At the end of the 2019 season, it was readily apparent to anyone with a pulse that the Falcons had some work to do. The defense somehow got their act together during the second half, allowing the Falcons to go 6-2 down the stretch, but questions remained about their ability to carry that momentum into 2020. In fairness to them, defensive coordinator Raheem Morris and linebackers coach/assistant head coach Jeff Ulbrich can only be as good as the personnel at their disposal.
Enter the 2020 NFL Draft. The Falcons made the decision to focus on defense and their 4th round selection of Fresno State linebacker Mykal Walker was no exception. The Falcons took Walker with the 119th pick, significantly earlier than many pundits predicted. In fact, Walker was considered a mere “priority free agent” by some. That means he’s earned the dreaded designation of “reach pick” in some circles. Setting aside for a moment whether that’s warranted or if it matters or what the heck it even means, let’s talk about Walker the football player.
The name of the game with Walker is versatility. He’s able to play all 3 linebacker positions and excels on special teams. He was a two-time First Team All-Mountain West pick after transferring from Azusa Pacific in 2017.
There’s no denying Walker’s production during his 2 years as a Bulldog: 182 combined tackles, 22.5 tackles for loss, 10 pass breakups, 3 fumbles recoveries, 1 interception returned for a touchdown, 2 blocked kicks, 6.5 sacks, and a partridge in a pear tree. He earned a Combine invite and met with about a dozen teams.
It’s worth noting that Walker’s only pre-Draft interaction with the Falcons was a brief conversation with Ulbrich at the Combine. That’s it. No formal interview. No private workout. The Falcons didn’t go to his Pro Day because it was cancelled following the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Walker is not an elite pass rusher. According to Pro Football Focus, he only generated 55 pressures during his time at Fresno State. (He rushed the passer 560 times.) If that gives you pause, it probably shouldn’t, because the Falcons didn’t draft Walker to be a pass rusher. He thrives in the box and has a true affinity for playing there. In fact, he raves about it anytime you put a microphone in front of him. Walker can be a productive NFL player if he sticks to his bread and butter: adaptability. And, to be clear, in spite of whatever deficiencies Walker has as a pass rusher, he was still the second-highest rated edge in the Mountain West last season.
The Falcons got themselves a dynamic, versatile linebacker in Walker. And if his tape, 2 years of Division 1 production, and brief encounter with Ulbrich at the Combine was good enough for the Falcons, it’s good enough for me.
Your thoughts about Walker, Falcoholics?