The Jaguars drafted offensive tackle Walker Little with the 45th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Despite selecting him in the second round, Jacksonville's coaching staff has been content to let him learn from the sidelines. His most natural position is left tackle, but Little has been working both sides of the line in practice. So why hasn't Little been given more playing time? Likely because he's not earned it. It's hard to blame the kid — before arriving in Jax, he hadn't played football in nearly two years due to a knee injury in 2019 and opting out of the 2020 season due to the pandemic.
But when starting left tackle Cam Robinson (neck) exited the Jaguars' Week 15 showdown with the Texans, Walker Little got his chance to show how far he's come over the last few months. Little hadn't played meaningful snaps since week nine when he struggled to keep quarterback Trevor Lawrence clean.
Let's take a look at how Little performed against the Texans.
In 38 total offensive snaps, Little was in pass protection for 31. With just seven run-blocking snaps, it's hard to get a feel for where he is in this department. Still, he effectively pushed defenders off the ball with limited exposure in the run game. The couple of times Little got on the move, he looked adequately athletic but didn't blow me away working to the second level.
Little got plenty of work in pass pro. He looks much more comfortable and prepared when quick or jump setting, with good posture, decent hand placement, and punch timing. The rookie also plays an intelligent brand of ball, doing a commendable job when passing off assignments on stunts and other defensive line games.
It's the vertical sets where Little struggles the most. And that should come as no surprise because it's the most difficult. But Jaguars' offensive line coach George Warhop loves to employ the vertical set on longer developing pass plays.
Here, we have a three-step drop from the gun. Little is vertical setting on the left side. He can certainly stand to improve his kicks, getting to his spot quicker, as contact is made prior to him setting. Here, he does a good job sealing off the edge, but the defender uses a stab to the inside shoulder to push Little back into the quarterback's lap. Had Little been able to establish better leverage and get his hands on 54 quicker, and with better inside placement, he might have been able to anchor down. His stance is far too open at the point of contact. Lawrence deftly steps up in the pocket to avoid Little, but because Little is driven so far back into the pocket, the rusher gets dangerously close to stripping the ball.
On this next play, Little is mid-step when the rusher first establishes contact. The rusher gets into Little's chest and bull-rushes him out of the way, creating an angle to the quarterback. This is another example of Little not getting to his spot quickly, showing low hands, poor hand placement, and losing the leverage battle. Notice how his hands are outside the rusher's shoulder pads. Not ideal.
Mind you; the Texans' do not boast an overly impressive defensive front. So, it's not as if Little faced elite competition in this contest. Still, he appears to have the size, strength, and overall athleticism to get the job done at the NFL level, but Little needs to become much more technically sound to become an effective starter for the Jaguars. Getting his hands up quicker, in the correct spot, and playing with a better base will be critical to his development. The good news is that Little struggles in the teachable areas and should develop as long as he remains focused and receives quality coaching. With a regime change likely on the horizon, Little might employ the quick set or 45-degree set more, which could result in improved overall play.
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