We continue our series on IDP Fantasy players that are primed for breakouts in 2022. In previous articles, we discussed rookies Zaven Collins and Jamin Davis, who are players with 1st round draft capital projected for starting roles going into their 2nd seasons. This article will profile a player going into his 3rd season, who was a day 3 pick and is projected for a starting role going into 2022. That player is Atlanta Falcons Linebacker Mykal Walker. We will discuss Walker and some factors that could lead to his fantasy stock skyrocketing in 2022. This series was written in 2022 by Brandon Jackson, he is no longer contributing to Gridiron Ratings but should be considered the credited analyst for this piece.
You may not know who Mykal Walker is unless you’re a fan of the Atlanta Falcons or an IDP Dynasty owner. Walker was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the 4th round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Walker was seldomly used in his first two NFL seasons. The Falcons primarily used him on special teams and occasionally in nickel packages to defend against the pass. Walker didn’t have a clear path to playing time in his first two seasons considering his standing on the team’s depth chart. Walker was playing behind more established veterans such as Deion Jones, Foyesade Oluokun, and DeVondre Campbell.
Mykal Walker also had to overcome a defensive scheme change due to the Falcons hiring new GM Terry Fontenot and new HC Arthur Smith this season. The Falcons switched from a traditional 4-3 scheme to a 3-4 scheme under new defensive coordinator Dean Pees. It’s notable that Walker’s attributes profile him more as an OLB in a 4-3 scheme. The scheme change likely led to Walker’s playing time decreasing in his 2nd season as he played on only 193 snaps in 17 games this past season. Walker played on 385 snaps during his rookie year. So why are we optimistic about Walker in 2022?
By the numbers
Looking at advanced metrics Mykal Walker performed well in his limited playing time. During Walker’s rookie season he recorded an impressive missed tackle percentage of only 4.3%. Walker has also shown well in pass coverage, recording a 77. 6% passer rating when targeted this season per Pro Football Reference. In fact, Walker flashed his upside in coverage this season. In week 14 Walker intercepted Panthers QB Cam Newton and returned it for a 66 yard touchdown that led to a Falcons victory. It’s notable that Walker held up well in one of his starts this season against the Jacksonville Jaguars in week 12. Walker recorded 12 combined tackles and 1 pass defended in that game.
Salary Cap issues
The Atlanta Falcons are projected to be over the NFL’s salary cap by approximately $5 million this off-season. The Falcons also don’t have much flexibility to clear much salary cap space before the free agency period. Due to their salary cap restrictions, the team is unlikely to re-sign Linebacker Foyesade Oluokun. Oluokun just came off the best season of his career where he led the league in tackles with 192 combined stops. Oluokun will be a hot commodity on the free agent market and likely out of the Falcons price range.
With Oluokun likely on his way out of Atlanta, this leaves an opportunity for Mykal Walker as the next man up. In fact, several of the team’s beat reporters are anticipating Walker to replace Oluokun in the starting lineup next season. Falcons beat reporter Tori McElhaney projected Deion Jones and Mykal Walker as the team’s starting Linebackers next season in her off-season breakdown of the Linebackers.
Falcons GM Terry Fontenot advised the media in his off-season press conference that player development will be a priority. Fontenot advised that the team’s plan is to focus on improving from within. Fontenot said this while aware of the team’s salary cap restrictions. With their salary cap issues and focus on player development, I wouldn’t expect the Falcons to sign any notable free agent Linebackers. Instead, I would expect that the team will focus on developing Mykal Walker who is under a cheap rookie contract for the next two seasons.
There’s a chance that the Falcons won’t invest high draft capital on an inside linebacker considering they have more pressing needs at other positions. The Falcons have already stated that acquiring Pass rushing help is their #1 priority. The Falcons had the least amount of sacks this past season with only 18. Falcons GM Terry Fontenot stated this issue played a huge factor in the defense’s inability to get off the field on 3rd downs and their defense playing a large amount of snaps. The team is also likely to draft a WR highly considering that All Pro WR Calvin Ridley is currently away from the team and rumored to have expressed a demand to be traded. The team also needs to address depth at CB and OL.
Fantasy football sleeper?
With a number of factors working in his favor, Mykal Walker appears to be headed towards a starting role and major playing time next season. IDP fantasy football gamers might want to take note of this under the radar player before their drafts. There’s a chance that Walker could lead the Falcons in tackles and be their most productive IDP player next season. Foyesade Oluokun will likely be playing elsewhere and Deion Jones performed at a disappointing level this past season. Walker is primed for a breakout season in 2022. Don’t forget about Mykal Walker during your IDP fantasy football drafts next season.