One of Tennessee's top in-state targets now is ranked the nation's No. 1 prospect. Five-star Class of 2022 defensive lineman Walter Nolen, who recently moved to St. Benedict at Auburndale High School in Cordova, Tenn., climbed to No. 1 nationally Thursday in the latest update to the industry-generated 247Sports Composite rankings for the 2022 class.
The 6-foot-4, 300-pound Nolen previously was ranked the No. 3 player in the 2022 class in the 247Sports Composite.
He's still ranked by 247Sports as the nation's No. 3 overall prospect in the 2022 class and the No. 1 junior from the state of Tennessee. But the latest rankings updates throughout the industry helped him vault into the top spot in the 247Sports Composite going into his junior season.
Nolen spent his sophomore season at Olive Branch (Miss.) High School, located just outside Memphis, before transferring to talent-filled IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., in January. After spending a few months at the powerhouse program, he decided to return to the Memphis area for his final two years of high school.
He now will be playing for former Tennessee defensive lineman Marlon Walls, who's in his second year as St. Benedict's head coach, and he said playing for Walls is "going to help me going into college."
"I've been knowing Coach Walls for about four years," Nolen told GoVols247 last month after confirming his move to St. Benedict. "I worked with him a couple times. ... He's one of the better coaches in the city for my position."
Tennessee gave Nolen his first scholarship offer in April 2019. He said he's now being pursued by more than 30 schools, including Florida State, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Miami, Oklahoma and Oregon.
He has been to Tennessee’s campus at least once. He said last year that he participated in the Tennessee-Kentucky Future Stars Game, which allowed him to practice in the Vols’ facilities before the middle school all-star game.
“A lot of people were telling me they’ve got a good environment over there,” Nolen said of Tennessee last year. “They’ve got a nice facility. The coaches seem like they mean well and stuff.”
As a sophomore at Olive Branch, he recorded 26 tackles for loss and 21 hurries. In March, 247Sports' Barton Simmons wrote that Nolen was "athletic, powerful and nasty."
According to 247Sports' official evaluation of Nolen, written by Simmons, he's a possible future first-round NFL draft pick. Simmons compared him to Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Ed Oliver, a former Houston standout.
"Thick, stocky interior defender with good arm length and a powerful frame," Simmons wrote of Nolen. "Sudden get-off and outstanding first-step quickness. Good lateral quickness at the snap. Jarring punch and knock-back ability. Delivers a blow when being blocked. Outstanding hand quickness and activity. Arrives with heavy pads as a tackler. Good closing speed in the backfield. Can bend and redirect. Doesn’t stay blocked.
"One of the most disruptive defenders in the 2022 cycle. Plays with effort and alpha mentality. Shorter than the what is typical for elite interior linemen. May not be as scheme versatile as other bigger linemen. Will be an impact Power Five starter and is poised to develop into an early round NFL Draft pick."