Walker Little opts out of potential football season

Star left tackle sets his sights on the 2021 NFL draft

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Senior left tackle Walker Little announced that he will forego any potential spring football season to prepare for the 2021 NFL draft, becoming the first Stanford football player to opt out. 

Less than a year ago, Little announced he would return for his senior season and to complete his degree. Little plans to graduate after winter quarter with a degree in communication. 

In a letter titled “Thank You, Stanford” Little explained his decision. 

“I returned to Stanford for my senior year to finish my degree and play one more season with my teammates,” Little wrote. “This fall, I will indeed graduate, but with so much uncertainty regarding the football season, the time is right to opt out of the 2020-21 season and prepare for the NFL Draft.”

When Little announced his intention to stay, he was coming off a season in which he had only played one game. Little suffered a knee injury in the season opener against Northwestern that kept him out for the remainder of 2019. 

As the first true freshman to start at left tackle for Stanford since Kirk Chambers in 2000, Little was named the Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Co-Player of the Year and ESPN Freshman All-America. In his sophomore year, Little was All-Pac-12 first team. 

Little is a former five-star recruit who is seen as a potential first round NFL draft pick in 2021. If drafted, he will be fulfilling a long-held dream of playing professional football.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. ranked Little as the fifth-rated offensive tackle in the class, one of three Cardinal he ranked as fifth-best at their respective positions. Todd McShay has him as the sixth-best.

“Walker Little is an elite tackle in both pass protection and the run game,” head coach David Shaw ’95 said in a statement. “His combination of size, arm length and athleticism is rare and he is ready to make an early impact in the NFL.”

Both Little and Shaw touched on Little’s concurrent development off the field.

“Walker is mature, consistent and will graduate in December ready for life outside of football,” Shaw said. “We couldn’t be more proud of how he will represent his family, his community and our program as a Stanford Man in the NFL and beyond.”

“Coach Shaw always talks about, ‘wringing it dry,’” Little wrote. “Getting everything out of it, in school, football, and socially. I strived to do that during my time at Stanford.”

Little is the 100th FBS player to announce they are opting out, according to The Athletic, but the first from Stanford. An Aug. 5 announcement from the NCAA stipulated that “All student-athletes must be allowed to opt out of participation due to concerns about contracting COVID-19. If a college athlete chooses to opt out, that individual’s athletics scholarship commitment must be honored by the college or university.”

While Stanford will be hurt by Little’s absence in a potential spring season, the back-up options are strong. As a true freshman last season, Walter Rouse started the final 11 games of the season at left tackle. 

Due to a barrage of injuries in 2019, senior tight end Tucker Fisk spent practice time with the offensive line. This year, however, Stanford brings in six freshmen on the offensive line, and the group now totals 15 after Little’s departure. Senior center Drew Dalman is viewed as a team leader and will anchor the line. Senior Foster Sarrell, who like Little was a five-star recruit in the 2017 recruiting class, will remain a steadying presence at right tackle.

Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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Daniel Martinez-Krams '22 is a staff writer in the sports section covering football, women's soccer, women's basketball and baseball. He is originally from Berkeley, California. Contact him at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu.