Junior, 5’11 240
Since Pat Fitzgerald took over head coaching duties for the Northwestern Wildcats almost a decade ago, Northwestern has had only seven players drafted into the National Football League(NFL), including none of those picks being in the top 100 selections. Entering the 2017 NFL Draft, there is a player who should be the first to do so. Junior linebacker Anthony Walker Jr has the potential to be high on any team’s draft board.
Walker made noise right away in his freshman season. When Collin Ellis went down with an injury, Walker had to come in right away and start against Penn State; Walker recorded eight total tackles, and returned an interception for a touchdown and ever since, all eyes have been on Walker.
Entering his sophomore season in 2015, he was officially the starting middle-linebacker for the Wildcats, and once again, he did not disappoint having a bombastic season. Walker led his team in tackles (122), and ranked fourth in the nation in tackles-for-loss with 20.5. Walker also received All-American recognition from the Associated Press, and Sports Illustrated, as well as First-Team All-Big Ten honors.
Walker, in his junior campaign dominated once again for his second straight season of recording 100-plus tackles. Walker also recorded 10 tackles-for-loss, two sacks, one interception, four forced fumbles, along with two fumble recoveries. Walker announced he would be entering the NFL Draft as an underclassmen following a Pinstripe Bowl victory over Pittsburgh.
“We’re so proud of Anthony who has the opportunity to pursue his dream,” coach Fitzgerald stated, “I can’t wait to see him on Sunday’s proudly representing Northwestern and his family.”
Walker is the first Northwestern player under Fitzgerald to leave early for the draft, and the first Northwestern player to leave early since Darnell Autry following the 1996 season.
Strengths: Walker is a tackling machine, that has off the charts play recognition. Walker has ideal size to play as middle-linebacker, or even at the edge as an outside-linebacker in a 4-3 defense. The strongest point of his game is his run-stopping ability; he knows how to use his speed and aggressive play style to cut through gaps, and collect the tackles-for-loss that he is notorious for getting. Walker also has above-average coverage skills, and has the speed/size combination to be versatile enough to cover backs out of the backfield, or even take on a tight end.
Weakness: Walker does not have a lot of flaws in his game, but to be a great player in the NFL, you must be able to make plays in any way for your team. Northwestern did not really play Walker as a pass-rusher, but must improve on his abilities to do so to be an established NFL linebacker for whatever team that selects him. Walker also tends to rely too much on his speed to beat out blocks rather than use technique to shed them. This causes him to get pinned, and take him out of the play. I believe his block-shedding technique, and pass-rushing are the only weaknesses that should be addressed, and can be to make him an established NFL caliber linebacker.
NFL Comparison: Lavonte David
The size is similar, as well as their game. These two players are aggressive, three-down linebackers, with tremendous run-defending abilities. Both were not great pass-rushers as prospects, but David, with NFL coaching developed into a very versatile linebacker, and one of the key pieces to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ franchise.
Round Projection: 2nd round
Team Fits: Washington Redskins, Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs