For whatever reason, Thomas Dimitroff’s ability to find athletic, off-ball linebackers is unparalleled. One of his last parting gifts was Mykal Walker, who shined his rookie year. 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.
Highest-graded rookie defenders:
1. Chase Young – 78.0
2. Mykal Walker – 77.8
3. Doug Costin – 73.1
4. Raekwon Davis – 72.1 pic.twitter.com/tpu6qKtkeL
— PFF (@PFF) December 13, 2020
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.
— Matt Haley (@mattmhaleyATL) April 25, 2020
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.
— Cameron Salerno (@cameronsalerno1) December 15, 2020
Jayon Brown is as good of a comparison as there is for what Mykal Walker can be in Dean Pees’ system. In an article where I broke down Atlanta’s new defensive coordinator’s scheme, I mentioned the similarities in Brown and Walkers’ game. Both are impressive athletes who excel in coverage, which is part of the reason for PFF’s high praise of Walker. Look at what having versatile defenders allows for Pees to do, multiple bodies along the line of scrimmage confusing the offensive line of who’s blitzing and who’s dropping in coverage.
Can’t stop laughing at the brilliance of this defensive scheme. #Titans rush 4—one of which is a corner, Jayon Brown sprints back into coverage, and Wake destroys the edge. Browns all kinds of confused. Dean Pees, you wild man. pic.twitter.com/ihbBGZwLrD
— Chris Harris (@ChrisHarrisWSMV) September 9, 2019
This description from Music City Miracles of Jayon Brown could be copy and pasted with Mykal Walker and Falcons replacing Titans and Brown — eerily similar situations now, common denomenator=Dean Pees.
When you get to the linebackers, the story is very similar. The Titans feature a set of backers ranging from 5’-11” to 6’-2” and between 225 and 233 pounds. It’s a group that’s built on speed and athleticism over size and power. Jayon Brown is among the game’s best coverage linebackers and makes the Titans defense incredibly flexible when he’s in the game. Jayon Brown is one of several versatile defenders the Titans have added in recent seasons.
With the Falcons so cap-strapped, expect the front office to lean heavily on the current roster. Mykal Walker will be a big part of this defense, so much so that I think he will more than double his snap count from his rookie year. With so many sub-packages in Dean Pees’ system, Walker can be a three-down linebacker.
Photo: William Purnell/Icon Sportswire