The Green Bay Packers are dealing with injuries and underperforming players on both sides of the ball, but first-round pick Quay Walker continues to look like a player still getting his feet under him at the NFL level.
After a 15-9 loss to the Detroit Lions, the Packers are now 3-6 with five straight losses and virtually zero chance at a playoff appearance. Walker was relatively quiet on the stat sheet on Sunday, picking up five total tackles including four solo tackles.
This season, the first-round pick has racked up 62 total tackles, 40 solo tackles, two forced fumbles, and two pass deflections. However, Walker’s statistics don’t tell the entire story, with missed assignments and hesitation off of the snap limiting his ability to make plays. Pro Football Focus currently has Walker with just a 50.4 overall grade, which would put him 72nd among 86 qualified inside linebackers.
Sunday’s game against the Lions was just another game showcasing what Walker is struggling with, but also with flashes of the traits that made him a first-round pick.
Hesitation continues to be Walker’s biggest weakness. Whether it’s that he’s not reading his keys and getting caught looking in the backfield or he’s simply waiting for an opportunity, it’s not something you want from an inside linebacker.
This play against the Lions is a great example of hesitating and trying to avoid a blocker rather than attacking downhill or “scraping” to the outside based on the assignment. Considering Rashan Gary cut hard inside with Adrian Amos also rushing off the outside, a typical defensive scheme would have Walker “scraping” to the left in order to handle any potential bounce to the outside.
I have no idea what Walker's key is anymore.— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) November 8, 2022
He just sidesteps an entire gap in the opposite direction of the back.
On a play like this with Gary slanting inside and Amos blitzing, I'd imagine that Walker should be scraping outside to the left. pic.twitter.com/RbjGfN1cak
Instead, Walker is caught stationary, and with a blocker coming to seal him off at the second level, the rookie jumps an entire gap inside. That leaves Eric Stokes to seal off the outside, thanks to a crack block by the wide receiver on Amos, along with a strong effort by Gary to get back outside.
That hesitation can also hurt him in pursuit with his angles. With Walker in coverage on Sunday, he broke on the ball when he saw Jarred Goff throw to D’Andre Swift on a swing pass. Once Walker got there, he let up for the slightest second, allowing Swift to get around him without making clean contact on the ball carrier.
Quay Walker breaks downhill on the swing pass but hesitates, and that's all the time that the RB needs to get past him. pic.twitter.com/FjUuUNiMRM— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) November 8, 2022
Running backs at the NFL level can be significantly more explosive and athletic than even the better SEC running backs, which is something Walker needs to get used to.
The good news is that Walker has shown the ability to read his keys, attack downhill to fill his gap, then take on blockers with the ability to shed them and tackle the ball carrier. In fact, he even showed a rep doing exactly that on Sunday.
This is one of Walker's better reps.— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) November 8, 2022
Decisive shuffling to his gap, attacks the blocker, sheds once the RB commits to one side. pic.twitter.com/gXYKcFptil
However, even when he’s not hesitating, Walker has a hard time even getting a clean read of what play is being run by the offense. Typically, linebackers read their guard and begin flowing to their gap based on which direction the guard goes. If the guard gives a pass set, then the linebacker will get into coverage or blitz based on the call.
On this play with Walker lined up right next to his guard, he mistakes the guard pulling for getting into his pass set, preventing him from immediately forcing the issue in his gap on a draw play.
Walker is right next to the guard, who pulls, but the rookie LB reads it as a pass key and drops back into coverage before realizing it's a run.— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) November 8, 2022
The hesitation and uncertainty reading the play is what is killing his production this year. pic.twitter.com/yPQcStGRvH
Despite all of the struggles, it’s worth reminding Packers fans why the team drafted Walker out of Georgia. The 6’4”, 240-pound linebacker has excellent play strength and can stonewall running backs in one-on-one situations, including on this rep against power back Jamaal Williams.
Play strength is still one of Walker's best traits.— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) November 8, 2022
Watch him meet Jamaal Williams in the hole one-on-one and just stand him up. pic.twitter.com/tTMDRHGFxo
Looking on the outside, it’s hard to tell if Walker’s hesitation is part of Joe Barry’s defensive scheme. However, as a long-time linebackers coach, Barry should know what kind of impact his linebackers can have when they’re decisive and attack downhill.
More than likely it’s just that Walker is still trying to get acclimated to the higher level of play at the NFL level. It might take him time, but given his size and athletic traits, there’s still hope that Walker can become a starting-caliber linebacker in the coming years.