Preston Smith, Adrian Amos, Eric Stokes — the list goes on and on. The expectations are higher than they’ve been in quite some time for the Packers’ defense. However, it’s rookie first-round selection Quay Walker who could quickly become the game-changer.
Walker is the inside linebacker Packers fans have dreamed about for quite some time. Campbell was an All-Pro last year and a dream free-agent pickup. With him back and Walker slated to be right next to him, it’s linebacker overload in the Land of Cheese.
Walker has a freakish blend of raw athleticism, speed to drop back in coverage, and the size and strength to blow up an opposing run game. The array of options defensive coordinator Joe Barry will have to utilize Walker and put him into positions to succeed is exactly what the Packers need.
Recently, the Packers would put an extra safety on the field on passing downs. They’d have six in the secondary for most third downs where the opponent was slinging the seed. With Walker, there’s less of a need to do that.
So how does this experiment work with other teams? Look no further than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The combination of Lavonte David and Devin White at inside linebacker has taken Tampa’s defense to the next level the last few seasons. It was a defense that has caused trouble for the Packers’ offense in recent matchups, and the flexibility they have on defense to keep both David and White in for all three downs is a big reason why. The results is one of the better defenses in the entire league.
The Packers have been starving for development at inside linebacker for what seems like a decade. Campbell answered the bell and then some last year, piecing together a season that nobody saw coming, except maybe Campbell himself.
There was worry that the Packers would lose him in free agency after only one year. Thankfully for Green Bay, though, they could give Campbell the payday he earned.
Walker could be the final piece at inside linebacker for a defense that already didn’t have many weak spots entering the offseason. Barry and the rest of the coaching staff appear to have a monster on their hands, one the Packers can use in various roles.
Earlier this month, via Packers.com, Barry was already raving about the rookie out of Georgia.
“It’s a production-based league,” Barry said. “Guys have to be in position to make plays. You look at what that did for our defense last year with Dre, and that’s what Quay [provided]. If you watch any Georgia football game last year, it’s hard not to see No. 7 flying around making plays. He has that ability. He has that skillset, and I think he has the mindset of what you want when you talk about if you can surround yourself with a bunch of guys who love football, good things are going to happen, and Quay loves ball.”
Quay loves ball, as Barry notes. Just as important? Quay excels at ball.
Walker’s most intriguing asset could be his ability to come off the edge. Yes, he is an inside linebacker at heart. However, there may be opportunities in certain sets or packages where Walker lines up on the edge of the defensive line.
Green Bay has Gary and Smith holding down the fort, but the depth on the edge is relatively thin after those two following the departure of Za’Darius Smith. Walker’s athleticism must have the Packers salivating at what they could cook up. There will certainly be a balancing act to not overload the rookie linebacker right from the get-go. However, if there’s an opportunity for him to cause havoc in a limited sample size working off the edge, why not take that for a test run this season?
When they drafted Quay Walker, the Packers didn’t just get your run-of-the-mill inside linebacker. They got a player who can defend the pass, clog a hole in the run game, and wreck things for opposing offenses. The cherry on top is his potential to play in spots on the edge as well. Although he’ll just be a rookie, Walker will be a game-changer on the Packers’ defense in 2022.