According to Vance Walker’s twitter profile, he has signed a deal with the Oakland Raiders. The specifics of the deal are not yet known, but if I had to guess, I would say it’s a three or four year deal. The Raiders have lost multiple players from their DL including Richard Seymour and Desmond Bryant, so Walker will have a chance to come in and start for them at the DT position.
The Atlanta Falcons fan in me is disappointed to see Walker go. He really started playing well in 2012 and made a difference in the playoffs. After cutting Abraham, I thought the Falcons would try to resign Walker since he is a developing player and would come at a reasonable price. Now the Falcons have lost two good players on their line and the Raiders have added a very underrated player. Congratulations to Vance Walker on the contract and I can’t wait to see him playing next year in the black and silver!
Now that we are deep into the NFL offseason, let’s go back and take a look at the Tech players who performed the best on the field last season. I believe the most informative and exciting way to do this is to make a Top 10 list, counting down from 10 to 1. I’ll post one player a day for the next ten weekdays, so make sure to keep up and share your opinions by commenting below. The first player we are going to talk about and the number ten player on this list is Vance Walker, a defensive tackle for the Atlanta Falcons.
Last season was Walker’s fourth with the Falcons after being drafted by them in the 7th round of the NFL Draft. Each year he has received more playing time, but last year was when he really took advantage of it. During the regular season he recorded 32 tackles, 3 sacks, and a forced fumble and showed the ability to generate pressure up the middle. He flashed again in the playoffs when he had a big sack on Russell Wilson, which came in the second half of the close game. Walker has really benefitted from excellent coaching and being in a successful DT rotation.
Walker has shown big improvement over the last two years so I highly doubt this was just a contract year performance. He will rise on this list next year if he can continue to consistently generate a pass rush and take over a starting spot for the Falcons*. Another year of consistency is all that separates him from becoming a very good DT in the NFL.
*Vance Walker is an unrestricted FA, but I expect the Falcons to resign him.
TJ Barnes was one of the two Georgia Tech players who received an invite to this years NFL Combine. By all accounts, he helped himself with his faster than expected 40 time and the rest of his performances. It certainly helps that he measured in at 6′ 6″ and almost 35″ arms. He has some upside, but let’s see exactly where he stands heading into Georgia Tech’s Pro Day on March 14th.
Here are the two videos I will be referencing during this scouting report. The first video is TJ Barnes’ performance against Florida State, who had a pretty good run-blocking offensive line this year. The second video is a compilation of his highlights from 2012. This video should be taken with a grain of salt, but it does show some nice traits of his that he can continue to improve on. Here they are.
Let’s take a look at what TJ has done well in his time at Tech and what should get him drafted. His massive size(6′ 6″ and 370 lbs) allows him to be a successful space eater and take on double teams. NFL teams love adding players on their D line who require a double team because they free up space and blockers for the other defenders in the front 7.
After seeing TJ run the 40 at the NFL Combine, it is clear that he is an athlete and has quick feet. In the first video at 1:07, he uses his quick feet to fend off a cut block by the offensive lineman and get into the backfield. Another example of his quickness is at :40 in the same video, where he splits the gap between the C and LG to knock the RB off his path and stop the play.
One of his best attributes is his ability to keep his eyes on the QB and knock passes down at the line of scrimmage. When successful defensive linemen can’t get to the passer, they keep their eyes up and try to swat passes away. The player who does this best in the NFL happens to be the reigning Defensive Player of the Year JJ Watt. If you go to :23 and 2:07 in the second video, Barnes shows he is able to time the passes and knock them down.
Successful DT’s in the NFL are able to move the pocket by providing push up the middle. Therefore, lower body strength is extremely important and they should know how to use it. TJ Barnes shows the tendency to get stood up at the line and frequently get pushed back. He doesn’t get low enough on the C and is unable to push the pocket. This is something that can be improved on with better coaching, but it can’t entirely be fixed. His height will make it hard for him to gain leverage, so he will need to improve on his lower body strength.
The other big issue I saw on tape was how easily he can be blocked out of plays. At 2:06 in the first video, Barnes gets absolutely manhandled by the LG, who moves him 10 yards out of the play. This again goes back to leverage at the line and improved lower body strength. He will have a very short career in the NFL if he doesn’t correct these issues in his game, even with the strengths mentioned above.
Barnes shows some very nice tendencies that are excellent compliments to a DT’s game, but he will need to improve his lower body strength and explosion to ever see an NFL field on Sundays. With that said, he is an above average athlete for his frame and has good quickness. Right now I see TJ as a late round pick in the NFL Draft. I can see a team like the Ravens, Patriots, or 49ers spending a 6th or 7th round pick on him to stash him on their practice squad for a season or two. He will need quite a bit of coaching, but those teams have Pro Bowl DT’s on their roster already and can afford to give him time to develop. He has good upside and that will eventually get him drafted.
Today is the day for all of the defensive lineman and linebackers to perform at the NFL Combine, and TJ Barnes certainly ran well. In his first 40 time, he ran a 5.22, which isn’t very fast, until you remember he is 6′ 6″ and 370 lbs. That is very impressive and he received some positive reactions from Mike Mayock and Rich Eisen. To put that run into perspective, the one Georgia DT who ran today, Kwame Geathers, ran a 5.4 40 while being ten pounds less than Barnes. That’s good news for Barnes, as teams looking for a big run stuffing NT may look at him as a late option in the draft. I’ll post some of Barnes’ other measurables later today since he’ll probably do almost everything, being a potential late round pick.