This article is the fifth in a series of articles breaking down all six of the Titans 2019 draft picks. You can check out our breakdowns of Jeffery Simmons, A.J. Brown, Nate Davis, and Amani Hooker using the links provided below:
- Round 1, Pick 19: Jeffery Simmons, DL, Mississippi State
- Round 2, Pick 19: A.J. Brown, WR, Ole Miss
- Round 3, Pick 18: Nate Davis, iOL, Charlotte
- Round 4, Pick 14: Amani Hooker, S, Iowa
Check back later for more on David Long.
Jon Robinson continued his value-packed final day of the draft by making Georgia edge rusher D’Andre Walker the 168th pick of the 2019 NFL Draft. Like the selection of Amani Hooker in the round before, virtually every draft analyst had Walker rated much higher than the spot where the Titans selected him with many listing him as a top 100 prospect.
- Lance Zierlein (NFL.com): 69th
- The Draft Network: 86th
- Dane Brugler (The Athletic): 47th
- Daniel Jeremiah (NFL.com): 90th
- Pro Football Focus: 139th
Not that mock drafts should ever be taken too seriously, but it was pretty common to see Walker mocked to the Titans in the second or third round this spring. To be completely transparent, I was never a huge fan of Walker as a day two prospect.
We will get into some of my hesitation with him in more detail later, but the TL;DR version is that I felt Walker lacked a go-to move or trait that he would be able to rely on at the NFL level. He was kind of a jack of all trades, master of none type prospect to me and I liked some guys like Chase Winovich, Ben Banogu, and Maxx Crosby more in that day two range. However, as a late fifth round pick, Walker is an absolute steal.
Walker inherited the “jack” linebacker position in Georgia’s 3-4 defense that has produced 2016 first round pick Leonard Floyd and 2018 third round pick Lorenzo Carter over the last few seasons. Despite being drafted much lower than either of his predecessors, Walker was actually far more productive during his final season — and only season as a full-time player — than either Floyd or Carter were during their best seasons in Athens.
Even in his junior season in 2017, Walker was more productive than Carter despite getting far fewer snaps. Walker put up 5.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles in a backup role while Carter put up 4.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss as a full-time starter. In fact, Walker’s 2017 saw him finish second on the team in both of those categories behind top ten pick Roquan Smith and rank first among returning edge rushers in PFF’s pass rush productivity metric.
Deandre Walker rushed the passer just 111 times last year - but racked up 26 total QB pressures - recording the highest pass-rush productivity in the process pic.twitter.com/7uUsm7fRsr— PFF College (@PFF_College) July 5, 2018
That high productivity rate didn’t necessarily translate into a statistical boom when he moved to the full-time starting role in 2018, but it didn’t bottom out either. Walker finished with a solid PRP rating of 16.8, producing 7 sacks, 8 hits, and 17 hurries in 235 pass rush snaps last season (PFF doesn’t believe in “half-sacks” so their sack numbers often don’t match exactly with traditional sack statistics).
That PRP was good for 28th among draft eligible rushers. Not great, but still better than a couple highly drafted pass rushers in Rashan Gary (12th overall) and Ben Banogu (49th overall). One piece of context to keep in mind when considering Walker’s relatively mediocre 2018 stats is the fact that he was, by far, Georgia’ best pass rusher. The next most productive pass rushing Bulldog was a true freshman linebacker who had just two sacks on the season. Walker had no other threats to help draw attention away from him on that defense.
As a run defender, Walker ranked 24th among draft eligible edge rushers with a run stop percentage of 8.4% according to PFF charting. In addition to his work on defense, Walker was a captain and key special teams contributor with two blocked punts during his time at Georgia.
Walker suffered a sports hernia during Georgia’s dramatic loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game in December and had to skip most of the workouts in the pre-draft process and an invitation to the Senior Bowl. If Walker turns out to be a hit in the NFL, we may look back at his inability to put up any verified testing numbers as the reason the Titans were able to nab him late in the fifth round.
If he had come out and put up testing numbers anywhere close to the ones that his predecessors Floyd and Carter did, there is little doubt that Walker would have gone much higher.
Instead, this is basically what we get to know about him as an athlete outside of what we can glean from the tape and his 2013 SPARQ performance when he ran a 4.63-second forty, jumped 31-inches in the vertical, and ran a 4.38-second short shuttle as a 6’-3”, 210 pound high school junior. If he improved on those numbers at all — or even maintained them while growing to over 250 pounds — while working in the Georgia strength program, that would easily qualify him as an NFL caliber athlete at the position.
Walker is on the shorter end for an edge rusher at just over 6’-2”, but he’s got very long arms which helps him play with the length of a much taller defender. That length has been mentioned multiple times by both Jon Robinson and Mike Vrabel as they describe their new pass rusher. That length will show up in the tape review section below as well.
The first thing that jumps out to me about Walker’s tape is his effort. He flies around the field with intensity and never shies away from contact. He is, as Jon Robinson would say, a wolf.
Walker is a guy that is easy to envision as a high end special teams player right away — something he shares with the other two players the Titans selected on day three — partially because we’ve already seen him be a plus special teamer. As I mentioned above, Walker blocked a couple punts at Georgia and he also produced this highlight on kick coverage. He He absolutely wrecks two North Carolina blockers and the ball carrier inside the 15 yard line while looking like a cannon being set off inside a china shop.
Walker’s willingness — and sometimes enthusiasm — to play to contact shows up a bunch. Here he does a fantastic job of recognizing the play and taking on the pulling guard to squeeze the hole and then finishes by sliding off to make the tackle for loss.
Here is another similar play. Walker was well-coached at Georgia and it shows on plays like this. Rather than immediately attacking up field towards the quarterback when the tackle blocks down and leaves him unblocked, Walker looks inside, sees the guard coming, beats him to the spot, and then slides off to make the tackle. This is really good play recognition and effort.
Here’s another play recognition example. Walker sees this jet sweep coming a mile away and cuts Deebo Samuel off deep in the backfield to make the tackle.
Walker is mostly solid as a run defender, but his lack of size hurts him at times. He has a tendency to get overwhelmed by tackles when they do get locked up on him as you can see in the clip below.
However, I do think it’s fair to point out that he’s the same size as Harold Landry and Landry held up really well as a run defender throughout last season. Part of that is coaching. While the clips of Mike Vrabel donning the chest protector and mixing it up with players are old news at this point, it’s worth noting what he’s working on in 99% of those clips: leverage. Vrabel is constantly beating into his defensive linemen and linebackers the importance of proper technique when it comes to maintaining leverage against bigger, stronger offensive linemen. Walker’s long arms should help him in this part of the game, but as you can see in this clip, he lets the offensive lineman get into his body, neutralizing his length.
When Walker does use his length, it can be quite effective. He’s got some real punch in his hands and flashed an effective long arm move at times in the pass rush. Here’s an example against Tennessee’s Trey Smith.
Here’s another example later in the same drive. You can see the power that Walker is able to generate in his hands as he rocks the 337-pound Smith off balance and then shoots inside to get some pressure on the quarterback.
As a pass rusher, Walker is far from a finished product. He flashes the idea of multiple moves — I saw parts of inside spins, long arms, chops, and swim moves throughout his tape — but nothing that was consistently effective for him. Instead, a lot of Walker’s sacks and hits were the product of his effort and tenacity.
Here’s an example of that. Walker is lined up off the ball pre-snap — Georgia deployed Walker in a variety of spots which should be good preparation for work in a Dean Pees defense — and is able to wedge his way between a double team to get to the quarterback for the sack.
Walker certainly isn’t a bender on the level of Harold Landry off the edge, but he does flash some flexibility as a speed rusher. This is one of his better rushes here as he combines a good get off with a chop-rip combination to get in on the quarterback and force the check down.
Here’s another shot of Walker bending. Again, he has a good get off and then is able to dip that shoulder and turn the corner on the tackle, finishing the play by reaching up and knocking the ball out of Drew Lock’s hands to force the fumble. Walker’s four forced fumbles in 2018 were not an accident, he’s very good about getting his hands on the ball as a pass rusher.
Before we get into Walker’s best game as a Bulldog, I wanted to point out that Walker has some experience dropping into coverage. There isn’t a ton to see in this clip, but you can kind of get a feel for his ability to move in space. Playing in coverage isn’t going to be his calling card here, but the Titans do ask their outside linebackers to drop back from time to time so this experience will be helpful for Walker.
Walker saved his best collegiate game for his last. He was a huge part of Georgia’s defense holding Tua Tagovailoa to the worst game of his career. Walker finished with 5 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, a sack, a forced fumble, and a batted pass in a box score stuffing performance.
Here, he makes his presence felt with a pressure against the 11th overall pick, Jonah Williams. While he doesn’t get there in time to actually hit the quarterback, Walker does flash in front of Tua’s face and keep him from being able to fully step into the throw.
Walker was around the quarterback all game in the SEC Championship Game. Here, he gets around the corner on a stunt after being lined up inside pre-snap. He gets a hit on the quarterback and again, he gets his hand on the throwing arm. This went down as an incomplete pass, but very easily could have been his second sack of the game. Walker also had another sack negated by an illegal hands to the face penalty (on him) so despite recording just one sack, he was around the quarterback a lot during this game.
Here is the sack that Walker did get credited for. It’s not flashy, but it’s a nice job of play recognition and he does a good job of keeping his feet and not falling for the fakes that Tua threw out there to try and escape.
Walker was very active in this game and many Georgia fans believe that his exit with about 10:00 to go in the fourth quarter was a major key to Alabama’s late comeback. Without Walker, the Bulldogs struggled to contain backup QB Jalen Hurts in the pocket late in the game, eventually falling 35-28 on a late Crimson Tide touchdown.
I’ve seen Walker compared to Dee Ford in a few different places and I think that’s a rather flattering comp. If he ends up anywhere close to the player that Ford turned out to be for Kansas City, the Titans will have landed on one of the steals of the draft.
“D’Andre was a guy, for me, going back to the scouting process at Seattle, you’re putting on tape last year watching (Davin) Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter, and to me, 15 (Walker) should have been playing over both of those guys. Every time he was on the field he was disruptive,” Nagy said. “If you did a per play disruption …. every time the guy stepped on the field, he was making something happen.
Walker isn’t the elite athlete that Carter is, but he’s a good athlete on tape and brings a lot of energy and toughness on the field. He also clearly outproduced Carter on the stat sheet. That alone makes him a worthwhile investment, especially as a fifth round pick. With some coaching and development, Walker could become a starting level pass rusher for the Titans. In the meantime he should make the team thanks to his ability to contribute on special teams.