Browns are lucky to have Anthony Walker Jr. in their locker room

·5 min read

Anthony Walker Jr. re-signed with the Cleveland Browns this past summer on a one-year deal, and there was not much thought put into it. He was the starting MIKE linebacker a year ago, but on the deal he was given, it looked like he was just giving the team a runway to get Jacob Phillips on the field.

Yet as the defense continues to struggle against the pass and searches for answers, Walker Jr.’s presence is proving to be more important than initially imaginable.  There is a lot of finger-pointing going on in the secondary, and accountability is hard to find in that room.

However, Walker Jr. is stepping up for this team, proving to be the glue guy this locker room desperately needs right now.

Anthony Walker Jr. is the leader the Browns need right now

Cleveland Browns Anthony Walker Jr.
Cleveland Browns Anthony Walker Jr.

Cleveland Browns linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. (5) greets teammates on the sideline after a series during the second half of a preseason NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Friday, Aug. 12, 2022, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

When Walker left the Indianapolis Colts for the Cleveland Browns in March of 2021, a former teammate was not all too please. That former teammate happens to be All-Pro Colts linebacker Shaquille Leonard. 

He went on a tweet spree including kind words like, “Crazy to see such an amazing person, leader, player and a friend leave the locker room!” and “If y’all actually understood the impact he has on the locker room.” Leonard then went on to tweet out a tribute video to Walker when he departed for the Browns. 

Fast forward to this offseason, and Walker was named as a captain of this Cleveland football team. And we are starting to see why. On a Monday where the fans and team should have been celebrating, much of the secondary is pointing fingers and soul searching. But not Walker.

Instead, Walker is taking full accountability for the communication woes. He is putting unnecessary blame on his shoulders because this is what leaders and captains do.

“I’m the communicator,” Walker said. “I’m the guy who is supposed to get everyone lined up, and obviously, I didn’t do my job two weeks in a row. I’ll take that one, and we will be back.”

This is the guy they need to get their heads on straight defensively.

His play has been exceptional early in 2022 as well

Cleveland Browns Anthony Walker Jr.
Cleveland Browns Anthony Walker Jr.

Sep 11, 2022; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey (22) is tackled by Cleveland Browns linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. (5) in the first quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Not only is Anthony Walker Jr. a fantastic leader and locker room glue guy, but he has played exceptionally well through two games on the season. Quite frankly, he looks like a whole new player who is diagnosing well and getting downhill with an added step. 

In fact, Walker is boasting the best grades of his career to this point as well. According to PFF (and PFF grades are just a small piece to the puzzle), Walker is currently wearing a 90.8 defensive grade, with a run defense grade of 72.1 and a coverage grade of 90.4. He is boasting a top-10 grade in the entire NFL through two weeks of play.

His play could come back down to what the status quo has been through the first five years of his career. Or he could have figured things out in this scheme and in his role in Cleveland. Regardless, Walker has to stay on the field for the Browns. They just cannot take the hot hand off the field for a defense that is desperately searching for answers with the Pittsburgh Steelers coming to town on a short week.

Walker’s play, however, is just one of two reasons to keep him on the field full time as well.

Browns must keep Anthony Walker Jr. on the field full time

Cleveland Browns Anthony Walker Jr.
Cleveland Browns Anthony Walker Jr.

Cleveland Browns cornerback Martin Emerson Jr. (23) celebrates with linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. (5) after breaking up a New York Jets pass during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

Through two games, the Browns have been trying to alternate Walker Jr. in and out of the game with younger player Jacob Phillips. However, Phillips has had three years to win the starting middle linebacker job and has not seized it. Flat out: Walker Jr. has been significantly better and needs to stay on the field. 

Not only this, but the shuffling of MIKE linebackers may be the cause of some communication issues as well for the Browns. The Browns have both Walker Jr. and Phillips wearing green dots on their helmets, signifying the on-field communicator who receives play calls from the sideline. As the Browns continue to work through communication issues and blown coverages, perhaps keeping just one green dot on the field would be beneficial. Some of the players think so anyway.

Walker is only 27 anyway, so there is the potential the he still has a handful of years left of life before his play starts to decline. This is not a situation where the Browns are looking to replace a 35 year old vet by allowing a young star to get his feet wet early in his career. We are talking about taking a 27 year old who is playing the best football of his career off the field for a guy in his third season who has showed little signs of life.

Tempers are obviously flaring in the backend of the defense, so having their leader and glue guy on the field full time may allow for this unit to reset and level their heads on a play-to-play basis. Walker is too valuable of an asset right now on a defense searching for answers to be standing on the sideline.

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Story originally appeared on Browns Wire