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2018 NFL Draft scouting profile: Detroit Lions safety Tracy Walker

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Tracy Walker was a surprise pick for many, so it’s time we take a closer look into who Tracy Walker is and what he brings to the table for the Lions.

NCAA Football: UL Lafayette at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Who is Tracy Walker?

That’s the question that nearly every Detroit Lions fan thought to themselves as Day 2 of the NFL Draft was nearing its end. Walker, a safety out of Louisiana-Lafayette, wasn’t a name that had been floated around as an early-round option for the Lions by virtually anyone and was listed as a fifth or sixth round talent by NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein. So when the Lions decided to select Walker in the third round—with the 82nd overall pick in the draft—you can imagine the pure, unadulterated shock from the Lions fanbase.

Fans were up in arms about the Lions not addressing the defensive line in the first three rounds. After selecting a center/guard and a running back with their first two picks, they could have turned their focus to the D-line—an area that may have needed the most help. However, when Bob Quinn made his reasoning for the Walker pick, he had this to say:

“When I looked at the board, when we looked the board, there was a number of guys in the secondary that were more highly-rated than anybody else at different positions.”

Walker, among other DBs, were at the top of the Lions’ board in the third round, higher than any defensive lineman available to them. Quinn had Walker higher on his board than any draft expert or any media big board, so what exactly did he see in him that no one else did? I think it’s time we did some digging of our own, but before we dive into his tape, here’s what we know about the Tracy Walker selection:

Production

Source: www.sports-reference.com

Walker’s stat sheet is a bit of a mixed bag that offers very little context, but his eight career interceptions and his availability for the Ragin’ Cajuns is fairly impressive.

Film

Student of the game

When we want to know more about a player’s traits or how they fit with a specific team, we tend to go to that player’s game film. The same can be said for players and coaches who are getting ready for their next opponent. Walker is the type of player that will spend extra hours watching tape and figuring out tendencies, and his former head coach at Louisiana thinks he can be the “QB of the secondary” for the Detroit Lions.

“He’s a guy that during the day when the team’s not over there, you’re walking down the hall and Tracy walks out of the position meeting room, he’s been in there watching tape,” former Louisiana-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth said. “And to me that’s what set him apart. And everybody’s like, ‘Man, he’s always around the ball.’ Well, yeah, because he studies the tape. He’s one step ahead of the offense and when you know your keys that makes you a faster player.”

You’ve got to love when someone puts in the extra work and is truly dedicated to their craft.

I must’ve watched this play over and over for a good five minutes trying to figure out how a safety initially lines up 10 yards deep and makes a play on a quick out route near the sideline. The only thing I could come up with is that Walker (No. 23) had to have known the play before it was even snapped. He sees the formation, knows the tendency out of that formation and immediately creeps up about five yards and shuffles laterally toward the intended target, anticipating the throw.

Walker also has a very good understanding of zone concepts. The play above is a Cover-3 look, where Walker is the strong safety responsible for the curl/flat on the top of the screen. His job is to re-route the slot receiver before making his way to the curl/flat area and does so perfectly. Walker even gets there quick enough to make a play on the ball and is visibly upset with himself after not coming away with the interception.

Versatility and man-cover ability

When Quinn talked about what he saw in Walker, he mentioned his versatility and his ability to step up and cover man-to-man. That might actually be his best trait right now.

Walker’s ability to mirror in coverage and stay in the receiver’s hip pocket was probably what stood out the most (on the positive side) in several games watched. This is a Cover-1 look with Walker simply playing man-coverage over the slot receiver. He could have done a better job of turning his head around sooner, but he gets the PBU (pass break-up) anyway. I love his confidence and his swagger in man coverage.

Quinn also mentions the Texas A&M game when talking about the Walker pick and for good reason. Going up against one of the top receivers in the country in Christian Kirk—a guy that was selected 35 spots ahead of him—Walker came away with an interception and two pass deflections. In the above example, Walker’s mirroring skills and footwork are once again on display as he suffocates Kirk in coverage and positions himself well for the deflection.

Walker is a very good athlete in the secondary with fluid hips and quick feet. His acceleration and closing speed is impressive when changing directions and making his break toward the ball. So, after watching these four plays and hearing about how intelligent and sticky he is in coverage, you may be thinking: Well, why wasn’t he playing cornerback then?

Louisiana tried that. Not because they wanted to, but out of necessity (it didn’t go so well).

Walker had a pretty brutal game against Ole Miss in his only game as a starting cornerback. You can’t completely fault a man for playing out of position all game, but it got ugly pretty fast. Early in the game, we’ve got a second-and-7 here, with Louisiana in Cover-4 and Walker at the bottom of the screen, responsible for the lower 14 of the field. You can’t see it from the broadcast angle, but Walker bites for a double move here while watching the quarterback’s eyes. The WR throws a double move at him and he must see it in his peripherals, because he bites for the fake despite the QB not even looking at his side of the field and gets torched for the deep TD. Walker relies heavily on his instincts, and that doesn’t always lead to positive results for him.

Despite Walker’s understanding of zone concepts and dedication in the film room, his instincts are still a bit suspect, and this is one of several examples where he gets beat after trusting his instincts and making the wrong read.

Run support & tackling

Most of the big plays that Walker was at least partially responsible for was in the run game.

Take this play for example, where Walker covers plenty of ground in a short amount of time, but it’s almost as if he’s underestimated his own speed and overruns his target, which ultimately leads to a touchdown (only because his teammates are also bad at tackling humans).

And here’s another big play given up after Walker fills the wrong gap. Not great.

I’m not entirely sure what’s going on here. UL-Monroe had been pushing the tempo on offense, so maybe Walker was getting fatigued at this point, but if he’s just standing there looking at the QB on a screen pass in the NFL, he’s going to get a much harsher treatment than a simple tap to the chest (I mean what the heck is No. 3 doing here, too?). Walker was lucky to be given the opportunity to disengage from this block and he throws it all away with one of the more pathetic tackle attempts I’ve seen.

Okay, this one is just plain funny. They must have spiked Tracy Walker’s gatorade at halftime.

In this play, Walker’s ankles get stolen in the open field against Tulsa, but hey, guess who makes the tackle anyway? I love the effort despite the mishap, but this is bad. Very bad.

Walker’s struggles in the run game are a large part as to why I don’t think he’s ready to play as an early-down safety right away in the NFL, but I think the Lions also don’t need him to, and that’s okay.

Other things Tracy Walker can do:

  • Hit people very hard

This was either a miscommunication or a misread by No. 8 who makes the mistake of stepping up on the curl-flat, but Tracy Walker is there to lay the wood anyway. If the QB doesn’t place the ball perfectly, that’s probably another PBU on the statsheet.

Walker also missed the first half of their 2017 opener due to a targeting call during their 2016 bowl game.

TL;DR version

Pros:

  • Athleticism & range as a deep safety
  • Versatility as a safety or corner
  • Understanding of zone concepts
  • Ability to mirror WRs in man coverage
  • Great length to contest at the catch point, good ball skills
  • Quickness, change of direction and closing speed
  • Loves the big play, not afraid to send a message or deliver a big hit

Cons:

  • Takes poor, sometimes lazy angles in run support
  • Tackling technique is a bit iffy and dives at the ankles too much
  • Overcommits to the outside, creating big lanes for RBs up the middle
  • Once he’s touched by a blocker, he’s likely out of the play
  • Trusts instincts too much, prone to giving up big plays

Games watched (all-22 film): 2017 vs. SE Louisiana, 2017 vs. Texas State, 2017 vs. Tulsa, 2017 vs. Texas A&M, 2017 vs. UL-Monroe, 2017 vs. Idaho, 2017 vs. Ole Miss

Fit and outlook for 2018

Tracy Walker fits well in Patricia’s scheme that uses a wealth of defensive backs and the fact that Walker is versatile and has shown the ability to play both safety and corner is a huge advantage for him moving forward.

To me, Walker is a bit of a project and may get the same treatment that Teez Tabor was given last year. I would be surprised if he was given much play as a rookie. His struggles in run support at the safety position make me believe that he might have a better future as a cornerback rather than a safety but could still move all around the secondary if needed. If the Lions were to give Walker a role as a rookie, I’d expect him to see the field for some snaps as an extra DB in dime packages, possibly lining up inside against bigger targets. For the long term, and if he cleans up his game, I could see him being the eventual Glover Quin replacement as a deep safety.

After watching his tape, I can see why many regarded Tracy Walker as a mid-Day 3 pick. I’m still unsure of how I feel about the pick, but here’s what I do know for sure: Quinn and his personnel department were extra excited about this pick. And that’s enough to quell at least some of my concerns.