Packers film room: Top pick Quay Walker shows he belongs in rookie debut

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The Green Bay Packers fell to the Minnesota Vikings in the season opener but saw a promising debut from rookie linebacker Quay Walker. Unfortunately, it was cut short when he exited the game in the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury. The good news is the injury isn’t considered serious, and Walker could suit up for this week’s matchup against the Chicago Bears.

“We’ll give Quay the week, but we’re hopeful that he’ll be back, ready to roll,” head coach Matt LaFleur said Monday.

Walker ended his first NFL game with eight tackles after appearing in 38 out of 62 defensive snaps. Pro Football Focus gave him a defensive grade of 65.0, which ranked sixth on the team among players with at least 11 snaps. Walker was credited with one missed tackle but also had a team-high five plays that constitute “defensive stops” or a failure for the offense, per PFF.

Hopefully, Walker will be good to go for Week 2 so he can build off his opening performance. There were some positives but also some negatives that showed up in his tape, and with the All-22 readily available, let’s take a closer look in this week’s film review.

(AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)

Walker isn’t a great coverage linebacker, at least not yet. His vision can be erratic, and we see that here as he loses track of Justin Jefferson. Jefferson is the only receiver in the vicinity of Walker and should be his primary responsibility. However, for whatever reason, Walker shucks him in coverage and then forgets about him. You can watch the quarterback when in zone, but you also have to be aware of the closest receiver. His failure to do that results in a clear coverage breakdown and an easy pitch and catch for the offense. Walker will have to clean this up moving forward.

As we see here, Walker has the size and athleticism to be disruptive in coverage. The Vikings run a run-pass option with their tight end leaking across the formation into the flat. Once the tight end makes the catch, Walker flashes elite closing speed to limit the run after catch and finishes with a big hit. This rep is a great example of his play speed and play strength.

This is why the Packers made Walker a first-round pick and the first inside linebacker off the draft board. It’s rare to find players with his size and speed. When asked to play zone coverage, Walker is much better when the play is in front of him. If the receiver gets behind him, as Jefferson did earlier, he can get out of position. Here, Walker finds the receiver running a drag and looks like a safety when he breaks on the ball. You love to see this type of recognition and response. The hit stick is an added bonus and will be fun to watch for the next few years.

When defending the run, Walker will pick up on blocking schemes and mirror running lanes. He does that here against Dalvin Cook, but the play shouldn’t have gained four yards. Walker is in position when Cook is still in the endzone, but he waits instead of attacking downhill. There is something instinctual about being a gap shooter that Walker lacks. Unfortunately, it’s not something you can necessarily teach, either.

Now this is where Walker shines. Opposing offenses will have a hard time running outside zone against this defense when Walker and De’Vondre Campbell are on the field. Walker is able to see past blockers and has a really good understanding of leverage. On this stretch call, Minnesota wants to get Cook to the outside, but Walker helps shut it down because he flows with the play so well.

Conclusion

It was great to see Walker flying around making plays. He looked like a player that belonged on the field with the starters and should help this defense if he can stay healthy. Obviously, there are things he can clean up, but nothing that you could call “rookie mistakes.” Hopefully, Walker will continue to improve in coverage, whereas his run defense is already pretty stout, thanks to his range and processing ability. Green Bay finally has not one but two legitimate linebackers in the middle of their defense.

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire