Kareem Walker (center) with fellow NJ native Ahmir Mitchell. [Isaiah Hole/247]
Michigan has once again fought off Florida State to land their second top target in as many days. After Devin Bush Jr. committed yesterday, top-ranked Wayne (NJ) De Paul Catholic RB Kareem Walker's announced his Michigan pledge this afternoon. The Wolverines have been in the driver's seat for Walker since his October official visit eventually spurred a decommitment from Ohio State, where he'd committed during last season's national title game; Auburn and Florida State emerged as contenders but Michigan managed to fend them off.
Walker is the 23rd commit in the 2016 class, the second at running back (joining Kingston Davis), and the fourth from New Jersey (Brad Hawkins, Ron Johnson, Ahmir Mitchell). If Michigan closes out like they hope, Walker won't be the last to join the class from the Garden State.
5*, #2 RB,
4*, #1 RB,
4*, 87, #1 RB,
4*, 94, #2 RB,
4*, #1 RB,
Every site but 247 has Walker as one of the very top prospects in the country, and even though 247 is a significant outlier they still consider him the second-best running back in the class. There isn't a Leonard Fournette or Reggie Bush level of can't-miss back; Walker is a cut below them as a prospect but still obviously quite good.
Walker has a solid, college-ready build; he's listed at 6'0", 200-210 pounds by all but 247 (6'1", 210).
[Hit THE JUMP for the informative portion.]
We'll start with Scout's free evaluation, which suggests Walker is a physically gifted back in need of some refinement, including in an area Michigan fans now consider to be of paramount importance:
EvaluationWalker runs well between the tackles and is explosive through the hole. He runs with a low center of gravity and is difficult to bring down on first contact. He can get to the edge but needs to improve on finding the hole when the play isn't blocked well in front of him. -- Brian Dohn
Areas to Improve
- Blocking Ability
- Breakaway Speed
ESPN provides more detail on Walker's vision and running style ($):
Hits the hole quickly and in decisive manner. Runs with his eyes gearing down little to make a cutback or stretch run. Would benefit from a bit more patience at times as he can miss second level cutbacks.
Shows explosive in-line burst out of cuts to split the seam or to bounce and get the corner. Quick feet and lateral agility for a bigger back jump cutting on the move without losing much momentum. Can turn it on and really accelerate when he gets a crease up the seam.
He's an agile back but wastes little time getting North. Strong downhill runner who breaks through most first contact with strong leg drive and consistent churning. Lower-half stays moving on contact. Very good balance and lean; difficult to knock off his feet. Does a good job warding off high tacklers with a stiff arm. Type of back that can wear down a defense with his aggressive running style.
While that ESPN evaluation also critiques Walker's vision, Rivals analyst Adam Friedman had a different take after seeing Walker in real game action this September ($):
De Paul Catholic running back Kareem Walker is the only five-star running back in the 2016 class and he played very well on Friday night. He averaged just over seven yards per carry for a total of 171 yards and one touchdown along with 24 receiving yards. There were a number of times Good Counsel should have stopped Walker in the backfield but his great vision and strength allowed him to make something out of nothing. That vision helped Walker turn losses into gains and short gains into big gains.
So that's a point of contention, and an important one at that. If you're getting a "more athletic De'Veon Smith" feel from some of these reports, I can't blame you. That appears to be the floor, though, and that would still be an upgrade in Michigan's backfield. The ceiling is quite high; when asked to match up 2016 recruits with last year's top NFL draft prospects, ESPN's Tom Luginbill picked Walker to compare to former Georgia and current St. Louis Rams star Todd Gurley:
Walker may not develop Gurley's lower body but should be similarly well-proportioned and well-rounded on the football field. Both Walker and Gurley have an upright style as one-step, get downhill-type slashers with very decisive cuts. As a result, they build the strong momentum to break tackles and can get to the second level quickly and break long gainers. Both are guys who build speed but can go the distance.
While Walker may not quite match Gurley physically, a runner of similar style and productiveness would be quite welcome around these parts.
Walker had surprisingly limited exposure during the most recent camp season, as he skipped workouts (not unusual for a top committed prospect) at Ohio State's Friday Night Lights camp and didn't make it to The Opening. Rivals, however, got close looks at Walker at the RCS New Jersey and Five-Star Challenge camps; notably, they've kept him as their top-ranked RB. Josh Helmholdt praised Walker's smooth athleticism after the RCS New Jersey ($):
As one of two five-stars at Sunday's camp, Walker had a lot of eyes focused on him… and he did not disappoint. A camp setting does not show all the aspects of the 6-foot-1, 210-pound back's game, but he was very proficient in the drills and running one-on-ones against linebackers. There is no fighting the turf in Walker's stride. He is an easy mover who glides over the field with a good burst and change of direction.
That sounds a lot less like De'Veon Smith. The Five-Star Challenge mostly served to highlight his limitations, per Rob Cassidy ($):
Camps aren't exactly Walker's scene. He didn't make many waves in Baltimore but looked solid enough in a uniform and showcased some solid quickness for his size. Walker is most comfortable and effective carrying the ball out of the backfield and using his power. On Saturday, he spent the day running routes and catching passes, which didn't do much to highlight his skill set.
While camps fail to showcase what makes Walker such a highly regarded player, they show he may not be an immediate option on passing downs. As a runner, however, he's got the athleticism, size, and North-South style to compete for the starting job in Jim Harbaugh's system right away; given the state of Michigan's backfield, he's probably the early favorite.
Walker holds offers from Alabama, Arizona State, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Iowa, Maryland, Miami (YTM), Michigan State, NC State, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Ole Miss, Oregon, Penn State, Pitt, Rutgers, South Carolina, Temple, Tennessee, USC, Virginia, Wake Forest, and Wisconsin. A decent list, I guess.
Walker is the third four-star prospect to come out of De Paul Catholic since 2002, joining 2014 Miami signee Kiy Hester and 2010 Boston College signee Shakim Phillips. Three-star DE Quayshon Alexander, Walker's 2016 teammate, is a Nebraska commit who could be worth keeping an eye on as a backup plan late in the cycle.
Walker's full stats are available at MaxPreps. He rushed for 1516 yards and 13 touchdowns on 7.1 YPC as a senior. He was even more productive as a junior, tallying 1607 yards and 26 scores on 8.1 YPC.
FAKE 40 TIME
Walker's Scout page lists an estimated 40 time of 4.50, which gets four FAKEs out of five. He's faster than he looks at first glance but he doesn't possess elite breakaway speed.
Sophomore highlights and single-game reels can be found on his Hudl page.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
This one is pretty simple: Walker, an early enrollee, is going to step onto campus and compete to start at running back against Smith, Drake Johnson, the rest of M's returners, and fellow freshman Kingston Davis. He'll get every opportunity to be a three- or four-year starter, and as his blitz pickup and receiving ability improves he could round into an every-down workhorse.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Slightly altered from yesterday's Devin Bush Jr. commitment post:
Michigan is now at 23 commits in a class that will reach 27; the expectation is we'll see status changes with perhaps a couple more current commits as the coaches try to fit the top remaining targets into those spots.
Other top targets include DT Rashan Gary, TE Isaac Nauta, CB David Long, CB LaVert Hill, OT Jean Delance, OG Terrance Davis, WR Donnie Corley, WR Dylan Crawford, ATH Jordan Fuller, WDE Levi Onwuzirike, ILB Dontavious Jackson, and ILB Jonathan Jones. Tight ends Jacob Mathis and Chase Allen are both distinct possibilities to end up in the class should Nauta, as expected, land with Georgia.
Walker's addition certainly can't hurt Michigan's chances of pulling in another big-time Jersey recruit in Rashan Gary, though confidence was already high on that front regardless of Walker's choice.
The addition of Walker closes out any need Michigan would have for another running back. Here's the class as it currently stands: