While it hasn’t been talked about as frequently as some other positional questions during this wild offseason, the linebacker position remains a sneaky need for the Buccaneers.
Lavonte David is another year older and is on the final year of his deal, and Devin White failed to take the next steps into superstardom as he stumbled through a mediocre 2021 season. Throw in the total lack of high-quality backups, and it actually would be more of a surprise if the Bucs don’t draft somebody.
Could Georgia’s Quay Walker be that solution?
QUAY WALKER’S COLLEGIATE CAREER
Walker shined as a two-way star in high school before committing to the defensive side of the ball as a 4-star recruit. He initially pledged to Alabama, but he backed out and initially considered Tennessee as his final destination before settling on his local Georgia Bulldogs.
Georgia’s insane stream of defensive talent largely kept Walker off the field for his first three seasons, but he chose to remain patient until his senior year. As a one-year starter, he settled in as an inside linebacker in the team’s 3-4 defense and showed eye-popping athletic talent. In 15 starts, he logged 67 tackles – 5.5 for loss – to go along with 1.5 sacks and 3 passes defensed. These stats came despite sharing the field with fellow high-level prospects Nakobe Dean and Channing Tindall.
The 21-year-old made just 17 starts in 52 games, but he made his playing time count and displayed gradual improvement each year, and he does hold the distinction of not allowing a passing touchdown in coverage.
SEC LB’s with the most coverage snaps played without allowing a TD last year— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) April 22, 2022
1️⃣ Chance Campbell: 375
2️⃣ Aaron Hansford: 334
3️⃣ Nakobe Dean: 324
4️⃣ Quay Walker: 299 pic.twitter.com/aeIxMULUJ3
He was invited to the 2022 Senior Bowl, but declined to participate.
PRO DAY AND SCOUTING COMBINE
One of Walker’s biggest positives is his elite size, and weigh-ins confirmed that Georgia was not exaggerating his numbers. Walker measured at 6-foot-3, 242 pounds with a cut frame and an absurd 80 ½” wingspan.
He ran a 4.52 40-yard dash with a 1.59 10-yard split and bench pressed 23 reps. He broad jumped 10’2” and vertical jumped 32”, and he ran the 3-cone in 6.89 seconds.
Outside of the vertical, those are elite-rated numbers for Walker, who will absolutely fit the profile for what the Bucs like at the position.
WHAT WALKER CAN DO FOR THE BUCS IN 2022
If Tampa were to make an early investment in Walker, he would immediately slot in as the primary backup to David and White and get work spelling the latter two and playing special teams snaps.
Pending an injury of some kind – David did miss 4 games last season – this would be an investment geared toward next year and beyond. Let Walker learn behind one of the best to ever don the red and pewter, pick up the intricacies of the Todd Bowles defense, and then likely step in as David’s heir-apparent in 2023.
Walker could become the anchor of Tampa’s defense before long. If David decides to depart next season or White fails to take steps forward, the Bucs will need somebody who they can rely on since this defense leans so heavily on the pursuit skills of its inside linebackers.
Walker fits this mold, as he consistently showed the ability to mirror, pursue sideline to sideline, and finish the tackle with explosiveness and technique. Every year he improved his ability to read keys and utilize his long frame and twitchiness to outmaneuver blockers and make plays for minimal offensive gains.
He’s still developing his instincts, which is common when you have fewer than 20 collegiate starts under your belt, but it’s clear that he’s not devoid of them in the run or pass games. He’s got a knack for zone coverage in particular, as he’s got the quick feet and ability to reroute receivers. The consistency will be a work in progress, but I think he already plays more controlled in this area than Devin White does.
Walker has some man coverage chops as well, but he’ll need to be a little more fluid and develop a better feel for routes if he wants to make an impact there at the next level.
Given this team’s ability to develop young players, Walker has that Pro Bowl ceiling if given the requisite time and patience.
Walker’s name has risen gradually over the last few months and is now a firm mainstay in the top 50 conversation. On the betting front, he’s even getting steam as the first off-ball linebacker selected in the draft.
More 2022 NFL Draft prop bets I really like right now:— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) April 22, 2022
Lewis Cine — u34.5 (-115)
Arnold Ebiketie — u31.5 (-105)
Quay Walker — u40.5 (-115)
Kaiir Elam — u35.5 (-115)
Logan Hall — u36.5 (-105)
Jameson Williams 1st WR Drafted (+200)
Quay Walker Top-32 Pick (+175)
The Athletic’s Dane Brugler pegs Walker as his No. 31 overall prospect, putting a 1st-2nd round grade on him.
Bleacher Report is slightly less optimistic on him. They have him as their No. 61 overall player, pegging him as a late 2nd/early 3rd rounder. They compare him favorably to Anthony Walker Jr., who has beena mainstay with the Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts. The Draft Network also places a high third round grade on Quay Walker and compares him to Kenneth Murray, who the Los Angeles Chargers selected in Round 1 a couple years ago.
ON THE CLOCK...
Alright, Bucs Nation, should the team seek out its eventual replacement for Lavonte David early in the draft? Let us know by voting in the poll and discussing in the comments below.
The Buccaneers should target Quay Walker in the NFL Draft...
This poll is closed
At his current projection (late 1st/early second)
Early (move up a couple spots in the 1st)
Late (stick at No. 60 in the 2nd)
Never. He shouldn’t be considered.