Walker's Draft Stock

On Thursday, Notre Dame running back Darius Walker decided the time was right to jump to the NFL. In front of a large media contingent, the junior declared his intention to enter the April draft. In addition to taking 15 credit hours of classes, Walker will train, participate at the combine in Indianapolis and wait for his name to be called.

A look at his credentials and one comes away impressed. Walker is Notre Dame's fourth-leading rusher in school history with 3,249 yards. He's caught more balls out of the backfield in a single season or a career than any Irish back ever. Walker runs with a deliberate style and the show of patience usually finds the open holes.

"I think the first thing that jumps out at me when talking about Walker is that he's a natural runner," Scott Wright of NFLDraftCountdown.com said. "By that I mean he has excellent vision and patience, which you usually don't see from running backs. He is also pretty quick and is elusive enough to break some tackles and make people miss. His hands are an asset as well and he's a solid threat in the passing game, which will definitely help his cause."

The downside is Walker's lack of big plays. In three years at Notre Dame, his longest run from scrimmage was 40 yards back in his freshman year. The lack of breakaway speed in the NFL game, where speed is everything, might concern some teams. Also, Walker is not the classic three yards and a cloud of dust type of runner. He's more effective on draws and off tackle.

"The big knocks on him are his size, power and lack of breakaway speed," Wright said. "He's definitely not the type of threat to break an 80-yarder at any time. Overall, I view him as a backup at the next level and probably a third down back but he can definitely have a role for somebody."

One high profile back has already declared for the NFL while another might do the same within days. Marshawn Lynch of California rushed for over 1,200 yards as a junior and nine touchdowns. He's got speed though, evident by his long run of the season at 71 yards. Adrian Peterson of Oklahoma missed seven games with an injury but still managed to gain over 1,000 yards and score 12 touchdowns. He's expected to announce his intentions any day now. These two players are first rounders but they make the running back depth in the draft more prevalent.

"People like to say this year's crop of running backs is a weak one," Chris Horwedel of NFLDraftBlitz.com said. "I disagree. You start with two very good prospects in Lynch and Peterson. Then you sprinkle in other solid first day guys like Kenny Irons, Michael Bush, Kenneth Darby, etc. and you have depth throughout. I actually like this crop and see quite a few good NFL runners coming out of it."

Wright disagrees and thinks the lack of running back talent might help Walker.

"This isn't a great crop of senior running backs," Wright said. "So there is definitely an opportunity for someone to emerge from the pack. Walker really isn't going to be much bigger or faster a year from now so the big negatives in his scouting report will be about the same. And he's coming off a great Sugar Bowl performance against an excellent LSU defense (132 rushing yards). So it never hurts to strike while the iron is hot."

Another factor in Walker's move to the NFL might have been the returning starters on offense in 2007. Gone are quarterback Brady Quinn, wide receivers Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight and offensive linemen Ryan Harris, Bob Morton and Dan Santucci. A new quarterback might struggle and make it harder for Walker to find the open running lanes that have been present the past few seasons.

"His declaration kind of caught me by surprise given that Lynch and Peterson have already made their plans known," Horwedel said. "On the other hand, I can see where he is coming from given that he's losing his quarterback, both receivers and a few offensive linemen. Notre Dame looks set for a down year.

"Notre Dame will struggle next year and if Walker stayed, a lot of defenses would play eight in the box to stop him. That means a tough season for him and his draft stock to drop."

Wright projects Walker as a fourth or fifth rounder. Horwedel is a little more optimistic, thinking the Irish running back could sneak into the first day of the draft. The varying opinions and multitude of voices is something Walker should prepare for in the next few months.

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