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Stanford OT Walker Little worth an early-round gamble in upcoming NFL Draft?

Little hasn’t played since early in the 2019 season, but he is a talented offensive lineman

Northwestern v Stanford Photo by David Madison/Getty Images

Sixty-nine years ago in the 1952 NFL Draft, the Little family name was first recognized.

Gene Little played guard and was selected by the New York Giants in the 18th round. One year later, Rick Little was a fifth-round selection out of Texas A&M by the Baltimore Colts.

After a hiatus, the Little name is likely to be called again, but this time in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Stanford tackle Walker Little is a projected early-round selection. Little made an immediate impact in his first season with the Cardinals. He played in nine games, becoming the first true freshman to start at left tackle for Stanford since 2000. In his third career start, Little helped running back Bryce Love run for a program single-game rushing record. He was named ESPN Freshman All-American and the Pac-12 Freshman Co-Offensive Player of the Year.

During his sophomore season, Little started all 12 games and helped pass protect for quarterback K.J. Costello as he threw for the second-most passing yards in school history. He earned first-team All Pac-12 honors.

But Walker’s momentum stopped in the first game of his junior season against Northwestern. He suffered a knee injury in the fourth quarter that ended his season. Then, Walker elected to opt out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns. Walker has therefore not played in a game since the middle of the 2019 season.

Yet despite his absence, the former Cardinal has become known as a hidden gem in this year’s draft class. In Mel Kiper Jr.’s most recent mock draft, he projected Walker going at No. 31 to the Kansas City Chiefs.

“I think I’m the best tackle in this draft,” Walker said repeatedly in a videoconference with media following his Pro Day.

Walker could be someone for the Giants to keep an eye on as they look to bolster their offensive line. New York has been associated with Northwestern’s OT Rashawn Slater but there is a chance he is no longer available at No. 11. That seems far too early for Walker to be selected, but should he be available later on he could be appealing to the Giants.

At his Pro Day, Walker emphasized his versatility, saying that he is able to move to right tackle or guard if needed.

“I’ve been training both right and left tackle and then working a little bit at guard the past few months knowing coaches will want to see anything,” Walker said. “I’m going to step in wherever needed. But I’ll do whatever a team needs me to do. I’m just going to compete and help the team win the championship.”

At 6-foot-7, 307 pounds, Walker has enough size and athleticism to turn heads. He said that he believes his size makes him stand out compared to other tackles in the draft.

“I’m probably one of the bigger offensive tackles in this draft and comparing that with some really good athleticism, really good feet is a combination that I don’t know if any other offensive linemen have in this draft,” Walker said. “I think I’ve shown a lot ability to have good hands, both in the run game and the pass game. And that’s something that becomes more important at this next level with the freaks you have to go against week in and week out.”

In addition to his physical strengths, Walker highlighted his off-the-field work ethic.

“I think [coaches] will see someone who is an extremely hard worker, an accountable person who’s going to show up on time, the first one in, last one out,” Walker said. “Be a student of the game. As a person, someone who is there and accountable for their teammates, someone who can be a great leader in the locker room and be a great player for many years and help the organization ultimately win championships.”

The biggest concern with Walker remains his absence from the game. Walker said he has used that time to work with two highly-regarded offensive line coaches, Paul Alexander and Duke Manyweather. Together, the coaches have helped Walker to improve both his run and pass game. He emphasized the importance of working on his hands, having a good base and being able to adjust to pass rushers. Walker said that he has prepared in such a way so that he believes he can make an immediate impact at the NFL level.

“In terms of what we did, it was a lot of looking toward NFL pass rushers and getting ready for the specifics of the NFL,” Walker said. “So in that way, it was very beneficial to kind of change that mindset and look forward to the NFL sooner than maybe some of the guys who were playing the season.”

It is of course difficult to quantify these improvements because Walker does not have the in-game tape that we rely on to illustrate change. But Walker tried to use his Pro Day to highlight his growth both physically in terms of his size and mentally in terms of his decision making.

“I think I am a much better player than the last time these guys saw me,” Walker said. “I really tried to show that. I’m in a lot better shape. I know the game a lot better than I ever have and I’m more prepared than I’ve ever been to get back into it, start playing again and get to the NFL and start playing against some really good competition.”

Like potential scouts and coaches, Walker has also had to rely on his 2018 film to identify his potential for improvement.

“Just trying to nitpick every single game that played in that year and that one game in 2019,” Walker said. “That’s what I’ve been working on for the past months and years to get better at and prepare myself for this next step.”

For this reason, Walker knows his weaknesses better than anyone. And he has also had ample time to address them.

“I think I can help any team take that next step to be a championship team and help protect the passer and open holes in the run game,” Walker said. “So media and whoever else is going to call me whatever they want, but for me, I see myself as the best tackle.”