Colts middle linebacker Anthony Walker was the talk of the town recently after NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks said the third-year pro could join teammate Darius Leonard as “one of the top linebackers in football.”
However, it may not be that simple.
Colts general manager Chris Ballard and company didn’t draft three linebackers for no reason. Look no further than third-round draft choice Bobby Okereke out of Stanford as Walker’s competition during training camp.
Colts.com acknowledged in its coverage of Brooks’ comments that Walker is expecting to face a tough camp battle against the rookie.
“We thrive on competition here. It is the NFL. The team is going to get the best player available and they feel that – it is just competition. That is all it is,” Walker said. “We are going to have fun doing it. Best player will play and we will leave it up to that.”
Last year Walker was one of three players to accumulate at least 105 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 1 interception and 1 sack. The other two were Walker’s teammate, Leonard, and Carolina’s Luke Keuchly.
However, Ballard’s 2019 draft class made a statement about the direction the franchise wants to head in. Despite finishing 11th overall in total defense in 2017, the front office seemingly wants more. Seven of 10 selections came on the defensive side of the ball, including Orekeke, TCU DE/LB Ben Banogu (2nd round) and Tarleton State OLB EJ Speed (5th round).
Despite Walker’s breakout numbers last season, some NFL experts question how much longer Walker will have control of the starting middle linebacker spot.
“Couple of linebackers there and that tells you something there, that they are looking,” said Adam Schefter on The Adam Schefter Podcast. “Look, Anthony Walker is a good player but they are on the lookout for more help at that position. Right now, Walker is still listed as the starter, we’ll see how it shakes out in training camp.”
Banogu, who played defensive end in college, is already getting work at end while Speed could back up Leonard if he doesn’t get cut. Orekeke and Walker will likely scrap it out for the middle spot in what should be one of camp’s fiercest battles, as Schefter pointed out.
2018 was a breakout season for Walker. The Miami-born pro participated in just over two-thirds of all Colts defensive snaps (66.28%), along with nearly one-third (32.88%) of special teams snaps. It was a big jump from 2017 when he saw the field for just 10.69% of all defensive snaps.
His most productive games in 2018 came in weeks three (73 snaps) and four (72), and later in the divisional round loss to the Chiefs (72). His least productive game came in week five’s 38-24 loss to the Patriots, when Walker participated in just 14 snaps.
Walker had his breakout season in college at Northwestern as a sophomore in 2015, earning All-American honors by AP and Sports Illustrated, and finishing fourth in the nation with 20.5 tackles for loss. He tallied 19 tackles in one game against Duke. A year later, he entered the NFL draft.
For Colts fans, all this seems to paint a positive picture. The numbers say Walker is poised for a breakout season. The Colts front office seems to be adding insurance, while pushing Walker by drafting Orekeke. Whatever the outcome, it seems like a win-win situation for the team.