The Cleveland Browns have an impressive new linebacker in free agent Anthony Walker. He signed a one-year deal with the Browns worth $3.5 million recently. Walker projects to start in the role B.J. Goodson — Cleveland’s leading tackler in 2020 — played for the Browns last season.
What are the Browns getting in Walker?
Walker comes to the Browns after spending his first four seasons with the Indianapolis Colts. The 2017 fifth-round pick out of Northwestern was a full-time starter for the last three years in the middle of the Colts defense.
Paired with All-Pro Darius Leonard at LB, Walker averaged over 100 tackles in the last three years. His career-highs of 124 tackles and 2.5 sacks came in 2019. Walker also has 19 TFLs during that time while playing 47 of 48 games.
I went back and watched several Colts games from the last two seasons to get a better idea of the man behind the gaudy tackle stats. I also looked back at his draft profile coming out of Northwestern from several resources, including my own evaluation at the time.
His relative athletic score (RAS), which factors athletic metrics scaled for size and position, shows Walker as a shorter backer but one with speed and great short-area burst.
RAS courtesy Kent Lee Platte
Those are evident in Walker’s play with the Colts. He’s excellent at quickly closing on the play and using his compact build to stack blockers and stun runners. He’s an excellent run-and-chase tackler against the run, with range to either sideline from the middle of the field. Few backers close on their RB prey on off-tackle runs with better speed or body control.
He also uses the quick acceleration and closing speed effectively in coverage. In the games I reviewed, he’s not a linebacker who blankets in coverage but it rather one who quickly terminates the play immediately after the catch.
He has some opportunism to his coverage but don’t expect Walker to make a lot of plays on the ball. He’s rarely out of position in zone and comfortable–most of the time–in the transition areas between zones. The Colts defense did a good job using him where he excels in coverage, flowing to the shallow outside or picking up tight ends and backs after the release out.
One thing that consistently stands out: tackling. Walker hits, wraps and drops with power. If he gets a shoulder into the target, the play ends. He’s balanced and smart as a tackler.
Reading blocks and shedding off them, especially when flowing laterally, is probably Walker’s biggest area for improvement. He gets hung up on guards and tight ends out in the second level and will stay engaged to soak up the block more than he tries to shed and make the play.
Interestingly, that’s an area where the man he’s ostensibly replacing in Cleveland, B.J. Goodson, also struggled with. Walker is faster one he’s free but my sense is Goodson anticipated the blocking angles a little better.
Walker is a high-character man, something that has followed him from Northwestern to Indianapolis. He fits in with the type of off-field culture the Browns desire.
Overall, the Browns found a smart, tough replacement for Goodson. And on a one-year deal, it’s a positive addition that should help in the run defense and short-range coverage.