Lions pick: NFL Draft stock skyrocketed for UL's Walker

Tim Buckley
The Daily Advertiser

About 15 minutes after the words came through the television – “The Detroit Lions select Tracy Walker, Louisiana-Lafayette” – chatter from relatives could clearly be heard in the background as the former UL safety spoke into the phone.

UL safety Tracy Walker (right), a third-round Detroit Lions draft pick Friday, breaks up a pass to Texas A&M receiver Christian Kirk, a second-round Arizona Cardinals selection, during a game last September.

Walker, understand, did not expect to be picked nearly as high as he was – in the third round, 82nd overall, of the seven-round NFL Draft that opened Thursday night and wrapped up Saturday night.

“Oh, man, they’re screaming and shouting,” Walker, who has five sisters, said of the reaction from friends and family members back home in Georgia after they heard the call.

“They’re happy for me,” Walker added. “Nobody thought I’d ever be where I am today, so we’re definitely excited.”

A second Cajun, cornerback Simeon Thomas, went Saturday in the sixth round to the Detroit Lions.

More:Thomas becomes second Cajun picked in 2018 NFL Draft

Walker was picked as high as he was despite being only a third team All-Sun Belt Conference selection after his senior season at UL, which after a 5-7 season in 2017 fired coach Mark Hudspeth – who recruited Walker and Thomas – and replaced him with Billy Napier. projected that Walker would go in the fifth or sixth round, not the third.

Walker himself said he figured he’d come off the board in the fifth, not the third.


So just what was behind the meteoric move for the product of Brunswick High in Brunswick, Georgia?

ESPN NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper called Walker “a fast riser in the weeks and … months leading up the draft.”

The “arrow” next to Walker’s name, added Kiper – who predicted Walker would be tapped sooner than most expected – “was pointing up” as the week neared.

More:UL's Walker shocked Detroit takes him high in NFL Draft

Walker, as Kiper pointed out, had a career-high 15 total tackles in UL’s season-ending loss at Appalachian State.

He also had 14 against Georgia Southern, part of his team-high 97 on the year, one week prior to that.

“But what caught my eye – against Texas A&M early in the year, he had really some impactful plays,” Kiper said during ESPN’s broadcast of the draft.

“Really good ball skills. Showed he can deliver some big-time hits. Looked like a really impressive athlete against A&M – and A&M athletes. He matched up really well in that game.

“That was the attention-getter time,” Kiper said. “And then during the process I think he really sky-rocketed up the draft board.”

The A&M game and others against SEC teams really do appear to be a big difference-maker for Walker.

He had eight tackles, seven of them solo stops, last September against the Aggies in College Station.

Related:UL's Walker considers pre-NFL Draft position 'a blessing'

In the same game, Walker also had an interception – one of three in his Cajun career against SEC teams, along with ones at Georgia in 2016 and at Ole Miss in 2017.

“I’d say go watch the Texas A&M game,” Lions general manager Bob Quinn told reporters in Detroit who didn’t necessarily have Walker pegged as a third-round pick.

“That’s a good game for him – as well the rest of his schedule. But when you’re evaluating players that might not be at an SEC school, or a Big Ten school, you try to watch them against their best competition.

“Those games are really important to us,” Quinn added, “as well as the East-West All-Star Game.”

Walker’s play in the East-West Shrine Game in January helped earn him an invite the NFL Combine, which for most is a sure ticket for getting drafted.

“He was one of the best players in that game, (and) that entire (East-West) week when I was there personally,” Quinn said.

More:UL's Walker accepts invite to East-West Shrine Game

A 4.51 seconds 40-yard dash at the Combine – quite fast for a safety – may have helped elevate his stock as well, prompting Detroit to take him when it did.

Improving his vertical and broad jump measurements during UL’s Pro Day earlier this month didn’t hurt either.

Quinn said Walker was a prospect the Lions had “targeted,” and that they were “hoping (he) was going to fall to us.”

Dallas, a team Walker visited prior to the draft, picked one spot ahead of Detroit.

Quinn reeled off a long list of traits and skills he liked in the 6-foot-1, 212-pound Walker: “good size, very athletic, playmaking, ball skills, toughness, tackling, speed.”

More:Walker a leader of the Cajun defense

While some NFL teams tagged Walker as someone who perhaps could move from safety to cornerback at the next level, Quinn said the Lions considered him “primarily” a safety.

“Tracy’s a versatile guy … that can play on the deep part of the field,” Quinn said. “He can come down and cover man-to-man. So, he’s got a lot of things going for him – on top of special teams.”


Walker’s selection in the third round – the highest for a Sun Belt player this year, and the highest for a Cajun since the Chicago Bears took now-retired cornerback Charles “Peanut” Tillman in the second round in 2003 – was met with mixed reviews nationally and in Detroit.

* From “Tracy Walker is a late-round prospect with good instincts, but he seems more like a special-teams player.”

* From “(New Lions head coach) Matt Patricia likes back end players with versatility and this kid has it. That’s a good pick.”

* From ProFootballWeekly: “Good size, small hands but some playmaking skill. Walker has started since early in his career in college but hasn’t developed quite the way scouts had hoped. In fact, a few teams talked about using him as a corner with his size — especially his long arms. His instincts for safety might just be average, but his athleticism is solid.”

* From “Walker was picked two rounds earlier than expected, but he has the skills to become a starter in the league.”

* From The Detroit Free Press, referencing a Lions general manager from days gone by: “The Walker pick evoked memories of the Matt Millen era.”

A bit of a reach, in other words.

For Walker, who never even made an All-Sun Belt first team, it hardly seems to matter now that he received so little recognition during his Cajun career outside of the UL bubble and so little respect from opposing SBC coaches.

“I don’t control that. I can’t sit there and contest what people think of me,” he told reporters in Detroit. “The way the Sun Belt voted me, that doesn’t determine how great of a player I am.

“The NFL coaches saw something. For example, the Detroit Lions saw something in me that those coaches didn’t see.

“So, I don’t control what they have to say about me. All I can do is control what I control,” Walker added, “and that’s me going out there and playing every down and giving my all. That’s all I can do.”

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