2021 NFL draft prospects: Stanford OT Walker Little

·5 min read
Eric Edholm's criteria for grading NFL draft prospects. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)
Eric Edholm's criteria for grading NFL draft prospects. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)

Stanford OT Walker Little

6-foot-7, 309 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 5.81 — potential starter

TL;DR scouting report: Elite recruit who has played only one game since 2018 but has the potential to be a starting left tackle

Games watched: Washington (2018), Washington State (2018), Notre Dame (2018), Northwestern (2019)

The skinny: A 5-star Rivals recruit (and No. 7 overall nationally), Little played in nine games as a freshman in 2017, starting six of the final seven at left tackle — and becoming the first Cardinal true freshman to start at left tackle since 2000. He also saw time at right tackle and as a blocking tight end, named Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Co-Player of the Year and earned honorable mention all-Pac-12. In 2018, Little was first-team all-conference in starting 13 games and was poised in 2019 to be one of the best linemen in the country. However he suffered a dislocated knee late in the opener vs. Northwestern and missed the rest of the year. Little opted out of the 2020 season and declared early for the 2021 NFL draft.

Upside: Ideal frame and measurements for an NFL left tackle. Outstanding length and good weight distribution. Has room to add bulk and reportedly will show up at his pro day having already put some weight on while maintaining his athleticism. Should enter the NFL as an elite-tier athlete for the position — with a fresh, healthy body from the time off.

Moves like a giant tight end. Easy glider whose quick feet allow him to mirror effortlessly, make late adjustments, work to the second level and stay balanced. Nice bend and flexibility. Great recovery speed and reactionary time.

Looked like an elite pass blocker in the second half of the 2018 season — was regarded as highly as Tristan Wirfs and others coming into 2019. Looked almost robotic (in a good way) in how he fended off Northwestern rushers in his one game that season.

Can wheel around and pull to lead the outside run game. Sprung a lot of big runs in 2018 by getting out into space and creating great seal blocks. Good lower-body explosion and burst, and can channel his power well on the move.

Great anchor to stop rushers in their tracks — acts like an old-fashioned doorstop. Core strength appears excellent. Good strength in his punch and grip to latch on to defenders. Long arms keep rushers at bay. Keeps battling through the entire rep — sustains blocks well.

Was used as a blocking tight end (sixth offensive lineman) as a freshman in heavy sets and could profile as an ideal swing tackle in Year 1 who gains experience in doses. Steeped in a Stanford program that has developed seven OL draft picks (plus undrafted gems such as Nate Herbig) in the David Shaw era, including three first-round picks and one second-rounder. Operated in a pro-style system that should make his NFL transition smoother.

Considered smart, grounded and competitive. Turns 22 in April.

Downside: Extremely tricky evaluation. As of this coming Aug. 1, Little will have played a mere 72 snaps in the past 944 calendar days. Missed virtually all of the past two seasons rehabbing and opting out. Rust could be a factor upon his return. Draft stock could be highly dependent on a pro-day workout.

Has played left tackle almost exclusively, fewer than 50 snaps elsewhere (right tackle in 2017 and 2018). Hard to imagine an NFL team handing over the duty of protecting its quarterback’s blind side from Day 1. Likely will need some time re-acclimating to the game in a team setting.

Almost impossible to know where his development is at this stage. The team that selects Little will need a confident general manager who believes in his staff’s findings on Little's off-field work the past two years. Health of the knee will need to be reevaluated, even if most teams don’t believe it’s a chronic issue.

Tends to be a catcher not a pitcher as a pass block — will absorb blocks instead of taking them on. Passive with his initial punch. Oversets at times and is vulnerable to inside rush moves — turns shoulders and feet out too wide.

Speed rushers taxed him at times in 2018. Had a rough second half in the 2018 Notre Dame game, dealing with the speed of Julian Okwara and the power of Jerry Tillery.

Hand placement mentioned by scouts as an area he needs to work on. Mistimes his punch and can have it swatted down or bullied through. Power gets sapped when he doesn’t deliver squarely when he doesn’t gain early leverage. Could show more nastiness with regularity.

Best-suited destination: Any team with an aging left tackle that needs to groom an eventual replacement (such as the Rams, Eagles, Seahawks, 49ers) or perhaps one with a 2022 free agent at the position (Saints, Chiefs, Jaguars, Buccaneers, Vikings) could be more interested. A plan to develop him over the course of the 2021 season with eyes on him starting in 2022 feels like a smart long-term plan.

The Rams also have an added layer of intrigue as a target, as head coach Sean McVay pilfered Stanford’s well-regarded offensive line coach, Kevin Carberry, to add to his staff. Carberry surely has all the intel on Little and could give a more confident evaluation to the Rams that other teams don’t have.

Did you know: Little’s family is quite athletic. His father, Doug, played baseball at Texas Tech in 1979 and 1980. His grandfather, Gene, was a guard who played college football at Rice and was an 18th-round draft pick (215th overall) of the New York Giants in 1952. His great uncle, Jack, played tackle at Texas A&M and was a fifth-round pick (51st overall) of the Baltimore Colts in 1952, playing in 20 games (starting 12) over two seasons.

Player comp: Former Colts left tackle Anthony Castonzo. Little should test similarly athletically to Vikings 2018 second-rounder Brian O’Neill.

Expected draft range: Rounds 2 or 3