Hometown: Hampton, Va
High School: Bethel HS
For much of last season, I had was leading a "Free Rijo Walker" campaign. The guys playing safety for the Hoos, Brandon Phelps and Anthony Harris, simply were not getting the job done. Phelps, in particular, was struggling. Walker played sparingly, but when he did, he was effective. Thus far in his career, in mostly special teams action, he's accumulated 35 tackles, including 1 TFL. He's also had 1 INT.
Coming out of Bethel HS, where he was teammates with former UVA PG Jontel Evans, Walker was a 3 star CB. ESPN ranked him the 65th best CB in the nation. Scout ranked him 74th. Rivals did not rank him. In HS, he'd played CB, WR and returned kicks. He finished his career with 20 INTs.
Walker's problem is that he's got the skills of a safety in the body of a cornerback. He actually started his career at CB, actually seeing 29 plays there as a true freshman. Most of his contributions that year were on special teams, and he finished with 5 tackles. As a sophomore, he started twice, racked up 10 tackles and an INT and also saw extensive time on special teams.
Last year, he switched to FS but still saw most of his action on special teams. He took over for an injured Phelps against VT in the finale and had 8 tackles on just 31 plays. He finished the season with 20 tackles including 1 TFL and also recovered a fumble.
Now, he's moved to SS, at least on the roster. The depth chart still lists him at FS. Under new defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta, there isn't necessarily a ton of difference between SS and FS. He'll use either one of them as a blitzer, as an extra man in the box, or as a deep CFer. The latter is Walker's best role. He's very good in deep coverage, he's got the speed (4.5ish) to cover a lot of ground and he plays taller than his 5'10" listed height. While he's likely best in a zone coverage scheme, he also showed good press coverage skills in HS, which is valuable in Tenuta's defense. For that reason alone, he could see time in certain situations covering a slot receiver or TE.
Much like the past 3 years, Walker may see most of his action on special teams. He simply can't seem to get over the hump and get ahead of the Phelps/Harris duo. If that duo continues to struggle, I really hope Walker gets a shot. Nobody knows how he'll perform under those circumstances. Perhaps he's no better. But it'd be tough for him to be worse.