Denver Broncos unsung heroes: dl Vance Walker


Oct 4, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos defensive end Vance Walker (96) at the line of scrimmage in the first quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

This week’s unsung hero has made a great contribution to the defense this season and could very well find himself in a situation to compete for a starting job next year if Derek Wolfe and/or Malik Jackson leave in Free Agency after this season.

As a matter of fact, this player got the starting job the first four games of the season in place of the suspended Wolfe. Like many other “unsung heroes”, this guy may not put up the gaudiest numbers on the stat sheet, but his presence on the team holds a lot of weight.

He can play all three defensive line positions, has started over 30 games in his NFL career and is playing for a third AFC West team in his career. Folks, let’s take a closer look at this week’s unsung hero, Defensive Lineman Vance Walker.

Name: Vance Walker

Size: 6’2, 305 lbs

Age: 28

College: Georgia Tech

7th round pick of the Atlanta Falcons in the 2009 NFL Draft

2015 Stats: Has appeared in all nine games(4 starts), 23 tackles

Career Stats: 32 career starts, 161 tackles, 10 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and two pass deflections

The Story: Vance Walker’s story can best be summarized as your typical late round draft pick that did whatever it took to make it in the NFL. As a 7th round pick, Walker was facing an uphill climb to make the Falcons talented 53 man roster. Like many late round and undrafted acquisitions, Walker was willing to make whatever adjustment it took to make a lasting NFL impression.

After making the Falcons 53-man roster his rookie year, he went on to play all four years of his rookie contract with Atlanta. In that time, he started eleven games and recorded 5 sacks.  At the conclusion of the 2012 season, Walker left Atlanta to sign a one year deal with the Oakland Raiders.

His first stint in the AFC West appeared to be a successful one, as he recorded the best statistical season up to this point in his career (15 starts, 40 tackles and 3 sacks).

After his lone season with the Raiders, he re-entered the free agency market where he ended up signing a three year deal with the rival Kansas City Chiefs.  What happened next in his NFL career has left me scratching my head on this unsung hero.

Despite being a season long starter and one of the most productive members of an otherwise terrible defense, he was not re-signed by the Raiders. Why?

Granted, Kansas City may have offered more money or the idea of playing for a playoff caliber team may have been appealing, but how does Oakland not make a stronger effort to retain him? When he joined the Chiefs, Walker suddenly found himself buried on the depth chart.

For a guy that was coming off of a career season and was handsomely rewarded with a multi-year contract, how was he pushed into the background with the Chiefs?

Even though KC has a great amount of talent in  their defensive front seven (Dontari Poe and Mike DeVito being the main players along their defensive line), I find it hard to believe Walker’s play was that poor last season.  Regardless of the reasoning for his Chief slump, they may have done him a favor by releasing him this past off-season.

To be a great team, your leaders have to be able to identify talent and be able to give them a chance before anyone else can.  In Walker’s case, he just proved to be another underrated, but highly respected acquisition of John Elway’s.

Two years removed from his best season as a pro, Walker was a street free agent with little prospects of regaining a starting job in the NFL.  Elway saw a player that not only flashed starting talent, but showed the versatility necessary to fit in the Broncos 3-4 scheme.

At 6’2 and 305 lbs, Walker’s size and experience enables him to play all three positions along the defensive line. For many people, a 305 pound player doesn’t sound like a natural fit to play Nose Tackle.  Fortunately for Walker, Elway saw a player that fit the mold of an ideal defensive lineman for a Wade Phillips led defense.

In a stark contrast from the Del Rio scheme that used pot roast sized defensive lineman (320+ lbs), Phillips prefers slimmer but more explosive players to line up against opposing offensive lines.  By joining his third AFC West team in as many years, Walker finally found a place that he can call home.

Due to Derek Wolfe’s suspension for the first four games of the 2015 season, it was Walker’s experience that gave him the starting job over young upstarts like Kenny Anunike/Darius Kilgo and well known pass rushing talent in Antonio Smith.

In his four starts, he may not have put up prolific individual numbers, but he was a starter on the league’s leading defense in overall defense and takeaways.  Anybody that contributed to that great statistical start cannot be overlooked, especially someone who was one of the 11 starters during that time.

Even though Derek Wolfe has since resumed his starting role(and has looked great in the process), Walker is mixed heavily into the defensive line rotation and will be an important cog on the defense going forward.  Despite filling for Wolfe to start the season, Walker may make his greatest contribution in 2016.

With fellow Defensive Ends Derek Wolfe, Malik Jackson and Antonio Smith scheduled to be free agents after this season, it’s hard to imagine the Broncos being able to retain all three.

Next: Brock Osweiler upgrades playmakers

Walker will have one year left on a two year, four million dollar deal that he signed this last off-season.  Two million dollars may not be a lot of money in the grand scheme of things, but it certainly signals that the Broncos brass like what they saw out of him and think he can be a full time starter.

Suffice to say, a combination of experience, versatility and a note worth 2016 salary will certainly play a role in Vance Walker’s future with the Broncos.  It’s likely that we’ll only be able to re-sign one of those three Defensive Ends heading into free agency, so Walker should find himself with an inside track for one of the starting spots along the defensive line. What he does from there, is up to him.