With college football drama behind him, Devontez Walker eager to show his talent with Baltimore

Updated May. 6, 2024 2:37 p.m. ET

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — There was a point last season when Devontez Walker, sidelined amid a contentious dispute with the NCAA, was weighing some unpleasant options.

“I thought my season was done, honestly. I was on the scout team, I was thinking, I was just trying to work on my craft. The whole year, I had no idea that I was going to play at all,” Walker said. “I was 50-50 on declaring for the draft.”

It would have been a risk to declare for the draft after missing an entire season, and Walker suspects that in the end, he probably would have stayed at North Carolina, but ultimately he didn't have to worry about it. Walker was eventually cleared to play for the Tar Heels, and after eight productive games, he entered the draft and was picked in the fourth round by the Baltimore Ravens.

Walker's college career was a bit of an odyssey. He was originally going to play at East Tennessee State, but he injured his knee and deferred enrollment. He ended up going to North Carolina Central, but the Eagles didn't play because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Walker finally played two seasons at Kent State, but after he transferred to North Carolina, the NCAA initially denied him immediate eligibility, treating him as a two-time transfer.


That wasn't the end of it, however. Tar Heels coach Mack Brown released an unusually strident statement excoriating the decision, and the NCAA Board of Directors said committee members received threats of violence. The NCAA eventually reversed course and granted Walker's waiver in early October.

Now NCAA athletes can play immediately no matter how many times they transfer. The Division I Board of Directors ratified that change last month, after a federal judge had issued an injunction to that effect.

Walker no longer has to worry about the rapidly changing landscape of college athletics. He caught 41 passes for 699 yards and seven touchdowns at North Carolina, and now he's the latest receiver drafted by the Ravens to be a potential playmaker for star quarterback Lamar Jackson.

“Just hearing that an NFL team values your skill set and you as a person, it just makes you feel good,” Walker said last weekend at rookie camp. "It was just a great feeling. Now, being here, I still have that same feeling, and I’m enjoying every little moment that I have here, so it’s been really good.”

Baltimore has drafted at least one wide receiver in six of the past seven years, including Zay Flowers in the first round in 2023. This year the Ravens took cornerback Nate Wiggins in the first round. The Clemson standout showed off his speed at the NFL scouting combine by running the 40-yard dash in 4.28 seconds. But Walker wasn't far behind at 4.36 seconds.

“Definitely vertical threat, really any vertical route — like those crossers, posts or go balls — that’s something I bring to this league,” Walker said. “My skill set, I feel like I can do a really good job getting over top of any defense. The thing I’m trying to work on is underneath routes, like those routes 20 yards and under. Getting open in those types of spaces and things like that, that’s something I’ve been working on.”

Flowers is coming off a strong rookie season, and the Ravens have another former first-round pick in receiver Rashod Bateman — not to mention a loaded tight end group. But with Odell Beckham Jr. no longer with Baltimore, there's room for Walker to step in and make an impact if he's capable.

“You knew he was going to be big and fast. He showed that,” coach John Harbaugh said. "I was impressed with how well he moved changing direction. I didn’t know if he was going to change direction quite as well as he did. ... Caught the ball really well. He’s off to a great start.”


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