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Free Agency Review: Erik Walden Versus the Colts

Welcome to the first installment of a semi-regular series looking at the free agent pickups by the Indianapolis Colts.

This series will focus on how the players played against Indianapolis.

Erik Walden, formerly of the Green Bay Packers, was the recipient of the most controversial free agent deal given by the team.

Walden was highly criticized by the scouting/analytics site Pro Football Focus, who named the signing the worst of the year.

Interestingly enough, his best game of the year by PFF standards came against Indianapolis. He registered three hurries, and the only pass defended awarded to him by PFF last year. He also had two tackles and an assist. T

Here's what the tape tells us about Walden's ability.

Pass Rush Skill

Walden got good pressure on Andrew Luck on three occasions.

While he was repeatedly stoned by Dwayne Allen, Walden did get one matchup on Coby Fleener, who pushed him wide. Unluckily for Fleener, Luck rolled right into the path of Walden and had to throw the ball away.

This was Walden's best move of the day.

Walden also came free on a blitz and hit Luck. He was unblocked. The pressure had more to do with the blitz design than anything Walden did. The Colts simply blew the assignment.

Finally, he got pressure when matched up against Winston Justice on one play.

On all other pass rushes, Walden was a non-factor. He plays high and was easily brushed aside by Allen. Allen was the player most often responsible for blocking Walden one-on-one. He had no trouble with him at all and dominated the matchup.

You can barely see Allen behind Justice driving Walden back. Justice isn't actually doubling Walden, he just completely missed his block and is looking for something to do.

 

Run Stopping Skill

If the Colts are looking for someone to "set the edge", they had better keep looking.

Here's what it looks like when Walden has to "set the edge":

Walden gets driven hard inside by Allen and Don Brown runs right around the corner for a big gain. Walden was repeatedly obliterated by Allen.

He did make one nice stop in the run game for a short gain in the red zone. Like one of his best pressures, it came because no one blocked him.

Walden has enough speed and physical presence that when the scheme frees him up, he can make a play. He's not talentless and has good size and acceleration. However, he's easily blocked by competent blockers and doesn't play with much strength.

His overall impact in the running game was non-existent other than this one key tackle. He doesn't influence plays unless he's left completely alone. He's most frequently blocked by tight ends who abuse him.

 

Coverage Skill

Walden was much more natural and fluid in coverage than Dwight Freeney and had his best moment of the game in coverage.
 

He made a huge play on third down to blow up a receiver at the goal line, separating him from the ball. He showed excellent ability to read the play and big-hit capacity. The picture isn't the best, but you can see Walden arrive just as the ball does, and he actually dislodges it from the wideout.

He also made one of his worst plays of the day in coverage, blowing an assignment on Allen, who waltzed into the end zone for a touchdown, leaving Walden scratching his head in confusion.

Walden got initially blocked and then Allen released downfield. Walden hesitated, then took off trying to catch up, but the ball was in the air.

Walden was deployed in zone coverage and alternated between fantastic, disciplined plays and looking totally lost. The first play of the game, the Colts successfully ran Reggie Wayne in behind Walden in the zone who was flummoxed. Then later in the drive he had perfect zone coverage against Donnie Avery.

Granting that this was easily Walden's best game of the year, and he had a hand in some plays, it's still mystifying what the Colts saw in him. At best he looks like a backup, which is essentially what he was for Green Bay. If indeed the Indianapolis game was his best effort of the year, Walden's 2012 was a rough season.

Walden isn't the worst player in football, but he does wind up looking lost far too often. At the risk of sounding overly pejorative, the player he reminds me of the most is former offensive tackle Tony Ugoh. Ugoh was extremely talented, but would have devastating brain-locks and would often play soft.

Watching Walden lose games of paddy-cake to Allen and inexplicably blow coverages offset the few plays where he showed off explosiveness and big-hit ability. Given that he's not a young player and is unlikely to develop given his current age, it certainly looks like the Colts drastically overpaid for a guy whose ceiling is as a second-string player on a good defense.

The best case scenario for Walden is that he plays a bit like Moise Fokou. Despite the lapses, he looked better in coverage than he did as a pass rusher or run stopper. He doesn't appear to have any significant abilities in either of those areas despite his size and speed. If the Colts are lucky, they'll find a player in the draft who will beat him out. They can live with him as an over-paid backup, but not as a starter.

Whatever modest gains in coverage the Colts may gain from playing Walden, there's little doubt he's a drastically inferior player to even a hobbled Dwight Freeney. Indianapolis has gone backwards at OLB. Walden is not a player that has to be seriously accounted for by opposing defenses.

The good news for Indy is that to cut him in 2014 would only cost the team $500,000 more against the cap than keeping him. By 2015, they'll be able to walk away from his deal with little residual pain.

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