The great thing about the NFL is that there are so many positions that every year, there is almost always at least one player who has a breakout year on every team, no matter how good or bad the team is. This is one part in a 32 part segment detailing one potential breakout player (rookies don’t count) for the 2013 NFL season on each NFL team. For the Oakland Raiders, that player is defensive tackle Vance Walker.
The Oakland Raiders have arguably the least talented roster in the NFL. With roughly 40 million in dead money on their cap, they are essentially working under a significantly lower salary cap than the rest of the league. The rest of the league can spend around 120 million. The Raiders can spend 80 million. They also have a recent history of poor drafting. Only 2 players they’ve drafted in the first round are still on their roster and one of those is 2013 1st round pick DJ Hayden. They traded two first round picks for Richard Seymour and Carson Palmer, but neither of those two remains on their roster.
With minimal cap space this off-season, GM Reggie McKenzie had to dive into the bargain bin on several occasions to find players who could help his team avoid being a laughing stock and the Raiders got 9 new defensive starters from there, which should tell you a lot about what could easily be the league’s worst defense for the 2nd straight year in 2013. However, not all of these bargain bin pickups were mediocre. One of those players, defensive tackle Vance Walker, who the Raiders signed for 2 million over 1 year, has a real chance to break out in his first full-time job in the NFL.
Walker was a 7th round pick out of Georgia Tech by the Atlanta Falcons in 2009 and he was immediately part of Atlanta’s defensive tackle rotation. Walker continued to see his role expand on a yearly basis, increasing his snap total every year, leading up to a 2012 season in which he played in 539 regular season snaps and then another 59 in 2 games in the post-season. He started almost every game and while he wasn’t a full-time player, splitting snaps with Peria Jerry and Corey Peters, he was 2nd on the team in snaps played by defensive tackles behind Jonathan Babineaux.
In his expanded role, Walker had the best season of his career in 2012, ranking 16th among defensive tackles on ProFootballFocus. While his strength was playing the run, he did have 4 sacks, 1 hit, and 15 hurries on 326 pass rush snaps, a 6.1% pass rush rate. In Oakland, he’ll be surrounded by much less supporting talent, but he’ll also get his first chance to be a full-time player and he could really break out as one of the better defensive tackles in the league.