Darrin Walls, a 6-0 190 pound 24-year old, is a guy Jets fans already got a brief look at last season. Added to the active roster on 22 November 2012, Walls played in six games, including three where he saw action on defense at the end of the season. However, we haven't extensively scouted him for BGA yet, since he kind of slipped through the net by virtue of being added to the roster at a stage of the season where there was a lot going on. Walls is one of several young defensive backs with good potential on the Jets roster so he has his work cut out in terms of standing out in a crowd.
After the jump, I look in detail at footage from Darrin's first two seasons in the league to evaluate some of his strengths and weaknesses.
Who is Darrin Walls?
Walls attended Notre Dame where he put together a solid career but went undrafted despite running a 4.42 forty at his Pro Day and putting together some other pretty impressive workout numbers. He was picked up by the Atlanta Falcons and stayed on their active roster throughout the 2011 season, appearing in five games, and returned to the team in 2012. A leg injury in August saw them release him with a six-week injury settlement, which meant they couldn't re-sign him until after the six weeks had expired (which reportedly they had every intention of doing) and the Jets picked him up and added him to their practice squad in late September.
As we recently reported, Walls received an ERFA tender and signed this recently so is back in the fold for the 2013 season, where he'll likely be competing for time with the likes of Donnie Fletcher, Aaron Berry and Royce Adams.
Let's look at his numbers from his career so far:
Six games where he saw action on defense
Six tackles (three on special teams)
Two missed tackles (one on special teams)
Coverage numbers: 4-for-11, 75 yards, one TD, one INT and two passes defensed
Completion percentage: 36.4%
Yards per attempt: 6.8
QB rating: 53.2
One penalty (holding)
2012 Regular Season
As noted, we've already had a decent look at Walls during the last few weeks of last season. Let's recap some of the comments on him from the weekly BGA reviews:
Week 14 - at Jacksonville
Darrin Walls saw his first action of the year on defense. He replaced the injured Cromartie, but then did get back into the game once Cromartie made his return. All in all, he was in for eight snaps and thrown at once with the receiver dropping a wide throw.
Week 16 - v San Diego
Ellis Lankster suffered a head injury early on and this meant that Darrin Walls was the third cornerback. Walls was activated from the practice squad a couple of weeks ago. He didn’t do a bad job, other than when he was called for holding on third down. You couldn’t tell from the TV footage whether or not that was a good call, because if there was a hold, it happened off-screen. Walls dropped an interception in the first half and broke up a pass in the fourth quarter, only for Wilson’s penalty on the same play to render that moot. He was also in good position on one other target ... Walls only played one snap in the slot. With Lankster out, Wilson reverted to his old slot role when the Jets had three cornerbacks in the game (20 snaps).
Week 17 - at Buffalo
[Stevie Johnson's] biggest catch was a 37-yarder over Darrin Walls. Walls was actually in good position on that completion to Johnson, but was slightly off balance so he couldn’t jump up to contest the ball. He was in good position on another deep ball and showed a good ability to help out in run support too.
It's worth noting that - despite his otherwise impressive workout numbers - Walls' vertical leap was only 28.5 inches, which is poor for a cornerback. Maybe that hurt him on the Johnson completion.
2011 Regular Season
Walls appeared in five games for the Falcons at the end of the 2011 season, featuring on defense in two. He only played a total of 17 snaps, all in garbage time at the end of blowouts, but we did get to see him involved in the action on those plays.
Week 15 - v Jacksonville
Walls gave up three catches for 38 yards on five targets in this game. Since it was the end of the game, he was playing off his man most of the time. Initially, the receiver stopped on a dime to catch a short pass on the outside and Walls closed well, only to miss the tackle and allow the first down. He would later give up a touchdown on this play. As you can see, he tried to play press coverage, but missed the jam at the line and allowed the receiver to get a step on his inside shoulder. The other catch he gave up was an easy eight yard gain on an out pattern that Walls was basically conceding in the prevent defense. He closed to push the receiver out of bounds. There were also some positive moments though. On another play where he was playing press coverage, he didn't attempt to make contract at the line, instead running with the receiver and forcing a throw away. Most impressively of all, he showed tremendous anticipation and closing speed to jump a route on a throw to the outside. Unfortunately, he dropped what would have been a certain pick-six, even though he had both hands on the ball.
Week 17 - v Tampa Bay
In this game, Walls was only targeted once and recorded his first career interception. That play was a perfectly executed trap coverage. Walls played off his man, who broke off his route only for the strong safety to drop off to the outside and tip the ball into the air. Walls picked it off and returned it 20 yards. The only real negative from that game was a play where the quarterback scrambled and Walls was blocked out of the play.
Walls also contributed on special teams in 2011, making three tackles. One was a terrific open field tackle at the 15 in Houston. He also assisted on a tackle at the 20 in Carolina and had a special teams tackle in the wild card game against the Giants.
To get a bigger sample size on what Walls can do, let's look at his preseason contributions. One thing that stood out was how many positive comments about his potential and future with the team the announcers were making or relaying from other sources.
In week one against Miami, Walls made an instant impact with four special teams tackles, showing an excellent ability to get downfield before anyone else. On the negative side, he was the first man down and got blocked out of the play on one punt return that went for a 75-yard touchdown. However, he correcly maintained his lane and it was really the fault of the next man down who whiffed on his tackle attempt. Walls made a great play in coverage staying with his man in perfect position with inside technique on a throw down the seam, tipping the ball up into the air where it was intercepted by his teammate. The following week in Jacksonville, he gave up three catches for 26 yards, but none of them went for a first down and he did a good job of closing on the underneath routes. In the final preseason game, he made a good tackle on third and ten to force a punt, against closing well on an underneath route. He also assisted on a tackle near the line of scrimmage, coming fast off the edge.
Walls also contributed in the first couple of games of preseason last year (still with Atlanta) before his leg injury cut that short.
He got off to a nice start in the opener against the Ravens, again displaying his closing speed to make a third down tackle short of the marker and to arrive with perfect timing to break up a pass. Against the Bengals the following week, he again did a good job of keeping some underneath completions to short gains, although he didn't get his head turned around on one throw to the end zone and ended up getting called for pass interference. In this game, he actually made a nice impact in the running game, coming off the edge well to get in on a couple of tackles off the edge. However, they did exploit this on one play and he got caught inside on an end-around.
While there is limited pro footage available on Walls, what I saw was enough to identify some definite strengths. His closing speed and reactions are outstanding and he also has pretty good timing. Where he perhaps needs to improve is in terms of getting his head turned and being more physical at the line, although a lot of his work was in prevent situations, so this might be something he's more capable of than he showed.
Walls would appear to be more suited to a role on the outside than in the slot - just six of his 99 snaps in the NFL were as a slot corner. One other consideration could be a move to safety. While he obviously has pretty good natural cornerback skills, there's a bit of a logjam there at the moment for the Jets and his ability to keep things in front of him and react to cover ground in a short space of time would seem to lend itself to a sub-package deep safety role.
His tackling seems to be pretty secure, although he needs to be careful about overpursuing when playing the run. He definitely showed an ability to come up and help out in run support from what I saw though. He also made good special teams contributions for the most part, so the Jets should not necessarily feel compelled to keep a core special teamer with inferior defensive abilities on the team in his place.
I liked what I saw from Walls and I believe he has a solid NFL future, even if he can't make the Jets roster over the Summer. While the Jets' cornerback situation might currently be up in the air in terms of the starters, it's good to know they have a couple of depth options that ensure the drop-off won't be too steep if there are injuries. It may even give them the flexibility to try and convert one or more of their depth corners to a part-time safety role as they did with Dwight Lowery and Marquice Cole in the past.
Until the Jets make some more signings, I'm going to continue to look at some of the long-shot sleepers at the bottom of the roster. Next up will be Jaiquawn Jarrett.