With the 45th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars selected Walker Little, a highly-touted offensive tackle out of the University of Stanford. At 6-foot-7 and 313 pounds, Little has prototypical NFL size and carries along excellent athletic ability making him very suited to play the tackle position in the next level.
With only one full year of college football under his belt because of an knee injury in 2019 and having opted out in 2020, Little has a lot of question marks and can be tough to evaluate due to the immense time away from the game.
In this article we will break down the three main aspects of offensive line play; Run blocking, pass blocking, and his physical capabilities. This will help give us a realistic expectation of what Walker Little may look like in 2021.
The Run Game
Positioning: Being such a big body, most of the battle is to establish yourself in the correct position which Little does quite often. He understands the angles and impact of body positioning
Strong double team blocker: Little creates good push, physical, and is typically under control which allows him to disconnect to the next defender at the appropriate time.
Strong second-level blocker: Little displays good footwork when climbing to linebackers, is athletic enough to keep up, and helped create a lot of big runs for Stanford. He has high enough football IQ to know where he needs to be to make blocks downfield.
Good initial footwork to put himself in front of defenders: Little uses good technique and athleticism to position himself on defenders, very effective at reach blocking and outside zone.
Exceptional puller and makes good decisions in space: He covers a lot of ground very quickly. When Little is in space, he almost never looks lost and makes good decisions downfield.
Absorbs contact rather than delivers blows: Often allows defenders into his chest, which does not let him displace on single blocks. Relies on his positioning to win him the rep.
Does not finish blocks: Uses finesse to put himself into the proper position but often stops his feet thus making him lose reps he was initially winning.
Technique during contact: Because of his willingness to absorb contact he often gets caught off balance and either ends up easily being disposed of or loses balance and cannot keep himself upright. He also needs to clean up his hand placement and bringing his hips under him before making contact.
Run Blocking Grade
Walker Little was a capable run blocker but will need to iron out his technique when in contact with defenders to ensure that he can finish his blocks and not allow trailing defenders to make plays. His knowledge of positioning and knowing his angles is a very good starting point, but if his issues have not been addressed by him, he may be a liability on the line due to his struggles with his technique.
The Pass Game
Anchor: Does a very good job at shutting down the bullrush, uses hips and bend very well, and almost never gets driven back into QB.
Patience: Displays high-level patience as a pass protector. Does not get caught lunging or over-extending on pass sets. Punch timing is usually on time.
Smooth Pass Set: Although improvement is needed on the quickness of his first 2 kicks, Little’s pass set is smooth, under control and allows him to protect at a high level.
Pad Level and flexibility: Plays with good pad level in pass protection, and has the advantage of having solid ankle flexibility which will help him down the line when he sharpens his technique up.
High IQ: Shows elite football IQ when it comes to pass protection, understands when to latch off on defensive line twists, and transitions very smoothly to the next defender. Picks up blitzers with relative ease.
Pass set vs Wide/Speed: While Littles pass sets can be smooth, he sometimes finds himself in situations where he may under-kick and ends up giving up his edge. This seems to be prevalent against speed rushers. This can be very problematic when being the protector of the quarterback's blindside.
Recovery speed vs inside moves: Has the tendency of opening his shoulders a little too much, making him very susceptible vs inside moves.
Control issues: Has an issue when facing speed rushers where he finds himself trying to kick to a spot too fast thus putting him in situations where he is not fully in control of his feet making for a sloppy rep in which he usually loses.
Technique needs improvement: Generally lacks the consistency of a true pass protector. His struggles vs speed rushers end up affecting his technique entirely and he ends up reacting rather than applying proper pass protecting technique.
Pass Protection Grade
The fact that Stanford almost never helped the left side is a testament to Walker Little’s ability to pass protect. He is an above-average pass protector and held down the left side for the most part of 2018, only allowing 3 sacks in 464 pass attempts. He will need to refine and develop the consistency of pass protecting in order to survive in the NFL because he does have his moments of weakness, specifically vs speed rushers.
What to expect from Walker Little in 2021?
I strongly believe that Little is not a day 1 starter for the Jacksonville Jaguars at left tackle assuming he comes in as good as he was when he last plated. He may step in at either tackle positions during the year but the time away from the game creates many questions: How refined will his technique be? Has he worked on his weaknesses or amplified his strengths? All of the flaws I have pointed out can be fixed with coaching and repetitions, it's just a question of how long until he puts it all together.
Little has all the qualities and intangibles to become a solid NFL starter, just not right now.
NFL Comparison: Taylor Decker