The title of “Linebacker U” is one most often associated with the Penn State Nittany Lions. They’ve earned that title, and their tradition is likely to continue into the 2021 NFL Draft with Micah Parsons. However, the Georgia Bulldogs have been making a strong claim for this title. Next in line to join the litter of former Bulldog linebackers in the NFL could be Quay Walker.

Since 2010, Georgia has produced 13 linebackers who have been drafted into the league, led by the likes of Roquan Smith and Leonard Floyd, who were both top 10 picks in their draft classes.

Walker enters his third season with the Bulldogs after biding his time in his first two years behind the likes of Tae Crowder and 2019 fifth-round pick D’Andre Walker. Walker spent those first two seasons as a rotational player and special teams star, earning team awards as ‘Special Teams Newcomer of the Year’ as a freshman and ‘Defensive Most Improved’ as a sophomore.

Now in his junior season, Walker comes in as the big dog of the Georgia linebacker corps, as the team looks to compete with SEC giants LSU and Alabama. Does Walker have what it takes to lead the Bulldogs defense against these powerhouse offenses? Will he join his fellow Bulldogs linebackers in the NFL after the season? Let’s see what the film says.

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What NFL scouts will like

Right now, Walker doesn’t have much tape as a linebacker for the Bulldogs. He’s been used mostly in rotation with other, more senior members of the linebacker group. The most significant thing Walker has going for him is his combination of size and athletic ability. Walker checks in at 6’4”, 240 pounds, and has the type of frame that could likely support another 10-15 pounds while maintaining his athleticism. That’s textbook NFL linebacker size.

Beyond just size, Walker has some great athleticism. He’s a fluid athlete in space with the ability to flip his hips and change directions with ease given his size. When he keys in on the action, Walker has a lot of juice. He gets to the ball carrier in a hurry and hits like a truck when he gets there. The combination of size, speed, and strength is exactly what NFL scouts are looking for in a future star linebacker.

Being a rare physical specimen will get you noticed, but the league is full of them. You have to have something on tape to show there’s something special other than physical build. Though Walker doesn’t have much tape to showcase yet, there are some aspects of his game that should translate well to the next level. Namely, it’s his ability to stay clean and get to the point of attack.

Walker is still figuring out the position, but what he has figured out is how to position himself to get to the ball. He’s explosive through the line of scrimmage on blitzes and knows how to scrape down the line in run support and keep offensive linemen off of him. When linemen do get their hands on Walker, he’s quick to fight them off and get to the ball.

What still needs improvement

It’s crucial in scouting not to let the box score have too much of an impact on your evaluation. Just because a player is putting up great numbers doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll translate to the next level. Conversely, just because a player isn’t filling up the stat sheet doesn’t mean he’s someone you won’t want to take a chance on. The traits outweigh the stats.

Quay Walker simply hasn’t seen the field enough at linebacker to have amassed stats. His best season to date gave him a total of 23 tackles and 2.5 sacks. He’s going to have to fill that stat sheet a bit more in his expanded role to prove he’s more than just projection.

Walker is an inexperienced linebacker, and where that shows up most is when he’s asked to play in zone coverage. It’s one thing to be told: “see ball, get ball.” It’s another thing entirely to have to drop to a spot, diagnose what’s happening, and react. That’s where Walker needs the most development. At times he looks completely lost when asked to drop back in zone coverage. He’s athletic enough to recover once he figures it out, but that won’t necessarily be true at the next level.

Walker has time to develop. He’s only a true junior this season and doesn’t have to declare for the 2021 NFL Draft. But if he does declare, what’s his draft outlook?

How does Quay Walker project as an NFL linebacker?

As with fellow linebacker Chazz Surratt, there’s a decent range of outcomes for Walker in the 2021 NFL Draft. Right now, the NFL Draft team at Pro Football Network has Walker rated slightly behind Surratt. Walker checks in as the sixth-ranked linebacker and 85th overall prospect, making him a late third-round pick.

If the development isn’t there, and Walker decides to declare early anyway, he could be in for a long wait. Without the production and zone coverage development, Walker could easily fall to the latter part of the third day. 

If, as his athleticism suggests, Walker improves with the increased playing time, I can see his stock rising. Should he become a more active participant on defense and clean up his zone coverage woes, he could sneak into the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft.