Our “Sleeper Sunday” series officially ends tonight, as the NFL Draft will have come and gone by this time next week. Adam, Carl, and myself have spent weeks highlighting some of this year’s hidden gems; players the Vikings could potentially draft in the fifth, sixth, or seventh round.
On Thursday night, we’ll see players like Jameis Winston and Leonard Williams selected in the top-10, and late-risers like BYU’s Byron Jones make their way into the bottom of the first round. To see if our profiled players end up on an NFL roster, you’ll need to tune in on Saturday night (or follow our live blog, manned by yours truly!).
The final entry is Texas Southern’s Tray Walker, a cornerback molded to succeed in Mike Zimmer’s secondary.
Background and Measurables:
Walker spent three years at Texas Southern, where he played in a total of 29 games and recorded 7 interceptions. Last year, in his senior season, he finished with 41 tackles and two interceptions.
Before joining the Tigers in 2011, Walker was a dual-sport athlete at Miami Northwestern, where he played football and excelled in sprints and the long jump on the track. Miami Northwestern, an athletic powerhouse in Florida, was also the home to current Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
At 6’2″, 191 pounds, Walker possesses the prototypical size for today’s man-press cornerbacks. Though not an invite to February’s scouting combine, he impressed at the Super Regional Combine in Phoenix, Arizona. Walker then improved on his performance at Texas Southern’s pro day, posting a 4.53 40-yard dash and 4.3 20-yard shuttle.
While his 40-yard dash time, broad jump, and vertical jump all fall short of Xavier Rhodes’s pro day numbers, he excelled in short-yardage situations. He bested Rhodes in both the 20-yard shuttle and the 3-cone drill, where he finished in 6.80 seconds (much faster than the 7.29 time from Rhodes).
In the ever-important 10-yard split, which measures a player’s short yardage explosion, Walker recorded 1.54-second time, besting Rhodes (1.58 seconds) once again. His arms are nearly 34 inches long, a desirable trait for corners asked to play press coverage and lock a receiver at the line of scrimmage.
As mentioned above, Walker possesses excellent height and weight to play cornerback in the NFL. Against the NFC North’s bigger wide receivers, including Green Bay’s Davante Adams and Chicago’s Alshon Jeffery, he’ll need that size to survive in man coverage and press situations.
In college, he excelled as a press corner, showing the ability to reroute receivers and prevent them from getting into their routes. He used his long arms to jam receivers at the snap of the ball and overpowered them to throw off the rhythm of the passing game.
Against the run, he displayed a willingness to attack the line of scrimmage and tackle ballcarriers as the “force” player on defense. With his size, he consistently brought down running backs and wide receivers on first contact, and that aggressiveness will translate nicely to the NFL.
Down the field, he made plays on the football, surprising many with above-average ball skills. On film, it’s easy to see the upside with Walker — he high-points the football in the air and has the hand-eye coordination to haul in passes when given the opportunity.
Although Walker flashed short-area speed in cone drills at his pro day, he lacks elite straight-line speed, making it possible for faster receivers to beat him down the field. If he fails to jam at the line of scrimmage, Walker doesn’t always show the ability to cover ground and make up separation. In the NFL, he’ll need to improve his footwork and press technique if he expects to survive in man-to-man coverage.
Currently, Walker relies on his strength and size to press receivers. Against more experienced veterans, he’ll lose almost every matchup. If he’s to succeed as a rookie and beyond, Walker will need excellent coaching. In Minnesota, Mike Zimmer is one of the league’s most successful secondary gurus, having turned Xavier Rhodes into a top cornerback.
While Minnesota may draft a corner early to play opposite Rhodes next season, Walker is an intriguing option in the sixth or seventh round. He has the physical gifts and athletic ability to survive in the NFL, but he lacks the technique and experience to thrive immediately.
Vikings Territory will be buzzing this week as we prepare for the NFL Draft. Be sure to visit every day for new articles, mock drafts, and analysis before the festivities begin!