Fresno State kept one of its draft-eligible juniors who was considering a move to the NFL when defensive end Mykal Walker announced Wednesday that he will return to school, a decision that is a boon to the Bulldogs’ defense and could help facilitate some answers at the linebacker positions.
“A lot of things played into it,” said Walker, one of four Bulldogs to earn first-team all-Mountain West Conference honors, three on defense. “I got some feedback from the NFL. It wasn’t too bad – I could go on as a special teams guy and play in the NFL this year, but I wanted more for myself. Thinking about my future, my family, I felt the best move for me was to come back and boost my draft stock.
“At first I wanted to leave 100 percent, but I felt like it would be a selfish decision for me. I’d just be doing that just for myself. I tried to think about more people, the people I care about, and then make the right decision.”
Part of that feedback, which included an evaluation from the NFL College Advisory Committee, was a best fit at outside linebacker at the next level.
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Walker last season played as a defensive end at 220 pounds and with his speed and athleticism was able to overwhelm some offensive tackles in the Mountain West. He was in on 87 tackles in his junior season, tied for second on the team with Will linebacker George Helmuth, and led the team with 14.0 tackles for loss.
“I’m definitely not going to be playing defensive end at 220 pounds” in the NFL, he said.
Walker said he would sit down with coach Jeff Tedford and defensive coordinator Bert Watts to discuss a best fit for 2019 in the Bulldogs’ defense.
Fresno State loses all three starting linebackers from a team that went 12-2, beat longtime nemesis Boise State to win the Mountain West Conference championship and beat Arizona State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
James Bailey and Helmuth are seniors and middle linebacker Jeff Allison as well as safety Mike Bell are leaving school after junior seasons to enter the NFL Draft.
The starting linebackers ranked first (Allison), tied for second (Helmuth) and fifth (Bailey) on the team in total tackles.
“Obviously, Coach was excited about me coming back,” Walker said of Tedford. “He was there for me regardless of what my decision was – that’s what made it even better to come back, just to know that if I wanted to leave he would be there for me regardless.
“When I get back to Fresno, Coach Tedford and I will sit down (along with) Coach Watts and we’ll figure out the best decision for the team and for me going forward.”
Walker last spring got some reps at the Sam linebacker behind Bailey before moving back to defensive end in the fall.
“I’m just looking forward to getting back to Fresno and get started,” Walker said. “We definitely are going to take a hit with those guys leaving – our defense last year was historically good at Fresno State. But at the same time we have to have that next-man-up mentality and some of the guys that were behind those guys have to step up next year.
“But the coaching staff does a great job getting everybody ready and those guys, here at Fresno State it’s not like, ‘I’m going to the league now, I’m out.’ Anytime we need to give those guys a call they’ll come down here and we’ll see them here. It’s a real family organization out here. It will be good for us. We’ll be ready.”