NFL careers are, as a rule, short. That makes it difficult for any talented player to wait around for a shot, as Mykal Walker has had to do. The 2020 fourth round pick came into the NFL with intriguing ability, but played a reserve role at linebacker through his first two seasons with starters entrenched in front of him. It probably felt like a long wait.
Sometimes the wait is worth it, both for player and for team, and there’s reason to believe Walker’s stepping into a starting job and appears poised for a breakout season, as he’s taking on the defensive play calls in place of departed linebacker Foye Oluokun. With defensive coordinator Dean Pees looking to Walker and Rashaan Evans to provide more thump than Deion Jones and Oluokun did and no one lurking behind him on the depth chart to take his spot this year if he endures a rough stretch or tow, Walker is locked in to a full season to show he can be a high-end starter, and the glimpses of his potential we’ve seen over the past two years tell you that he may just get there.
The Ringer’s Ben Solak named his X-factor for all 32 NFL teams, and Atlanta’s was Mykal Walker. Read the whole piece, please, but here’s his writeup on Walker in particular:
I’m a big Walker fan, and I’m kinda calling my shot on a young Falcons defender here—but that’s what I did with A.J. Terrell last season, and that went great for me. We’re going back to the well with Walker, who has an unquestioned starting role after the departure of Foyesade Oluokun and shoulder injury to Deion Jones. Walker is a tall, long, rangy linebacker in the modern mold, and when asked to play has shown the tools necessary to start all three downs. Now he’ll get the reps to prove it, with only veteran Rashaan Evans beside him to cut into his snaps. If Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pee is to be proved correct in his rant about 2022 expectations for Atlanta, he’ll need a big season out of Walker.
In 2021, Walker had one huge play, a pick six against the Panthers that showed you what he’s quite capable of. He only played 193 snaps on defense in total, or 17% of the total, and was a much larger factor on special teams for that up-and-down squad a year ago. When he did play, as Will McFadden wrote back in February, he showed he deserved a role. There will be bumps and bruises along the way, but obviously this team came to the conclusion that they’d be best served throwing Walker into the fire after two years of simmering, and I think time will show it was the right decision.
Walker is likely one of the reasons Pees was so effusive about this defense this spring, as young and brimming with potential as it is, even if most players are unproven and we all know not everyone will work out. It remains to be seen whether the Falcons will have the kind of defense we’ve been hoping for and praying for, but it they do, it’s a fair bet Walker will be a major reason why.
Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees will kick off his 50th year in coaching when Atlanta opens the season Sunday.— Josh Kendall (@JoshTheAthletic) September 8, 2022
"I had just as much this spring as I’ve ever had. I really love this football team, love these defensive guys."