Green Bay Packers

Which Player Will Benefit Most From Green Bay's Defensive Coordinator Change?

Photo Credit: Mark Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but the Green Bay Packers made a pretty significant coaching change this offseason. For the third time in the Matt LaFleur era, the Packers have a new defensive coordinator. After three subpar years leading the Packers and posting the 17th, 21st, and 15th-ranked defenses, they relieved Joe Barry of his duties and welcomed Boston College head coach Jeff Hafley.

Green Bay will be banking on this change to help turn around the defense as a unit and get more out of their biggest stars, such as Jaire Alexander and Rashan Gary, after disappointing 2023 performances.

While Alexander and Gary will benefit from the change – Alexander was vocal about his displeasure in Barry’s scheme – both are already established stars. However, Alexander and Gary will not be the biggest beneficiaries of Hafley’s presence. That distinction goes to inside linebacker Quay Walker, Green Bay’s first-round pick in 2022.

The Packers have seen flashes of his potential since they used the 22nd-overall pick on him out of Georgia in 2022 (remember the Week 1 pick-six in Chicago?). However, these moments of glory have often been overshadowed by mental lapses and lackluster play over the past two seasons in Joe Barry’s system. However, at 24 years old, Walker is still a young linebacker with immense playmaking potential, and he stands to improve in several critical areas under Hafley.

Increased Football IQ

Walker has gained a reputation for questionable decision-making in his brief NFL career. Two years ago, he became the first player since 2000 to be ejected twice in one season. That doesn’t necessarily mean he has poor football IQ, but you can’t be a difference-maker on the field from the locker room.

Additionally, one of the biggest knocks on Walker coming out of the draft was his ability to diagnose plays and his inconsistent angles to the outside in the run game. These are traits essential to a linebacker in the middle of the field. Under Hafley, a former head coach, Walker will have the opportunity to elevate his football IQ.

Hafley has gained a reputation at multiple stops, including the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns, for teaching and developing players with a strong focus on understanding offensive schemes and anticipating plays. With some additional classroom time with Hafley, Walker can improve his positioning, make quicker decisions, and spend less time thinking to become the attacking downhill linebacker we’ve expected over the past two seasons.

Versatility

The Green Bay Packers are shifting to a 4-3 defense under Hafley in 2024, and fellow linebackers Edgerrin Cooper and Isaiah McDuffie project more as traditional inside linebackers. Therefore, we will likely see Walker transition to a more out-wide and blitz-heavy linebacking position.

Walker has primarily played on the inside of the linebacking unit over his first two seasons. However, he may be best suited to playing more off the ball in a hybrid inside-outside linebacker position with his pure athleticism and playmaking ability.

Walker has shown a knack for being an effective blitzer. According to Pro Football Focus, he blitzed 59 times in 849 regular-season snaps in 2023. That’s higher than any inside linebacker with a minimum of 600 snaps, but it only equates to a 6.9% clip. I expect Hafley to fully take advantage of this skillset and call more Walker blitzes in 2024. This flexibility can help keep Walker engaged, challenge him to develop his overall game, and increase his value as a former first-round pick.

Leadership Development 

Several of the best defenses in the NFL have a clear-cut leader at the linebacker position. Think of the Seattle Seahawks’ Legion of Boom years with a young and upcoming Bobby Wagner. The San Francisco 49ers reached two Super Bowls in four years with Fred Warner. The perennially underrated Lavonte David also led the outstanding 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense that completely shut down Patrick Mahomes in the Super Bowl. If Green Bay’s defense is going to take the next step and lay their hands on a Lombardi trophy, their defense will need to be a big part of that — and they’ll need players like Quay Walker to take a step.

The inside linebacker position is synonymous with leadership; however, the Packers don’t have an obvious leader. That’s exactly where Walker can come in. As a still-young player on a very young team, Walker can greatly benefit from Hafley’s approach to fostering a strong culture and encouraging players to take ownership of their roles within the defense. A step forward in leadership can translate into more confidence and assertiveness on the field, helping lift his overall game to an entirely new level.

With Jeff Hafley now in the building, Quay Walker stands to benefit the most out of any player on the 2024 Green Bay Packers defense. Hafley’s advanced schemes, focus on enhancing his players’ football IQ, and commitment to versatility and leadership will give Walker the tools and opportunities necessary to finally reach his full potential in Year 3.

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