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Coaches corner: Stanford HC David Shaw on Walker Little

Stanford head coach David Shaw looks on during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Washington State in Pullman, Wash., Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

JACKSONVILLE – He's a natural tackle, born to play it.

That's one thing Stanford University Head Coach David Shaw will tell you quickly about Walker Little, an offensive tackle selected by the Jaguars in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Another thing Shaw will tell you:

If not for some unusual circumstances in the past two years, Little likely would have been one of the first 15 or so players selected this past weekend.

"I don't have any doubts at all," Shaw told Wednesday.

Shaw said that was clear early with Little.

"He was one of those guys you looked at at 17 years old and said, 'This guy's going to be an NFL player,''' Shaw said of Little, selected by the Jaguars in Round 2 – the No. 45 selection overall.

Little was the nation's No. 1 offensive line recruit when he signed with Stanford in 2017, and Shaw said it was clear quickly that status was well-deserved.

"We've put a bunch of linemen in the NFL," Shaw said. "He's the only one we've ever had that started as a true freshman at left tackle. We didn't slide to him. We didn't chip his side with the running back. We didn't help him. He just went out there and played."

Little played nine games in 2017 and was the first true freshman to start at left tackle for Stanford since 2000. He then started 12 games as a sophomore in 2018, earning first-team All-Pac-12 Conference honors.

"We all knew he was going to come out as a junior," Shaw said. "He was that good. He was that dominant. It was a consensus. Everybody was looking at him and saying, 'This guy is freakish.'''

That was before Little sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the first game of his junior season. But Shaw said Little still considered entering the NFL following that season – and that he was still being advised to do so.

"People told him, 'Your film's that good. Even though you only played one game, as long as you're healthy, come on out,''' Shaw said. "He decided not to. He wanted to come back. He trained like a crazy person. He pushed himself really hard to comeback fully healthy. Gained weight in the upper body."

Little's career path took another turn in 2020. College football around the nation was uncertain in the summer of that year because of COVID-19. It was particularly uncertain for Pac-12 schools, with the conference initially cancelling the season with plans to play this spring. The conference in late September voted to play in 2020, with Stanford playing a six-game schedule that began November 7.

"All of our guys, we sent them all home [before the season],'' Shaw said. "We got such a late start. We didn't start until most of the country was halfway through. We (Stanford coaches) weren't even in the office. Nobody on our campus was working out."

Shaw called Little a "Stanford Man" and a leader, adding that not playing as a junior hurt him: "He wanted to play. He wanted to finish with his classmates, his good friends. It was just not in the cards for him."

What Shaw said he does believe is in the cards for Little is an extended NFL career, and he said he believes Little has a chance to play in Jacksonville sooner rather than later.

"He's ready to contribute, Day One," Shaw said.

Shaw called Little "the complete package" as a left tackle and said Little compares favorably with the two top tackles selected this past weekend – Penei Sewell of Oregon (No. 7 overall, Detroit) and Rashawn Slater of Northwestern (No. 13 overall, Los Angeles Chargers): "If our guy was able to play this year, he would have been in contention with those two guys for the first tackle selected."

"He's big, physical," Shaw said. "We're gap scheme. We run power. We run counters. He's as athletic but more of a downhill, physical run blocker. He's going to really fit the Jaguars really well."

Jaguars Head Coach Urban Meyer shortly after the draft said he, General Manager Trent Baalke and offensive line coach George Warhop all noticed that Little makes "hard look easy" when it comes to pass protection."

"We still see development there," Meyer said. "We haven't seen his ceiling yet."

Shaw agreed, "The really good ones, that's what it looks like. He's tall. He's long. He has long arms. He can keep those guys at bay. When they're rushing up-field, he can be patient because he can throw his hands and keep them away from him body.

"He's so smooth and natural that if you had to, you could throw him inside at guard. He's so comfortable. He can play any of the four spots on the offensive line. You can throw him in at guard, he'd be ready to go. He gives you versatility."

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