This pick was the first true head scratcher of the day for Bob Quinn and company, in my opinion. Though I may have had some reservations about passing up on a pass rusher with the Ragnow pick, and passing up on Guice with the Johnson pick, I did see Ragnow and Johnson as players who filled roster needs for the Lions. This one did not fit the bill.
Glover Quin has a brand new contract. Quandre Diggs shined in his first tour of duty at FS at the end of last year. Matt Patricia of course is known for using 3 safeties a lot in his time at New England, but even there the Lions are covered. They re-signed Tavon Wilson, who was the opening day starter last year and has experience in Patricia’s scheme from his time in New England. And then finally there is Miles Killebrew, the third year holdover from Quinn’s first draft. It seemed like the 2 deep was set, and if they were going to go with 5 safeties, the 5th was going to be a special teams maven that they picked up as an UDFA to compete with Charles Washington and other safety-type players currently on the 90-man roster.
However, when you use a 3rd round pick on a player, you are intimating that you expect that player to contribute early, and become a starter, sooner than later. And perhaps that is the case here. Quinn and company were certainly very excited about the pick.
(I dislike using highlight film because it’s obviously very difficult to evaluate players when looking at their best plays and leaving out their issues. I can tell more about a player from his mistakes than his highlights.)
There’s some very intriguing things to like about Walker. First is his speed. He ran a 4.51 at the combine which is a great time for a safety. More importantly, that speed translates to the film. Walker showcases that speed in ranging over the top to make plays on the ball, and when coming down to make stops in the running game. He profiles as a free safety, with his body type and fluidity, but he is definitely physical enough to make plays in the running game. And make receivers think twice as well. ULL used Tracy in a variety roles: as a hang defender in the box, as a deep zone defender, or in man-to-man. Having such a versatile safety is important to a Patricia-led defense and I can see some Patrick Chung in his tape. I also like that Walker knows how to make plays on the ball. He had 19 PBUs and 8 INTs in his 4 years at ULL and was a steady and solid contributor from his freshman year until now.
My major concerns are about how Walker will translate. It’s a big jump from ULL to the NFL and the caliber of athletes that Walker will face are on another level. Many players have made the transition from as small or smaller conferences of course, but usually they have outstanding traits or dominant production that put you at ease. While his production was solid and consistent, he was far from dominant at ULL. While he has great speed and long, 34 inch arms that should aid him well in coverage, the rest of his traits are average. Agility and explosion are better determinants of coverage ability, especially for a safety, than pure deep speed and nothing he showcased on the tape or at the combine suggests that he has plus attributes in those categories to contribute. Against Ole Miss he got COOKED on this play.
At the East-Shrine Bowl week, he was brought in for praise from many different publications, and even Quinn said that it was that week of practice that really intrigued him about Walker. But in the game he was very quiet. Now being that he plays a role where quiet is not a bad thing, I’m not using that to damn him, but it would have been nice to see some translation from the practice hype in the game. I am actually a bit intrigued at the idea of using Walker as a press corner, rather than as a safety because he could use his physicality, length and speed to really be a problem. See here how he uses his physicality to get “handsy”. As a safety, the refs are calling that flag all day for defensive holding. But as a press corner that is attacking, he may be able to get away with it. Maybe that will be something that they experiment with if Walker does not break through at safety. Then again, maybe not.
In short, Walker has some of the physical attributes necessary to make this pick a success. I think it was reach, although some reports had other teams ready to take Walker in the 3rd, so I don’t know. The Lions passed on Arden Key, and could have easily moved up for Sam Hubbard or Rasheem Green in the 3rd, three players who could have helped fix the woeful Lions pass rush. Instead they took a safety that requires some projection. I don’t anticipate Walker making a huge dent this year on defense unless Diggs is a poor fit in Patricia’s scheme at S or they move him to nickel. I could see Walker potentially beating out Killebrew as the 4th safety, and them using Killebrew as a Dime (or full-time) LB. But likely Walker will make his impact on Special Teams this year as a gunner and a jammer on the punt return/coverage units as they develop him to compete for a starting role in 2019 and on.
I give this pick a C-. Would have been happy with him in the 5th round, but 3rd round is too high for someone who requires that much projection, especially when you are taking him at one of the Lions deeper positions and passing on a huge need. I’m tempted to give this a D but I think Walker actually is an NFL caliber athlete and safety is important in Patricia’s scheme so clearly he saw some important things in Walker’s profile.