Damarcus Walker is a rare creature amongst a draft class of athletic freaks. Much like Malik McDowell, Walker was moved all around the defensive line during his time at Florida State. During my time watching him, I saw him play everywhere from the 7 tech to the nose tackle position. Considering this intriguing level of versatility, I decided to take a further look at the FSU standout to see what his strengths and weaknesses are.
Name: Demarcus Walker
Weight: 280 lbs.
2016 Consensus All-American
2016 First Team All-ACC (Media & Coaches)
2016 ACC Defensive Player of the Year
2016 Hendrick's Award Finalist
2016 Lombardi Award Semifinalist
What the Tape Says:
Of the seven games I watched of Walker, three were from 2015 and four were from this past season. The biggest difference between the two is easily what Florida State decided to do with Walker. 2015’s tape is centred mostly around Walker playing at the LDE slot in the Seminoles’ base 4-3 defense. While Walker was productive in this role, it didn’t often suit his skill set. Walker is exceptionally athletic for his size, but the one thing he doesn’t possess is a great first step. It’s difficult to articulate, because to say he’s not athletic would be untrue for reasons that I will explain later, but for an edge rusher, he doesn’t have this explosive get-off to help him get to the edge before the tackle trying to block him.
Here is a quick example of this from the Louisville game in 2015:
Here we see Walker lined up in the 7-tech starting out on his feet without his hand in the dirt. As the ball is snapped, his wide angle only serves to make the task more difficult as he doesn’t really drive off the line towards the edge but more meanders his way towards the edge.
The tackle in this situation shuffles his feet diligently and escorts Walker, who has attempted to drive around the tackle, past the QB.
This kind of play is consistent throughout Walker’s time whilst playing the EDGE at FSU. There is a bit of contextual work to be done here. A lot of what Walker was asked to do on the EDGE was against uber-athletic QBs like Louisville’s Lamar Jackson and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson. So take a QB like Jackson, who every defense wants to contain within the pocket and force him to throw, and maintaining a smothering -four-man rush is often important. That can only be done by the defensive ends restricting the space that the QB can drop back into, forcing him to step up into the middle of the defensive line, where there is less room to escape from the pocket. Often times, this was what Walker was tasked with.
While he doesn’t have the great level of explosiveness expected of most EDGE rushers, Walker has displayed the ability to get to the corner and dip his shoulder in order to get around the blocker before flattening out towards the QB. Take this example against Miami from 2015:
We see Walker (highlighted in the white circle) line up in his typical 7-technique alignment on the outside shoulder of the Miami RT. He doesn’t get a great leap off of the line, but this is offset by the fact that the Miami RT is also slow on his feet.
Notice the big long step that the RT takes. What this does is distribute the weight all over his body; he does not have it focused on a particular area to allow him to anchor against an oncoming rusher. Walker sees this and makes a quick feign to the inside before lowering his shoulder into the RT’s right side, trapping the RT’s right arm and restricting his ability to actually get both hands on Walker to block him.
The RT knows he’s beaten and Walker does too. Walker continues to dip into that shoulder, forcing the RT to flip his hips and attempt to essentially shove Walker far enough to disrupt his path to the QB. Walker doesn’t let him do that, planting his feet and flipping his hips inside before ripping through the block and flattening to the QB.
A few things to note about this snap are:
- The RT had a terrible snap here.
- Walker doesn’t really bend. Rather, he uses good technique to force the RT into a mistake. Against better tackles with better technique and footwork, he won’t be able to do that.
That being said, it is another example of Walker demonstrating the ability to work the outside shoulder of a tackle like a typical EDGE rusher. While these are all things that Walker can do, they aren’t his strengths.
To me, Walker shines probably the most with his on-field awareness. For lack of a better term, Walker is a ballhawk. His ability to sniff out the ball carrier while using good hand strength to stack his blockers is so fun to watch. He doesn’t just crash through the line and hope he gets into the ball carrier’s lane. He holds his blocker in place and moves with the ball carrier before tossing the blocker aside and making the tackle.
This snap against Florida from this year highlights this and shows one of the issues Walker often showcases. We can see Walker work down the line against the TE. He is unlucky to not bring down the ball carrier, but in the effort of doing so ,we see that in his pursuit of the ball carrier, Walker can often lose focus and get shoved around by various blockers.
While this is just one of the main concerns I have with Walker, it’s offset by the stuff he does in disrupting passing lanes, which is by far the most fun thing to watch him do. Specifically, his games against Clemson and Deshaun Watson were exceptional. He played the role of the edge defender perfectly against Watson, not allowing him room to run when the pocket collapsed. When Watson stuck in the pocket to throw, you got snaps like this from the 2016 FSU-Clemson game.
On this play, it’s going to be a quick pass to receiver who is playing on the far side of the field. It’s a quick out slant to take advantage of the off-man coverage the corner is playing against him. As the snap progresses, we see Walker attack the outside shoulder, but he quickly notices Watson turn his hips and plant his foot upon receiving the snap.
Walker sees this and disengages his blocker. He continues to read the QB’s eyes in order to get into the passing lane. Watson never sees Walker. The throw to the outside receiver is fine up until Walker leaps and smacks the ball out of the air for an incomplete pass.
It’s a fantastic play and a great showcase of why I really like Walker. His mental aptitude for the game is outstanding, whether it’s reading a QB’s eyes and body in order to potentially break up a pass or it’s monitoring where a ball carrier is on a run play. He just displays an innate skill to understand what an offense is trying to do and how best to react to it.
When kicked to the interior, Walker’s athleticism and intelligence shine once more. When used in the 3-technique, Walker uses his quick hands to generate leverage against less athletic guards. Take the game against Ole Miss from this year. Walker feasted on the members of Ole Miss’s interior line. On this snap, we see Walker’s signature arm-over move, which he uses to counter the guard’s attempt to punch first.
This was a consistent and common theme throughout this game. Walker knew the Ole Miss offensive linemen wanted to attack early in order to negate his athleticism. Every time they tried to put their hands on Walker, he swam over their punch and slipped right by them. On the rareoccasion when the Ole Miss lineman did manage to get his hands on him, Walker had the necessary hand strength to toss dudes clean out of his way. Watch here as he recovers from a failed swim move before tossing the Ole Miss lineman aside and getting the sack.
There are shortcomings with Walker. He can often disappear in games, but considering his versatility and intangibles, I think there is a very real role for Walker to play in any defense. For defensive coordinators, Walker will be a blessing due to just how much he can do. He can kick inside at the 3-tech and win with his excellent hands and technique, or he can lose a few pounds and be a quite competent force player on the edge. There really is a lot to get excited about with how Walker can be utilised. Whoever manages to land him on draft night will be inundated with possibilities.