This first-round prospect can help the Jags shut down Delanie Walker
The importance of divisional games cannot be overstated. Sweeping both games from a rival can be the difference between a bye week through the wildcard round and being out of the playoffs altogether.
The NFL has evolved into such a matchup-heavy league that it’s critical for teams to identify, evaluate and fix unfavorable matchups in the offseason — and one way to do so is the NFL draft.
Every day this week I will highlight one current NFL player that has recently dominated a divisional opponent, and pair him with the college prospect best equipped to shut him down. Today I will look back at Delanie Walker’s two monster games from 2015, and the first-round prospect Jacksonville should select to neutralize him in 2016.
The NFL problem: Delanie Walker, TE Titans
The NFL draft’s answer: Myles Jack, LB UCLA
Tennessee’s Delanie Walker was our second-highest graded tight end in 2015 (+22.0 overall grade) behind only Rob Gronkowski. While he certainly had an impressive season, 45 percent of his positive grade came from one opponent: the Jacksonville Jaguars. In Weeks 11 and 12, Walker torched the Jaguars for 16 catches for 201 yards and five forced missed tackles (+9.9 overall grade).
Historically, Walker has not graded well as a receiver, as his highest receiving grade before last year’s +12.3 was just +1.6 (achieved in both 2008 and 2014). However, the formula for his best games the past several years has been simple: exploit athletically-deficient linebackers. His top outputs have come against the likes of Curtis Lofton (New Orleans, 2012) and Josh McNary (2014) and Pat Angerer of Indianapolis (2013). His success against the Jaguars last year came against a number of defenders, but most notable was inside linebacker Paul Posluszny, who he beat for three catches for 50 yards (29 yards after the catch).
Most notable on these four victims is that each is limited from an athletic standpoint, making speed a priority as Jacksonville looks for a long-term upgrade for the aging Posluszny. UCLA’s Myles Jack is therefore the most logical for the Jaguars, as his combination of top-end athleticism and coverage skills make him an ideal fit.
The play above is just one illustration of Jack’s athleticism, instincts and aggressiveness in coverage. He was our top-graded coverage linebacker in 2014, as he posted seven pass breakups and an interception. He also ranked sixth in the country amongst inside linebackers in tackle efficiency in coverage, as he missed just one tackle in 38 attempts.
While NFL teams will certainly debate which position he best fits, Jacksonville needs to find a long-term, athletic upgrade for Posluszny on the inside. Jack only played three games in 2015, but in those three appearances he showed the ability to consistently take on and shed blockers inside, as well as quickly diagnose his keys to flow to the ball in the run game. This gives him three-down viability and positional versatility, which would allow the Jaguars to play him inside on run downs and stay in for the nickel package, or even cover the slot, as he often did in 2014 at UCLA.
Walker played the majority of his 2015 snaps either in the slot or split wide, which was part of what made him such a difficult matchup for Jacksonville. Drafting Jack would take away the physical advantage Walker enjoyed in space last year, as both players measure 6-foot-1 while Jack weighed 245 at February’s combine, eight pounds heavier than Walker’s listed playing weight.
Jack is a complete and versatile player, and it will be his ability to neutralize difficult match-ups like Walker that will allow him to be a highly productive NFL player in all phases.