By Charlie Campbell
Summary: Entering the 2017 NFL Draft process, there was a real buzz about Walker. He had an excellent 2015 season and many thought that he had second-day potential for the 2017 NFL Draft. However, Walker had a disappointing 2016 as he was completely different player after a huge weight gain prior to his junior year.
Northwestern had a good team in 2015 and was led defensively by Walker, who totaled 122 tackles with 20.5 tackles for a loss, three sacks, four passes batted, one forced fumble and one interception. Walker was all over the field that season as he played in the 220s. He reminded me of Lavonte David at Nebraska.
Against the run, Walker was tremendous as he could run the play down after going unblocked. He was very fast to fire into the hole, bolt into the backfield, or get to the perimeter. Walker demonstrated very good read-and-react skills and instincts. He also showed pass-coverage skills. In the 2015 season opener, he ran stride for stride with superb, speedy Stanford play-maker Christian McCaffrey on routes out of the backfield. Walker showed the ability to cover in man, but really was excellent in zone.
Walker could have used more strength for taking on shedding blocks, but he gained too much weight prior to the 2016 season and was played last season in the 240s. As a result, the junior was slow and sluggish. He recorded 105 tackles with 10 for a loss, four forced fumbles, two sacks, five passes broken up and one interception on the year.
Considering the NFL is a passing-driven league, Walker should get down to around 230 pounds. He had lost some weight since the end of the last season when he checked into the combine, but he has more to go. Walker is an instinctive and smart defender who is quick to read his keys. He is a good tackler, and in 2015, he was dynamic in pass coverage. However, there are questions about Walker’s ability to keep the weight off and not get too heavy during his NFL career. When he was a lighter weight, he struggled to take on or shed blocks. So, either route is somewhat problematic for Walker as a player. That could lead to him sliding deep in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Sources have said they were really disappointed with Walker’s 2016 season and just based on that alone, he would have been a late-rounder or undrafted free agent. His sophomore year tape, however, helps his grade enough that he could go on Day 3 in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Player Comparison: Mason Foster. Foster has been a solid NFL linebacker but is short on speed and athleticism. If Walker doesn’t get back to his pre-weight-gain form. I think he could be a linebacker comparable to Foster in the NFL.
NFL Matches: Miami, Detroit, New York Giants, Houston, Indianapolis, Oakland, Denver, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Arizona
There are a lot of teams that could consider taking Walker in the mid-rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft. Miami had a big need at linebacker entering the offseason, and even after free agency, the team could consider Walker on the second day. The Lions could use more linebacker talent, too. Walker would be a nice fit Detroit in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
The Raiders have a huge need at middle linebacker as the interior of their defense was shredded last year. Walker could be an upgrade to Oakland’s run defense. Staying in the AFC West, Denver could use a linebacker upgrade after losing Danny Trevathan a year ago. Kansas City also could consider Walker as an understudy to Derrick Johnson.
The Texans need a linebacker upgrade next to Benardrick McKinney as Brian Cushing has become a liability on the field. However, Houston needs more of a run-and-chase linebacker, so unless Walker returns to his 2015 form, he wouldn’t be a fit. The rival Colts need a linebacker upgrade, too.
The Bengals could use more linebacker talent for the 2018 season. Kevin Minter was signed to a 1-year contract, plus Vontaze Burfict is also a free agent next offseason. The Ravens could use a linebacker to pair with C.J. Mosley. Pittsburgh lost Lawrence Timmons in free agency, so the team could consider Walker to pair with Ryan Shazier.
New England could use more talent and competition at linebacker. Walker is a smart defender who could fit the Patriots.
The 49ers could use an inside linebacker upgrade, and Walker could be in play for them at the top of Day 2. Staying in the NFC West, Arizona needs an inside linebacker upgrade after moving on from Kevin Minter.
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