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.
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.
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.
I don't think Freeney's hometown discount would have been to the tune of $3m less than the $6M he wants. 2nd, I watched this Packers game and he showed more than what you gave him credit for. 2 plays before his matchup with fleener, he beat Justice on the inside virtually untouched with a spin and he also caught both justice and Allen on their heels a few times and was able to apply pressure on luck on the inside. Meanwhile freeney was getting beat 1 on 1 this game. Walden showed an ability to rush the passer from the standing position, which freeney can't do effectively. Also, your analysis of the Allen touchdown play is all wrong. As I watched the play (and please correct me if I'm wrong), the play develops as a lead run to the strong side. Walden isn't initially blocked, he's chipped and released as the motion back goes to the next level to take out the MLB. Walden's (and the rest of the defense) reads this play as run first and everyone is caught out of position. You can take any one defender on this play and make a case for them looking completely lost. What I'd like to know from you, Nate, is who would you rather the colts have gone for with the money (besides freeney) they were willing to give out for this position?
@bigcoryl83 1. I mentioned the beating of Justice in the piece.
2. I dispute that he got pressure inside on the double team. Please give me the time stamp of those plays. He showed almost no ability to rush from the standing position. There was another Packer who looked similar to Walden who blitzed a few times. Perhaps you misread his number.I counted Walden's total pressures/hits at five (same as PFF). One was unblocked, one was the Justice play, one was the Fleener play and two were minor hits after Luck had already released the ball because of pressure from other Packers.
3. On the TD, he misread the play action and let the TE go right by him. That's a bad read by him, not me. If he reads the TE, that's not a touchdown. You broke down the play correctly, but you wrongly excuse him for his terrible read. That's 100% on Walden. There's no reason to give him a pass.
4. I would literally rather had them go after any LB on the market before Walden. I believe him to be the worst possible option.
Dwight Freeney rumors: Free agent defender wants $6 million per year
Guess he wouldn't have been a 'cheaper' player than Walden. Sure we could have got the home town discount, but that is a lot of cash for a player on the wrong side of 30 who has shown injuries and scheme issues. Lets give Walden a chance. I think it was too much $'s, but maybe, just maybe, (why do I want to say naughty girls need love too?) Grigson knew what he was doing going younger and more athletic.
@cwjwl Freeney said he would have given the Colts a discount. They should have made an offer. If he had turned it down, this would be a different conversation.
@Nate Dunlevy If they didn't feel he fit what they are trying to do, it doesn't make sense to make an offer. Why fit a square peg in a round hole?
He's not a young player. He wasn't playing out of position in Green Bay. He wasn't in a bad scheme or was a bad fit.
He's just a mediocre football player who lacks the ability to win one on one matchups with a tight end.
Playing in Indy won't change that. There's no reason to think it would.
Freeney was a lot better than Walden last year and there's no reason to expect that change next year.
@Nate Dunlevy @paulcareyjr I can see the point if you say it 'could have been', or 'possibly will be' better than signing Walden, but we saw Freeney here last year and it wasn't impressive. We saw him in the 4-3 the year before and it wasn't impressive. We haven't seen Walden in this scheme yet, so we can't say anything definitively, just opinions.
@Nate Dunlevy @cwjwl Honestly they should not have offered him a deal, it would have been a waste even if it was a discount, but at the same time, they should have made a better decision than paying Walden that type of contract, making an better decision than jumping off a cliff is easy to do(Walden signing is not jumping off a cliff by the way), but jumping out of a one story building is not a good idea either.
The Colts just did not make a wise decision, but signing Freeney back would not have been smart either.
@cwjwl Because it makes more sense than signing a bad player. At least Freeney has discernible skills. Walden is just not very good.
I am hoping the best for the guy, not sure what he will be when he gets to the Colts, but what he was for the Packers does not justify his contract for me, that is my biggest problem, even if he ends up playing up to the contract it still was more than the Colts should have coughed up.
That being said, I definitely see us going OLB, S, or OL in the 3rd, and possibly trading up into the early 3rd if our guy is there.
I don't understand why majority compares him with Freeney if he is not going to play Freeney's position on the field.
I can understand comparing the compensation for the two but for that there are plenty of other players on the team that can be deemed either under or over compensated.
@codrutc Because he's still playing outside linebacker and will be one of the two primary pass rushing players (theoretically) on the team. He'll be dropping back in coverage more often than Freeney, but he still has to play the run and rush the passer like Freeney. It's not ideal but it's hardly an invalid comparison.
@codrutc Because he's replacing Freeney's productivity. They are moving Mathis to cover Freeney and bringing in Walden to cover Mathis.
If we compare him to Mathis, things look really bad.
Let's hope Grigson has another good draft to cover up over his (now evident) deficiency in free agency.
@thejoshbaker I say we wait to judge his free agency signings, we can analyze everything from the past, but until we see what a person does on our team and in our system we really don't have a good idea of how good a signing was, granted I think we overpaid for numerous amounts of players, but lets see what there play is like first.
I'm not an NFL GM, nor do I play one on TV. But I do read a fair amount, and everything I have seen from Bill Barnwell to PFF to the NFL network, seems to think the Colts greatly overpaid for Walden. (I've seen no one who has lauded this signing.)
Yet, I certainly don't consider Grigson a stupid man, so why did the Colts make the move? My best guess, is that Pagano likes Walden and thinks he can coach him up to fit well in his defensive system. (At least that is what I am going to let myself believe until proven otherwise.)
Who the heck are you? These guys scout tape for a living Are you a football guy? Freeney had 12 tackles last year. Ineffective. Not saying Waldren is awesome but he's going to play left side with Mathis moving to the right. He's low risk if he fails but he's better than what we had last year. Lets let him play before you pick him apart, of he's terrible ill help you but the guy hasn't taken a single snap as a colt so it's impossible to judge.
CA routinely reviews tape for potential signees or new players, be they pros or rookies we might take in the draft. Taking some time to review game tape of a controversial player's best game versus very familiar players is a no brainer.
Also Freeney had a total of 19 tackles in his last All-Pro year and almost never dropped in coverage, so tackle numbers clearly aren't the best method of judging players...pretty much ever. Freeney also had the disadvantage of having a high ankle sprain for the first half of the season. Kinda hard for a speed rusher to plant, turn, or move quickly with one of those. He turned it on more after he healed last season and ended the year fairly strong.
That said, he definitely wasn't worth what we willingly paid for him, but he was better than Walden.
Lots of people watch tape for a living. They are almost unanimous that Walden was a bad signing.
GMs make mistakes all the time.
I believe he will be less effective overall than Freeney at a greater price than Freeney would have been in 2013 (though cheaper than 2012, obviously).
He's taken many snaps in the NFL. "Snaps as a Colt" are not necessary to judge him. PLenty of tape on the guy. Most of it is bad.
@Nate Dunlevy Hmm, I'm not sure about less effective. How about just as ineffective as the 2012 Freeney?
I know people love him, but Dwight was a waste of space last year. It's really hard to say the Freeney was better than Walden was, in fact, I don't think you can. Stat wise he had four times more tackles, four times more passes defended, twice as many takeaways and two less sacks, all while being less of a pass rusher and starting 3 less games.
Freeney has a better AV, but if you know how AV is calculated, then you'll know that is based purely on starting more games.
@rogcohen Other Dlinemen grades:
GB: Raji 6.5, Pickett. 3.8, Worthy -11.4, Wilson -2.1, Neal 3.4
IND: Redding: -5.5, Matthews -4.1, Johnson -12.6, Moala -1.1, Nevis 1.2
So the DL for Indy were basically insanely bad.
@rogcohen I'm not sure the claim of bias would be particuarly merited. I think it's more likely that the Colts didn't use Freeney in a way to control the run.
1. Freeney wasn't close to the worst staring Colt. Antonio Johnson, Redding, Hughes, Vaughn, Zibby were all way worse. He was among the better Indy starters. Granted, that's not saying much if anything.
2. Freeney was worse at run stop %. Walden was ranked 6th of 17 players with at least 60% of snaps at OLB. He didn't get many tackles, but a high percentage of the ones he did were stops. Not unlike Freeney who was 6 for 7.
Walden's negative run grade is cumulative, so more snaps obviously leads to a worse overall grade. Additionally, run stop % isn't the be all and end all of run production stats.
What I saw on tape was a player capable of being disruptive if no one blocked him playing in a scheme where he was often blitzed and unblocked. When accounted for, he was drive completely out of plays and well off the ball.
My suspicion is that Walden's run stop score was scheme driven (as in the photo above of an unblocked run stop) rather than any actual run-stopping talent.
What his run stop score as a function of his low tackles could indicate is that he didn't make many plays, but when he did, it was because the offense screwed up and he took advantage for a stop.
@Nate Dunlevy I'm just not seeing it. I guess my feeling is that since PFF grades are just a guy watching the play and giving it a grade, they favor someone like Freeney and give him the benefit of the doubt, so on a certain play Freeney would get say a zero versus a -0.5 for Walden. From their own numbers, it looks like Freeney was the third worst run stop percentage player in the league last year, and Walden wasn't on that list. I didn't watch Walden play last year, and I'm willing to believe he's awful. But I think Freeney could easily have been the worst starting Colt last year.
Actually, I'd be really interested if you could post the PFF grades for the starting D-lineman for both teams if you have the time.
@Nate Dunlevy If you have access to the PFF grades, can you tell me Walden's Run Stop Percentage for 2012?
@steve That's fine, but in my book he's had years in the league to prove himself.
He's been an NFL player for a long time. He's not a rookie. He's a vet.
The standard is different. He played on a good team with good coaches.
He just played poorly.
@Nate Dunlevy @rogcohen There are so a lot of football want to be's. Talklng heads are a done a dozen. What did Bill To in say about Mel Kiper? He watches a lot of tape but he doesn't do game planning... He's just a talking head who found a niche. Don't give me stats, they are misleading. You can't quantify a football players with pure numbers. I'm just saying let the guy play before you call him a mistake. If he stinks in our system I'll be first to be critical, but I believe in innocent until proven a bad signing. People said Freeney was a bad pick at #11. I will say this... Hughes is a flop and Donald Brown is not worth a roster spot, but they've had years to prove themselves. I'm willing to go e Walden all the chance in the world until he proves otherwise.
@rogcohen AV has nothing to do with anything. PFF grades had Walden and Freeney at -1.4 and Walden at -30.4
So by their reckoning (which has flaws), Walden was a complete trainwreck.
Walden played 120 more snaps than Freeney. That would be a point in his favor, I guess. He was more durable.
However, that also accounts for some of his lead in raw stat totals.
I'm still trying to make sense of this deal. I think I would be fine with Walden if he looked like an average OLB capable of offering a little bit of everything. However, most signs point to a guy who is not well-suited to do anything and is inconsistent from game to game and from season to season.
Furthermore, are the Colts really expecting to do well with Mathis as the only real pass-rusher? What about an interior D-lineman who can get after the QB? Is he coming in the draft because I'm not sure anyone on the roster is capable of offering that? I hope my concerns are put to rest once the season starts and Grigson turns out to be a genius.
A splash of reality. Lets hope you're missing what Grigs saw. But, like you said, it's a pretty fair risk.
Hmm, I guess the only positive I can come up with is that he can't be any worse than Freeney and he costs 15 mil less.
@rogcohen Freeney has had trouble staying healthy of late, and it seemed to be common knowledge he didn't fit our system last year. I agree with rogcohen, Walden can't be much worse than Freeney looked last year, oh, and the year before. Don't misread, I love the guy and what he brought to the Colts for many years. HOFer in my opinion.
Has Freeney's value at $5.9 million, ahead of anyone else on the list, but if you read it, he's a worse pass rusher and run defender than most players on there (I know a lot are 4-3, but they're the one's doing the comparison).
I checked out how they make their grades. It's very interesting, sounds highly subjective, and I'm sure is actually more of a science than they make it sound. Still, it is hard to imagine a more ineffectual football player than Freeney last year.
@rogcohen He'll be worse than Freeney. Cheaper. But worse.
@Nate Dunlevy Replied above, but essentially, he can't be worse than Freeney. Freeney was awful against the run, and essentially had one purpose, to rush the passer, and he was awful at that as well. Freeney didn't have a single multi-sack game last year, in fact he only had three multi-tackle games! Seriously, only managed more than one tackle in three out of 14 games (13 starts).
This is not to say he'll be awful this year as he has obviously been slowed down by injuries, but I think age is playing a large part in his decline as well. For that reason, I think Walden next year is a better player than Freeney next year.
@rogcohen PFF says he was not only worse, but dramatically worse. Freeney was -4.9 against run. Walden -6.8. Walden was a cataclysm in the pass rush (which the tape shows btw). His only value was in coverage.
After watching him five times and studying him in this game, I'd say they are right on the money.
Walden was dramatically worse last year, and would have to drastically improve to even get to Freeney's level.
@rogcohen I don't think you can compare the two. Freeney was a singular-use pass-rusher. A damn good one. That's why his contracts were signed. Walden is supposed to be a jack-of-all-trades OLB. Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to have any real strength and in some cases is poorly suited to his job. At this point, it seems that "average" is the best we can hope for in his case.
I don't have a real issue with moving on from Freeney...other than sentimental. He was overpaid last season and is probably not going to return to his old form due to injuries. However, I wish the Colts would have replaced him with another pass-rusher.
Doesn't sound promising! Also I don't see an upgrade coming through the draft, pass rush is a major concern this year.
By the way, am I right in thinking that the only benefit of cutting him next offseason would be to free up a roster space? If he's going to account for roughly the same cap space regardless, surely its worth keeping him through 2014 also?