Atlanta selected Mykal Walker in the fourth round of this year’s draft, which was considered by some to be a reach but not unexpected with the departure of De’Vondre Campbell in free agency. Several scouts and draft analysts projected the Fresno State product being a seventh-round selection or undrafted free agent, and yes, I agree that these reports can be ambiguous. But if one thing is certain, Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff went with ‘their’ guys throughout this draft, regardless of if the selection seemed rich.
The talent Walker possesses on special teams is evident. So, at the very least, he will offer some immediate production. This might trigger some, but a fourth-round pick that turns into a prolific special teamer will always find himself on an NFL roster. New England’s special team standout, Matthew Slater, was selected in the fifth round of the 2008 draft, becoming a captain and a vital cog in the Patriot machine since that time.
Walker’s intangibles are on par with that of second-round pick Marlon Davidson. He was a team captain in college and mentioned by former teammates and coaches alike as a vocal leader. In a must-win year for the current regime, Quinn and Dimitroff are valuing locker room cohesion as much as ever.
Walker is a downhill type of linebacker, and when asked about his style of play, he had this to say, “I’m an aggressive player. Here at Fresno State, we have a memo out here: ‘We’ll play anybody, anytime, anywhere.’ We play hard nose football.” Although he played on the edge at times in college, he is not an elite pass rusher and played most of his snaps at inside linebacker. He lacks the bend and size to be productive on the edge in the NFL. Walker does, however, possess the capabilities to thrive in the box.
I do not foresee Walker beating out Foye Oluokun but will challenge him for playing time. As a rookie, he might only see the field during nickel sets. Quinn’s 3-3-5 nickel defense would benefit from a player like Walker. The weak-side linebacker is tasked with making sideline-to-sideline plays and dropping into coverage, but Walker is a better fit in the strong-side linebacker role. At strong-side linebacker, Walker will focus more on stopping the run with less emphasis on coverage. Usually, the strong-side linebacker in a 4-3 under is the best pass-rushing linebacker, giving Quinn more flexibility to disguise coverages and blitz packages.
Most importantly, this selection provides the Falcons with much-needed depth at a position lacking productivity outside of Deion Jones. Whether Dan Quinn decides to move more to a 5-2 or stay with his bread and butter 4-3, Walker can play positions in both defensive schemes.