We've seen how DeMarcus Walker used his quickness, understanding of leverage, and violent hands to flourish as a versatile pass-rusher in college. But he's no longer at Florida St.—he's a Denver Bronco facing NFL competition. Will his trump cards still play?
The lack of usage in his first three years would suggest they do not. But in his limited NFL reps, Walker's game has looked remarkably similar to what he put on tape in college. Let's take a look at how each of Walker's moves has translated, starting with his signature swim.
Here's Walker in his rookie season, lined up over RG.
Look familiar? It's a quintessential example of Walker's go-to arm-over move. Stutter step fake to the B gap (between LG and LT), then hit the swim and explode through the A gap (between LG and C) for a sack. Walker put this on tape in the first game where he played more than ten snaps. An emphatic statement in his first meaningful NFL action that his signature move works at the next level.
Here's another example of Walker beating a guard with the swim, this time in the 2019 preseason. Watch for the white flash of Walker's right hand coming over the top of the guard, again allowing him to shoot the A gap.
There's no sack but it's an excellent rep for Walker. He clearly beats the guard, and from the way his right side twists after getting through the line it looks like he's held, too. His technique remains impressive and effective, and all the elements of his patented swim are present in both clips—attack outside, swat the inside shoulder, swim through.
Here's a third example, this time from the regular season against Gardner Minshew II and the Jaguars (lined up over RG).
On this play he locks up with the RG before simultaneously shoving with his left hand and swimming with his right. It allows him to cleanly shed no. 60 and put Minshew on his back. To illustrate that Walker is legitimately excellent at this move, here's Derek Wolfe trying the same thing against the same guard earlier in the game.
It doesn't work because Wolfe tries swimming in the same direction he's already going. This is in contrast to Walker, who gets the guard moving left and then swims back to the right. For Wolfe to make the move work, he would have had to swim back to the A gap (between RG and C). But he wasn't set up to do that—his right arm would've had to be on the guard's right shoulder to gain leverage for the arm-over. Essentially, this isn't Wolfe's game. He wins in other ways, and doesn't execute this move as well as Walker.
It's clear Walker can make the swim work in the NFL. Let's take a look at his swipe.
Recall that the swipe is all about keeping a lineman's hands off the body. If he can't touch you, he can't stop you.
In the above clip Walker (lined up over LG) punches the lineman's left arm down and off his body as he attacks that same side. It completely defeats the guard's leverage and forces him to open up his stance, providing a lane into the backfield. QB Josh Rosen gets the ball away but Walker applies heavy pressure and clearly wins the rep.
Here's another example of the swipe, this time lined up over LG.
Here, he again swipes the guard's hands away. But this time as he advances upfield he faces a second lineman. No problem though—Walker throws his hands away too. Notice how the RT ends up completely turned around from Walker's forceful shove. Again, no sack but it's another nice rep that illustrates how Walker's hand-fighting technique can work in the NFL.
Lastly, the rip. In college, Walker used the rip on the edge—recall how it allowed him to turn the corner despite lacking top end speed. As a Bronco, Walker simply hasn't lined up as a defensive end. Nearly all of his reps have come as a 2- or 3-technique DT. Here he is using a sweet long-arm to dip-and-rip combo from that alignment (against LG).
(You may also notice no. 92 Zach Kerr successfully putting a swim move on the RG, doing what Wolfe didn't by swimming against the lineman's momentum). While this is a nice move from Walker, it's the only example I could find of him even attempting a rip. This makes sense considering he used the rip primarily as an outside rusher in college but has not had the chance to rush from that alignment as a pro.
Because of the way the Broncos have used him we simply don't have enough information to conclude whether Walker's rip works in the NFL. I'm curious whether he's has had a chance to test his skills on the edge in practice though. Have coaches tried him there but determined he can't get to the QB? Or have they just decided he's an interior player and not given him the chance? If I were a reporter these are the types of questions I'd be interested in hearing about from Walker and the coaching staff.
Is Walker an NFL Pass-Rusher?
Of his three core moves, we can confidently say two have translated. His swim move is still deadly, and he can still clear opposing linemen's hands with a violent swipe. The jury is out on his rip move, but Walker is a technical player and it feels safe to assume he at least hasn't forgotten how to use it. Plus, we've seen him use a variant of the rip combined with a long-arm as an interior rusher—a sweet combo he never put on tape in college.
Essentially, the moves that Walker showed in college appear to still be effective in the pros, and the traits that made Walker a second round pick continue to show up as well—quickness, an understanding of leverage, and skilled, forceful hands. When on the field he has looked just like the player that the Broncos drafted. Even his effort and hustle have carried over! (Please ignore the bubotuber on the left-hand side of the screen).
That's your interior lineman getting in on a tackle from his backside position 40 YARDS DOWN THE FIELD.
So what went wrong with DeMarcus Walker in the NFL? I would argue that as far as his pass-rush game goes: nothing. The sample size is small, but DeMarcus Walker has been exactly what you could have expected based on his college tape. That should warrant more playing time. Not less.