When the Green Bay Packers selected inside linebacker Quay Walker in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, most people were surprised. The Packers hadn’t selected an inside linebacker in the first round in more than a decade and rarely placed an emphasis on the position.
When the team drafted the former Georgia star, they aimed to revamp the way they play defense. In the past, the Packers played mostly nickel defense as their base, playing an extra defensive back. The result was that the defense sacrificed its ability to stop the run to emphasize pass coverage because they were always light in the box.
Walker was going to change all that. With his 4.52 speed in the 40, he can cover the field from sideline to sideline and make plays against the run and still keep up with tight ends and running backs coming out of the backfield in pass coverage. As a result, with Walker and De’Vondre Campbell both on the field, the Packers can stay with two linebackers in their base and not be light in the box in their base defense.
It didn’t take Walker long to take over as the starter opposite Campbell on the inside. By the second week of training camp, he was lining up with the first string defense and his speed and tackling ability impressed his teammates. Campbell was quoted as saying Walker was “already a baller” early in training camp.
In the preseason, Walker showed great closing speed and the ability to make plays. He solidified his hold on the starting job and appeared ready to play in Week 1.
Through two games, the results have been mixed which is par for the course for a rookie inside linebacker. The speed is evident and Walker has put it to good use at times. He has played 68 percent of the team’s defensive snaps and leads the team with 10 solo tackles and is second on the team overall with 13 total tackles. The rookie has also broken up one pass.
Walker helped stop Bears quarterback Justin Fields on the one-yard line on a third-down play that set up the big fourth down stop on the goal line in the fourth quarter. Fields looked like he was set to score but Walker used his speed and strength to catch him from behind and stop him six inches short of the goal line. Few inside linebackers have the ability to make that play, especially against a big, speedy runner like Fields.
“I love seeing guys being able to run and hit,” nose tackle Kenny Clark said when asked about Walker. “His speed, man, you feel it out there. You feel it out there. Anytime you have a really good player in space, and you can get him down and make a big play that way, that’s huge.”
But like any rookie, Walker is making some great plays and struggling to make others. In Week 1, Walker was left to cover Justin Jefferson in the team’s zone defense. That was a mismatch the Vikings were able to take advantage of.
In Week 2, Chicago gained 180 yards on the ground led by running back David Montgomery who ran for 122 yards and averaged 8.1-yards per carry. Many of those long runs by the Bears offense were due to poor reads and poor tackling angles taken by Walker who is still adjusting to the pro game.
Walker acknowledges he is learning and it is a process. “I am still a rookie. It’s a long, long season,” he said before the Bears game. “I’m just trying to go for it and get better each and every day… There are going to be some looks I never saw before, so at the same time I just have to know how I can manage that and just go from there.”
The good news is that Walker is clearly a physically gifted linebacker with a good work ethic and the desire to improve. He is already a legitimate starter in the NFL with the potential to become something special. The question is how quickly he will adjust to playing pro ball and take his game to the next level. When he does, the Packers defense can take the next step forward in their development and has a chance to become a dominant unit.
Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers
Click here for more great Packers coverage