The Packers wanted to change their identity with their first-round picks, but so far it's the same old
The Green Bay Packers made no secret about what awaited Quay Walker after they drafted him 22nd overall last spring: he was going to transform the way they wanted to play football. Finally, they could stop the run from nickel while keeping their best three cornerbacks on the field at once. He could spy running quarterbacks and chase down plays in space. Devonte Wyatt would add bulk to the middle of the defense, providing pass-rush help to Kenny Clark, and free Joe Barry up to play two true defensive linemen without wearing out his best guys.
While it’s too soon to write the definitive story about the first round of the 2022 draft for the Packers or the future of those players, through four weeks, that plan hasn’t worked.
That’s not to say Quay Walker hasn’t made any plays. He has and his speed flashes in space. After he chased down Justin Fields to keep the speedy Bears quarterback out of the end zone, Aaron Jones posited Walker may well be the fastest linebacker in the NFL. Last week against Tampa Bay, he punched the ball out down the field to scuttle a Bucs second-half drive coming off a Packers turnover of their own.
But in terms of doing the very thing he was drafted to do, Walker has struggled. They’re not fitting the run well from nickel at all. The Patriots took advantage of linebacker play over and over on Sunday even with Bailey Zappe at quarterback. Barry’s conservative (I would argue overly conservative) two-high safety approach to a popgun-armed quarterback bears some of the blame as well, but right now Walker needs a map to find his gaps and didn’t consistently fire his guns coming downhill.
Neither Walker nor De’Vondre Campbell has played to the level the Packers defense needs them to over the course of the season to fix this run defense. They’re not attacking downhill or shedding blocks to meet ball carriers in the hole.