It might not have been the player (or the position) that Green Bay Packers fans wanted with the team’s first selection in Round 1 of the 2022 NFL Draft, but linebacker Quay Walker has delivered in the first three games of his pro career. If the goal of a team’s first-round pick is to become an impact starter, Walker has undoubtedly been that — and then some — in the early stages of this season.
Six wide receivers came off the board in the first round of the draft before the Packers picked at No. 22. It’s plausible that if any of those six were there when general manager Brian Gutekunst was on the clock, Green Bay would have scooped them up. When Penn State’s Jahan Dotson went at No. 16 to the Washington Commanders and Treylon Burks from Arkansas went to the Tennessee Titans at No. 18, it became apparent that Gutekunst was going to pivot to a different position.
Enter Walke from the legendary Georgia Bulldog defense that won the national title a season ago. Walker has made his fair share of plays in the opening three games, but two, in particular, have changed the trajectory of Green Bay’s two wins.
In Week 2, Green Bay held a 24-10 lead as a stagnant second half dragged on, but the Chicago Bears were starting to put together a drive right through the teeth of the Packers’ defense. Justin Fields looked to make a play down in the red zone, taking off to his right to beat all 11 Green Bay defenders. That looked like a decent idea until the 4.5-speed of Walker closed the gap between Fields and the pylon, stopping the quarterback just short of the end zone. That set up a fourth-and-goal, which the Bears could not convert, swinging the momentum back to the Packers and all but sealing the game. If Walker doesn’t make the play on Fields, that one gets a whole heck of a lot more interesting in the final eight minutes.
Green Bay’s offense was clicking again against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, driving downfield while leading 14-3. But Vita Vea crunched Aaron Jones just shy of the goal line, turning the ball over to Tom Brady with two minutes until halftime. What was inches away from becoming a commanding 21-3 lead suddenly looked like it could turn into just a 14-10 advantage because Brady was finally settling into a rhythm. He moved the ball past midfield and into Packers territory, but Walker once again closed quickly to make a play, teaming with Adrian Amos to force the ball out of the grasp of Breshad Perriman with 51 seconds to go.
In terms of context, the plays aren’t too similar. But each went a long way in determining the dynamics of the rest of the game — both times in Green Bay’s favor. Just that fact, in a vacuum, is huge for any player, let alone a rookie first-rounder.
What is telling and should be incredibly exciting for Green Bay fans is the volume in which the Packers are using Walker. After seeing 61% of the defensive snaps in the Week 1 loss to Minnesota, Walker played 78% of the snaps in Week 2 and 85% in Week 3. Walker doesn’t appear to be headed for the usage that De’Vondre Campbell gets — Campbell doesn’t leave the field. But he will see his fair share of playing time as the season progresses, especially with an injury already sustained by Krys Barnes.
Walker’s scouting profiles are filled with synonyms for athletic: quick, burst, range, trigger. But that’s only half the battle in the NFL. The other half is being able to do something productive with those physical gifts. It’s not only the speed to chase down Fields; it’s the understanding of the angle needed to do so without letting him reach the pylon. It’s the coverage skills on Perriman, but also the ability to punch with precision to create a turnover.
The Green Bay offense is still a work in progress, and the defense will be called upon to rise to the occasion. The usual suspects seem to be right where the Packers hope. Guys like Campbell, Kenny Clark, and Rashan Gary have been who everyone thought they would be. Getting an immediate impact from Walker has been a welcome bonus for Green Bay early on, and it could be massive for Joe Barry and the defense as the season progresses.