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Football: Walker leads Northwestern contingent into NFL Draft

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Anthony Walker makes a tackle. The former NU linebacker is an expected mid-round pick in the NFL Draft this weekend.

Anthony Walker makes a tackle. The former NU linebacker is an expected mid-round pick in the NFL Draft this weekend.

Daily file photo by Lauren Duquette

Daily file photo by Lauren Duquette

Anthony Walker makes a tackle. The former NU linebacker is an expected mid-round pick in the NFL Draft this weekend.

Jonah Dylan, Print Development and Recruitment Editor

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After a 2015 season in which he garnered All-American recognition, Anthony Walker likely could’ve gone in the second or third round of the NFL Draft. But he decided to come back for his junior season, and his stock has fallen.

Walker is expected to go anywhere from the fourth to seventh round in this week’s draft. Though the linebacker’s performance dipped in 2016, ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper said he remains a good prospect.

“This is a guy who was still second on the team this year with 105 (tackles), so he’s been productive,” Kiper said. “Not quite as impactful as he was two years ago, there’s no doubt about that. He missed some tackles. He didn’t always read-react like he did two years ago.”

Walker is the first player under coach Pat Fitzgerald to leave Evanston early to enter the draft. He departs as perhaps the best linebacker in Northwestern history outside of Fitzgerald himself.

There is no consensus on where Walker will be taken. A Bleacher Report mock draft has Walker going in the late third round, while other mocks have him going on day three of the draft. Most other estimations have him coming off the board between the fourth and sixth rounds.

“I think he’s still in that fourth to sixth round range, more fifth round probably the way it looks right now,” Kiper said. “He’s still a good prospect, but not the second or third rounder maybe some thought going into this year.”

During his sophomore season in 2015, Walker led the Big Ten in tackles with 122 and 20.5 for a loss. He earned consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors and was named an All-American by both Sports Illustrated and the Associated Press.

Walker decided to come back to school for his junior season but struggled, finishing as an All-Big Ten second teamer and potentially hurting his professional exploits.

Walker is expected to be the 10th player drafted since Fitzgerald took over the program. The highest pick under the 11-year head coach was defensive end Corey Wootton, who went in the fourth round in 2006.

Two Cats were selected a year ago, after NU completed a 10-3 season in which it was ranked in the top 25 for 11 weeks. Defensive end Dean Lowry was first off the board in the fourth round, and superback Dan Vitale followed two rounds later.

As for this year, defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo could join Walker in being selected. In his senior season, Odenigbo led the Big Ten with 10 sacks en route to first-team All-Big Ten honors, and he finished his career second in NU history with 23.5 sacks. Bleacher Report projects him to be taken in the seventh round, while others expect him to be a priority free agent.

Wide receiver Austin Carr could also be taken. In 2014, Carr had just seven catches for 100 yards, and his NFL Draft prospects may have been the last thing on anyone’s mind. But breakout understates Carr’s 2016 season, in which he became just the third player since 1990 to lead the Big Ten in yards, receptions and touchdown receptions.

Carr won Big Ten receiver of the year, was a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award for the nation’s best receiver and was named an All-American. Though he was not invited to the NFL Combine, he will likely have an opportunity to play professionally.

“He could be maybe a late rounder or a priority free agent who could make a team,” Kiper said.

Email: jonahdylan2020@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @thejonahdylan

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