Falcons: Mykal Walker’s positional flexibility will be valuable in Dean Pees defense

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Mykal Walker is someone I think the Falcons staff have to find a way to get on the field, even though he is in a mostly reserve role behind Deion Jones and Foye Oluokun. The second-year linebacker got the start in Sunday’s preseason matchup against the Browns, as Debo was one of the few starters who didn’t play. Walker played well in multiple positions — tallying six tackles, a pass break up, a quarterback hurry, and a fourth-down stop.

He was around the ball seemingly every play for the two quarters he played, showing his effectiveness as an off-ball and outside linebacker. I explained in January exactly what the second-year linebacker could become in this defensive system because of his versatility, and this is just the start.

He was named to the PFF All-Rookie team in 2020, after grading out as the second-best rookie defender — behind only Chase Young. Walker obviously didn’t play a high percentage of defensive snaps — only 36% — with the likes of Deion Jones and Foye Oluokon playing at such a high level, but that should change in 2021.

Foye was drafted as a safety and has made the switch to inside linebacker, and it couldn’t be going better. Mykal Walker was similarly positionless in college too. He played inside and outside linebacker at Fresno State, but Walker even showed well at defensive end too. The former Bulldog has experience playing in a system with multiple fronts — exactly what Dean Pees wants to do.

Walker can do anything that his new defensive coordinator needs him to. He can defend the run or pass and rush the passer from the inside or outside linebacker position. I would venture to guess that Foye and Debo will occupy the starting inside linebacker spots, which leaves Walker to play outside linebacker — where he showed well in his rookie year.

Walker is in a difficult position behind two established players, but good coaches find a way to get their best guys on the field. If that means having three linebackers out there, that is what Dean Pees should do. Walker looked bigger, faster, and stronger against the Browns and made his presence felt as I mentioned earlier. Sooner or later, he will force the staff’s hand and give them no option but to play him. He’s one of my breakout candidates because he can play inside or outside linebacker or drift into the slot. Walker’s run-support stands to be improved, but he is elite in coverage — Jayon Brown, who thrived with Pees in Tennessee, is a great comparison.

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