So far in free agency, Ryan Poles has added just one player to help address the Bears defensive line.
After making moves to acquire linebackers T.J. Edwards and Tremaine Edmunds and offensive lineman Nate Davis, the Bears general manager went out on Monday night and signed former Titans defensive lineman DeMarcus Walker to a three-year, $21 million contract.
Walker was drafted in the second round (No. 51 overall) by the Denver Broncos out of Florida State University in 2017. In four seasons with the Broncos, he totaled just 51 tackles, 10.5 sacks and one forced fumble. He then went on to play for the Texans in 2021 before landing with the Titans last season.
Under coach Mike Vrabel, Walker had his best statistical season in 2022. He finished with a career-high 32 total tackles and seven sacks while playing all over the Titans defensive line.
Let’s take a look at how Walker can make an impact for the Bears defense in 2023.
DeMarcus Walker’s Strengths
The first area of Walker’s game that should help out the Bears is his versatility to play inside as a 3-tech and on the outside as a defensive end. The 6-foot-4, 280-pound defensive lineman registered each of his seven sacks while playing inside.
Against the Houston Texans in Week 8 last season — which was Walker’s highest-graded game according to Pro Football Focus, he showed off his ability to get to the quarterback.
On a first-and-10 late in the fourth quarter, Walker lined up on the inside shoulder of the right tackle. At the snap, he went up field and the right guard had to slide over to block him. Walker used his patented swim move to get past the guard and then pushed off of the center to direct him to the quarterback to help make the sack for a 9-yard loss.
Another area of his game that should resonate with coach Matt Eberflus is the effort he is capable of playing with throughout a game. For example, look at how much Walker had to work to get this sack against Justin Herbert in the Week 15 matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers. His play strength on this play, and others, also shows up consistently on tape.
The motor that he plays with isn’t just displayed when he is rushing the quarterback. Here is a good example in that Week 8 matchup against the Texans. Walker lined up against the right guard and after he saw the screen pass to his left, he immediately pursued the ball carrier. Walker fought through a block and traveled a good distance to tackle the running back five yards down the field.
This is teaching tape for Eberflus’ “H.I.T.S” principle and just one of the strengths of Walker’s game.
DeMarcus Walker’s Weaknesses
While watching the Titans Week 13 matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles, I kept asking myself, “Where is DeMarcus Walker?” Despite having a career year in terms of production, he still only played 426 defensive snaps the entire season.
And even when Walker was on the field in that game against the Eagles, he didn’t create much an impact for a majority of his snaps. Look at the effort on this play that resulted in a 40-yard touchdown to A.J. Brown. Walker lined up one on one against the left guard, and he didn’t appear to have much of a game plan for his rush as Jalen Hurts surveyed the field to find his go-to receiver.
A majority of his 19 snaps against Philadelphia — which was his worst-rated game as a pass rusher — looked like the rep above. Also, outside of the last defensive drive of the game in the Week 8 matchup with Houston, Walker didn’t have a tackle and felt like a ghost.
And for a player who will be entering his seventh year in the NFL, I would’ve liked to have seen more of a variety of pass-rush moves. For now, his go-tos are his swim move and bull rush — and he excels utilizing both throughout a game.
Walker fits an obvious need for a Bears defense that finished dead last in sacks (20) a season ago. His versatility and motor should be a good addition to a Bears defensive line room that features Trevis Gipson, Dominique Robinson and Justin Jones.
However, he was only the field for defensive snaps 36.5 percent of the time — which was fifth among Titans defensive linemen. In those limited reps as well, there were too many plays where Walker simply went overlooked.
Last season, the Bears signed Al-Quadin Muhammad after he was coming off a career year in Indianapolis with his 48 total tackles, six sacks and 13 quarterback hits. And he severely disappointed in his one season in Chicago: 29 total tackles, one sack and three quarterback hits.
I think Walker can be a more productive player, especially if given a bigger role on the defense. Regardless, though, Poles needs to continue focusing on adding top-end talent to add to the defensive line room.