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Size Biggest Question Mark for Ricky Walker

By Dave Holcomb
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Walker is an undersized defensive lineman, but he played so well during the 2018 season that there’s still a chance he hears his name called on day two of the 2019 NFL Draft.

With the NFL combine becoming a can’t-miss event in the last handful of years, measurables have become so important in the modern draft process. But one would also think the play on the field still has to count for something.

For Virginia Tech defensive tackle Ricky Walker, hopefully it counts for a lot. Walker is an undersized defensive lineman, but he played so well during the 2018 season that there’s still a chance he hears his name called on day two of the 2019 NFL Draft.

But rightfully so, it’s clear that size is the biggest concern for the Virginia Tech defensive tackle.

Walker was one of most important Hokies -- a team that posted a disappointing 6-7 record last season -- defenders in 2018, as he replaced Tim Settle, who the Washington Redskins selected during the fifth round of the 2018 draft. Walker recorded 49 total tackles and 2.0 sacks in 2018. He led the team with 10.5 tackles for loss as well.

The Virginia Tech defensive tackle appears to possess the explosive first step defensive linemen need in today’s modern football. Gone are the days where defensive tackles are supposed to only clog lanes. In such a pass-oriented league, NFL teams seek a pass rush from the middle of its defensive line as well. The best defensive tackles in the league -- Aaron Donald, Fletcher Cox, etc. -- supply just that. 

The fact NFL squads are looking for more than a run stuffer will help Walker’s draft stock. In addition to that explosive first step, The Draft Network’s Joe Marino says he “plays with active hands and a variety of techniques to stack and disengage from blockers” to get to the backfield. He did plenty of that, finishing among the Top 20 defenders in the ACC in tackles for loss.

Walker made a similar impact in the East-West Shrine game, bursting through the line of scrimmage and blowing up plays in the backfield. But there were also plenty of instances where offensive linemen knocked down Walker in that game.

Walter Football described the performance as “feast-or-famine.”

Even in the passing-oriented NFL, size is still important, and for that reason, Walter Football ranks Walker as the No. 23 overall defensive tackle in the 2019 draft class.

College Football News ranked the Top 22 defensive tackles in this year’s class, and Walker didn’t appear on the list at all. So at the very highest, he was No. 23 on those rankings as well. Or perhaps much lower.

Other evaluators, though, aren’t as concerned with his lack of size.

“While he’s not the biggest interior defensive lineman, Walker has good functional strength and is not easily moved out of his gap,” Marino wrote. “He does well to control the line of scrimmage and maintain his run fits. He is also a dynamic gap-penetrator that offers considerable range.

“He's among the most talented and underrated prospects I studied this summer.”

Similarly, ranked Walker as its No. 13 defensive tackle. Both websites wouldn’t be surprised to see Walker selected in the second or third round.

Walker certainly sounds confident that’s possible too.

“I’m not the biggest guy,” Walker said according to The Roanoke Times. “I don’t have all the measurables. Coaches love my film. They love that I play hard. I’m not a guy who gets in trouble off the field. That’s pretty good for me.”

It’ll be interesting to see if any teams agree or if the 6-foot-2, 304-pound defensive tackle will have to wait until Day 3 for his draft moment. Walker is an intriguing prospect with high upside, but his lack of size could lead to inconsistency at the next level.