27 Oct 2020

Home of the NFL Offseason

2020 Draft Gems Part II: Fresno State LB/EDGE Mykal Walker

Last time I covered under-the-radar cornerback Thakarius Keyes, this time we’ll be staying on the defensive side of the ball and covering a tweener edge/lb prospect out of Fresno State in Mykal Walker.

Bio

Mykal Walker went to high school in Vacaville, CA and was a three-sport standout in football, basketball and track. Despite amassing 112 tackles as a linebacker and 577 yards as a running back during his senior season, he only received one offer and that was from San Diego State. It was not a full-ride offer though, and so he opted to go to a small private university Azusa Pacific.

As detailed in this informative article by ProFootballNetwork, the whole recruiting process was rather unfortunate for Walker. He had interest from Oregon State but the staff left for Nebraska. He apparently had a lot of interest from CAL-Berkeley but the recruiter in contact with him was fired.

It all ended up working out though, as Walker gained interest from Fresno State after two productive seasons for Azusa Pacific.

He redshirted in 2017, and in 2018 started in his first season of FBS action earning First-Team All-Mountain West honors as a defensive end. The next season he switched to off-ball linebacker and earned First-Team All-Mountain West honors once again showing his versatility.

The basics

Mykal Walker stands 6’3, 230 lbs with a 32 1/2” wingspan. He had a decent combine with his best time being the 20 yard shuttle where he ran a 4.25 which was good for the #5 LB at the combine.

As a defensive end in 2018 he recorded 38 solo tackles, 48 assists, 86 total to go along with 13.5 tackles for a loss and 4.0 sacks. He also had an interception returned for a touchdown, 6 deflections and 2 forced fumbles.

After his switch to linebacker in 2019 he recorded 56 solo tackles, 40 assists for 96 total. His tackles for a loss went down to 9.0 and his sacks down to 2.5.

Next, we’ll dive into what he showed on tape, but will be evaluating him as an edge prospect and an off-ball linebacker separately.

As an EDGE prospect

Though listed as a defensive end Walker stood up off the edge a lot of the time and didn’t always have his hand in the dirt. He didn’t offer a whole lot as a pass rusher but he did, however, perform as a solid edge setter and made a lot of splash plays in the run game evidenced by his 13.5 tackles for a loss.

Walker’s ability to hold the edge is partly due to his upper-body strength, though largely due to his length and the fact that he uses it.

He hardly ever gets eaten up by blockers and does well in traffic. He excelled at shooting to the inside gap and was a lot more efficient there than he was on outside/speed rushes.

Walker shoots inside for the TFL

His ability to diagnose the run is a plus as well, and the fact that he extends and keeps lineman from getting up and under him allows him to hold the edge while also watching the ball.

I talked about splash plays, and these are where you see his athleticism come into play.

Runs down the ball carrier from behind for the TFL

Ditches the initial inside stunt to sit down on a spy and sees exactly where the QB is going with it to make the easy interception

Going back to his ability to rush the passer, that athleticism doesn’t show up much as a speed rusher, as Walker didn’t flash much bend, and he doesn’t utilize any counters. He doesn’t really have any rush moves, but his strength does show up in his strong bull rush.

If a team is drafting him to be an edge rusher, he’d be a better fit as a 3-4 rusher who mainly sets the edge in contain and covers the flats in coverage. At 231 pounds he would need to fill out his frame if he’s going to play with his hand in the dirt as a true 4-3 end.

As a linebacker

Walker played inside linebacker as a senior, but moved around the defense a lot still playing on the edge at times.

In the same way his block destruction was solid as an end, it was also arguably his greatest strength as a linebacker. He consistently uses his length to extend allowing him to watch the ball and easily disengage to make a play on the ball carrier.

Walker was better going north and south than he was east and west in terms of run defense. He has straight-line speed but lacks short area quickness or any suddenness in his movement. This shows when he drops back into coverage as well where he just doesn’t look natural and rather clunky.

He can cover running backs and tight ends one on one on the other hand, so his ability in coverage is not all bad, he mostly needs to work on his footwork as he looks stiff and mechanical as of now.

Strong at the point of attack meeting the blocker head on, bounces off and makes the tackle

Mechanical moving around in zone but shows straight-line speed chasing Jordan Love out of bounds from the middle of the field

Because of his block destruction coupled with his read & react ability on top of a high motor, Walker’s skill-set translates best as a middle or strong side backer if the team that drafts him is going to utilize him as an off-ball linebacker. He can rack up tackles not only in clean-up but his ability to shoot inside and fight off blocks makes him capable of getting run-stops as well.

Bottom line

Walker has garnered interest from teams such as the New Orleans Saints, New York Giants and Indianapolis Colts. It is likely those teams see him as a linebacker prospect. If that is the case, he has the tools to work with and I can see him developing into a solid rotational linebacker in a couple of seasons.

He will likely be expected to contribute as a core special teams-player year one and if he can perform in that regard I see him making the end of the roster of whatever team drafts him.

Prospect Grade: 5.48 (Quality Backup: 5.00 – 5.49)

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