The 2013 NFL draft may have a new darling in Walter Stewart.
He isn't an army captain who has a chance for a different life, or a man freed after a long false imprisonment, but the former Cincinnati Bearcats linebacker has all the makings of a compelling comeback story.
He started as the foster-care kid who overcame a tough past, excelled and then had his dreams dashed. And that’s just the beginning.
A great starting point for understanding Stewart’s ability is his versatility. As a redshirt freshman, he started strong at outside linebacker, recording 59 tackles (8.5 for a loss) and 4.5 sacks. When the coaching staff moved him to defensive end, Stewart responded with six sacks, 11 tackles for a loss and four forced fumbles.
Stewart is a great athlete. Although he couldn’t participate in drills at the combine, he did put up a 4.69 40-yard dash and a 37.5" vertical jump at his pro day, according to nfldraftscout.com.
Need visual proof? Watch him fly around the offensive tackle and force a fumble. Stewart has the athletic abilities that you can’t teach.
Like Jarvis Jones, there's an injury risk associated with Stewart. And, like Jones, there is a lot of upside to warrant foregoing that risk. While there's a medical consensus on Jones' condition, the vote is split from the doctors regarding a congenital defect in Stewart’s spine that was discovered when he injured his back last season.
The details of the story can be found in a well-done piece by Jeff Darlington of NFL.com, which documents Stewart's path to the NFL after enduring an abusive childhood. Stewart's triumph over his troubled background is exactly as Darlington labels it—inspirational.
Anyway, there are other concerns about his game. He put up only 14 reps at his pro day, leaving one to wonder whether the performance was injury related or if he just needs to add some strength.
Lastly, there are some concerns about his technical skills that are addressed below.
If you took the bait and read Darlington's column, you know that whoever signs Stewart is getting a winner. But allow me to show you what kind of drive this man has on the field.
Take this play against Pittsburgh that is divided up into screen shots. It's exactly the type of example you want your seniors setting.
Here, Stewart overshot the forward stepping quarterback, and found himself engaged with an offensive lineman. Tino Sunseri, Pitt's signal-caller, got off a crazy pass to his running back, who took off downfield.
Stewart continued to hustle downfield, only to be blocked again, to the ground this time, while Ray Graham motored to a first down.
Now, after Graham gained another 20 yards, a couple Cincinnati defenders took him down. Stewart wasn't one of them. But look who is only a few yards away.
That's the type of heart a potential employer can expect from him. It's impossible not to pull for him.
Stewart drapes 246 pounds onto a 6'4" frame and has an arm length of 33" and 9" hands.
Stewart lined up on both sides of the field as a stand-up outside linebacker and a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end.
He has such a quick first step that it almost looks like he's offside. However, if he can't race by the tackle, Stewart doesn't seem to have much more than a hesitation move as a counter. He needs to put in some work in the film room learning how to manufacture separation when natural ability isn't enough.
Against the Run
Stewart can hold the edge with solid leverage. However, he doesn't shed blocks consistently enough, so he'll need to add muscle to hold up against tackles at the next level.
He does a nice job reading plays and making stops when he gets some separation.
Stewart has the agility and reach to take down running backs in the open field, and he loves the physicality of football. If he tags somebody, he can't control his excitement.
If Stewart is given space, he can avoid blocks. But when he has to use his hands to beat a block attempt, he rarely succeeds.
Stewart projects as a pass-rushing linebacker so long as he adds some moves to elude block attempts. He would need to add 20 pounds just to reach Wide 9 scheme defensive end weight, so we can scratch that idea.