The Tennessee Titans selected Georgia sacks leader D’Andre Walker in the fifth round of the NFL draft Saturday, with the 168th overall pick.
Walker’s NFL stock had been a topic of debate after the 6-foot-2, 251-pound outside linebacker from Langston Hughes High School, suffered a sports hernia in the SEC Championship game Dec. 1.
The injury led to Jan. 23 surgery, and Walker wasn’t able to test out at the NFL combine.
UGA coach Kirby Smart pointed out that while the combine is important, teams take much more into consideration.
“There’s a lot more than just the combine and the times,” said Smart, who coached on Nick Saban’s staff with the Miami Dolphins in 2006. “There’s a lot of football tape to be watched.”
Walker’s SEC title game tape is about as good as it gets. Walker dominated Alabama, a one-man wrecking crew with five stops, two tackles for loss, two QB hurries, a sack, a forced fumble and a pass break-up in less than three full quarters of work.
Walker’s exit from the game, with Georgia leading 28-21, had as much to do with the final outcome as Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts’ performance off the bench.
Walker, who recorded 7-1/2 sacks last season, attempted to practice for the Sugar Bowl but was unable to play. That left the Senior Bowl as next on his agenda.
Walker didn’t realize the severity of the injury until his pre-draft training in Texas, when he learned he would need sports hernia surgery. After the January surgery, Walker rehabbed until he was cleared to work in a private workout with NFL scouts April 12 in Athens.
“I was able to show I could move around,” Walker said, “and that when it’s time for NFL spring camp, I’ll be ready to go.”
Walker said he can gain weight or lose weight, depending on the role he’s asked to play this season.
“I feel I can do it all,” Walker said. “I can drop back into coverage, I can get in a 3-point stance, I can even play middle linebacker, in my opinion.
“It doesn’t matter to me where I get drafted, my presence will be felt in the NFL ... If I need to gain weight, I could play at 260 or 265, and if I need to drop, I could get down to 245.”
Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy, a former NFL scout most recently with the Seattle Seahawks, spoke glowingly of Walker even though he missed the all-star event.
“If you did a per-play disruption ... every time the guy stepped on the field, he was making something happen,” Nagy said. “I was in Athens in August, and there was group of scouts that day they scrimmaged, and I was busting at the seams to offer him that day.”
Nagy said Walker was more impressive in 2017 than either UGA linebackers (Davin) Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter.
“To me,” said Nagy, who was evaluating Georgia for Seattle at the time, “(Walker) should have been playing over both of those guys.”
It’s worth noting Carter finished with 43 tackles and 4.0 sacks last season for the New York Giants.
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