Kenyatta Walker played right tackle at Florida but is expected to handle the pro transition to the left side with little trouble
On the Buccaneers' draft board, Kenyatta Walker stuck out like a sore thumb.
Thirteen picks into the first round of the NFL draft, more than half of the players selected were defensive linemen. For the Buccaneers, that meant a seemingly out-of-reach offensive player was suddenly hanging tantalizingly within reach. In the war room, you couldn't miss his name on the board, as it stood alone at the top.
"This was by far the highest-rated player left on our board," said General Manager Rich McKay. "I'm not sure it was even close. That's a little bit driven by our coaches and scouts, who had been pumping him up all week."
In the days before the draft, the Buccaneers explored trade possibilities, in semi-secrecy, that would put them in position to take Walker. He was the only player the team was willing to pay the price to move up for. However, Tampa Bay believed they would need to get as high as ninth or 11th overall to make it happen.
"You never know how a draft is going to work out," said McKay. "We had mock drafted this thing so many times. We did have some situations where he could potentially get to number 11 or number 9. We didn't do a great job of hiding that – it was in a number of publications. But we made efforts starting with the ninth pick to try to get up."
As the rest of the league focused on defensive line, excitement grew in the Bucs' war room. Green Bay passed at number 10. Carolina, a real threat to select Walker, focused on defense with Miami LB Dan Morgan. St. Louis, as expected, joined into the defensive line craze, which took the draft to Jacksonville at #13.
The Jaguars, most draft pundits agreed, could definitely use a tackle, like Walker, or an offensive guard like Michigan's Steve Hutchinson. However, Jacksonville had other designs, believing that DT Marcus Stroud was too good to pass up.
That put Buffalo on the clock, and the Bills' phone was ringing with Rich McKay on the other line. The deal came together quickly.
And so, just minutes later, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue officially announced Walker's new pro football home, Tampa Bay. Walker never saw it coming, but he was thrilled nonetheless.
"I never thought of it in a million years," said Walker. "It never crossed my mind, but I'm very excited and happy to be a Buccaneer, playing for a Super Bowl-contending team. I think things happen for a reason, and it shows a lot that they came to get to get me. I can't help but be excited. "
Walker played right tackle for Florida but will be moved to the left side in Tampa Bay. He's ready for the switch.
"If they move me to center right now, I'd be comfortable, honestly," said Walker. " I'm ready to play, ready to come in and learn my plays, get in and get a little bit dirty."
Obviously, the Bucs wouldn't have made such a bold move to grab Walker if they weren't also confident that he could make the transition. Offensive Line Coach Chris Foerster, who gets a first-round pick for his group for the first time in six years with the team, has no doubts on his end.
"I'm hard-pressed, really, to find a negative on this guy," said Foerster. "In 10 years of evaluating offensive linemen, this is one of the best guys I've ever done. He's a tremendous football player.
"This is a guy that's a 10-year player at a position that's the hardest to play on the offensive line, and he's going to do it at a high level. He's already been working (at left tackle). This guy has been in a passing offense his whole career. He's very proficient at pass protection. Now it's just a matter of adjusting his stance from righthanded to lefthanded, which is not a huge transition. In fact, when he went to work him out in Gainesville, he was already working out of a lefthand stance, and you would have never known that he wasn't playing it."
Walker was one of the two offensive tackles generally considered to be the class of this class, along with Texas' Leonard Davis, who went second overall to Arizona. He played in a high-powered passing offense at Florida under Steve Spurrier, where he developed into a superb pass protector with excellent feet. At 6-5, 302 pounds, he obviously has the bulk necessary to excel in drive-blocking as well.
In 2000, Walker was an all-conference first-team pick in the SEC and a recipient of the SEC's Jacobs Blocking Trophy. He helped the vaunted Florida offense rack up 5,024 yards in 10 games, including 308.2 passing yards per contest.
For the Gators, Walker stepped right into the right tackle spot as a freshman and stayed there throughout his collegiate career. Tampa Bay, which was willing to pay a steep price for Walker on draft day, hopes he will do the same thing on the left side in the NFL.