by Chris Johnson (@ChrisDJohnsonn)
Name: Anthony Walker
Position: Outside linebacker
School: Monsignor Pace High School (Florida)
Star rating: Three-star
Other offers: Buffalo, Florida International, Minnesota, Purdue, Bowling Green
The Scouting Report
“Walker is productive as both a wide receiver and linebacker. We feel his size and athleticism are better suited for the outside linebacker position at the major level of competition; his frame appears capable of supporting additional bulk over time which will improve his playing strength.”
What he’s saying
“It’s a great academic school, which I wanted to find in the right school,” Walker said. “I can play Big Ten football. It’s going to be special.”
What’s the hype?
In a recent Q&A with ESPN Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg, Pat Fitzgerald spoke with high praise for his team’s overall speed. “the fastest team that we’ll put on the field since I’ve been head coach,” Fitzgerald said. How fast this year’s Wildcats really are won’t be completely clear until Northwestern starts playing real games against real teams in the fall. We do know this much: Walker will make Fitzgerald’s “fastest team” faster.
As a three-position player at Monsignor Edward Pace high school, Walker starred at safety and wide receiver. He has since added weight to his compact frame and is expected to play outside linebacker with the Wildcats. Based off the way Fitzgerald has constructed his linebacking corps in recent years – with quick, agile, sideline-to-sideline playmakers – Walker should fit right in. When you combine the speed (Walker was clocked at 4.48 in the 40-yd dash) and pass defense awareness of a safety, the ball skills of a wide receiver and the power and strength of a linebacker, the hype surrounding walker makes absolute sense.
What about this year?
At the outset of spring training, Northwestern doesn’t appear to be in any dire need of linebacker help this season. Damien Proby, Chi Chi Ariguzo, Collin Ellis, Drew Smith and a stable of capable reserves comprise a promising group. Inserting Walker into that mix, if he’s only able to get on the field in special situations, is not the most prudent use of his eligibility. That would certainly be the case if Walker needs another year to fill out his linebacker-ready frame and integrate himself with his teammates and coaches.
The counter is that Walker could be ready to play this season. And not just ready, but more qualified to handle the position than one of the starters or primary backup options. It might well be the case that Walker plays his way onto the field his freshman season. The answer will reveal itself in summer workouts. My best guess, judging from Walker’s high school tape and the players currently on board at his position, is that Walker takes his redshirt this year.
What about the future?
The next five (or four) years on campus should see Walker develop into a key member of Northwestern’s linebacker rotation. The question is when, not if, Walker will make his way either into a starting role or a key backup. The personnel picture clears up after this season; Damien Proby and Timmy Vernon will graduate, which leaves a hole at middle linebacker. Walker’s best fit, from where I sit, is at the WILL (weakside) linebacker position, so it’s doubtful he will be slotted in the void left by Proby and Vernon. The resulting shuffle is where Walker could see some playing time open up. Ellis or Ariguzo could slide into the middle spot, and if Walker can outplay some of this year’s underclassmen, he will at the very least challenge for playing time by his redshirt freshman season.
The 2013 class is littered with not just excellent football players but fantastic scheme-specific fits whose skill sets are tailored to maximize the potential of the offense and defense. Walker, with his speed and rangy coverage at outside linebacker, is the definition of that paradigm. He is built to slot in seamlessly with Northwestern’s linebackers and maintain the high standard set at that position over the past few seasons.