Detroit Lions: Tracy Walker needs to bounce back in 2021

(Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)
(Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images) /

The Detroit Lions need safety Tracy Walker to bounce back in 2021.

Newly appointed defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn has his work cut out for him taking over this underachieving Detroit Lions defense.

Now, don’t overreact.

I am not saying Detroit’s defense in 2021 will be as bad as it’s been over the past couple of seasons under the ‘defensive genius’ Matt Patricia, but it’s clear there is plenty of work to do.  Detroit’s defense is coming off of a season in which they yielded a franchise-worst 6,716 total yards allowed plus 519 points which also had been a team-worst.

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Walker joined the Lions in 2018 after being selected 82nd overall in the third round of the NFL Draft.

After a couple of promising seasons, Walker took a significant step in the wrong direction last season with Detroit.  Perhaps it was more of Patricia asking Walker to play a role he’s not as comfortable in rather than adapting his coaching style to his player’s strengths.

A good coach will try and mask a player’s weakness with a specific scheme or game plan.  Patricia’s ego wouldn’t allow for any wiggle room; it was his way or the highway.  Finally, the organization realized that GM Bob Quinn and Patricia were more of the problem than anything else; they did all of us a favor and kicked them to the curb.

With his tail between his legs and his pencil tucked over his ear, Patricia went back to New England to rejoin Bill Belichick while Bob Quinn somehow landed a job in the Cleveland Browns front office as a senior advisor.  Ironically, Quinn joins the Browns, and the Lions hired John Dorsey via Cleveland to a similar role.

Tracy Walker deserves a clean slate from the Detroit Lions entering 2021.

After posting a steller 89.8 Pro Football Focus (PFF) grade playing 268 defensive snaps as a rookie, it’s been a downhill slide for Walker.

In his second season, Walker played 843 defensive snaps as a starting safety but started to struggle (like everyone in Patricia’s defense). Walker allowed a catch rate of 67% and allowed five touchdowns while breaking up seven passes and pulling in one interception. Walker would finish the season with an overall PFF grade of 73.5 and a respectable 76.0 mark in coverage.

Unfortunately, last season the wheels completely fell off.

Walker struggled to play as a strong safety. It was clear he’s best suited working as a free safety.  With Duron Harmon brought in from New England, Patricia elected to use him as the centerfielder forcing Walker to lock up with tight ends in man coverage along with trying to sift through the wash and cover a running back leaking out of the backfield.  Things didn’t go so well, and Walker had been exposed time and time again.

Over the Winter, Walker talked about his struggles in 2020 courtesy of SI’s All Lions, and he seems poised to right the ship.

"“I feel like it was a year of learning for me — a lot of learning,” Walker said, in reference to his 2020 season. “I definitely got a lot wiser, and there’s a lot of new things I just, you know, wasn’t used to and I had to adjust (to). Like I said, this year was a huge learning experience for me — off the field and on the field. And so now, (with) 2021 approaching, I’m ready to process this year and take off the right way.”"

Walker completed the 2020 season with an awful 40.8 grade in coverage, allowing seven touchdowns to go with an elevated catch rate of 73.5%.

His poor performance led him to take a back seat to Harmon and Will Harris, which isn’t saying much.  Walker played below 40% of Detroit’s defensive snaps in seven games last season.

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The Detroit Lions are moving Walker back to his natural position, and as a roaming, ball-hawking free safety, Walker can put his ball-skills to good use, and I expect the 26-year old to bounce back in a big way.