant impact, and they were right. Thibodeaux had nine sacks in his freshman season, and he’d add another 10 over his final two seasons.
Thibodeaux was an All-American in 2021 and a two-time First-Team All-Pac-12 selection. He entered the 2021 NFL Draft as one of the favorites to be the top pick but was drafted fifth overall by the New York Giants and impressed right away, becoming a member of the All-Rookie Team.