Carolina Panthers: PJ Walker looking to establish himself in NFL

HOUSTON, TX - MARCH 7: P.J. Walker #11 of the Houston Roughnecks passes the ball during the XFL game against the Seattle Dragons at TDECU Stadium on March 7, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Thomas Campbell/XFL via Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - MARCH 7: P.J. Walker #11 of the Houston Roughnecks passes the ball during the XFL game against the Seattle Dragons at TDECU Stadium on March 7, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Thomas Campbell/XFL via Getty Images) /

Earlier this offseason the Carolina Panthers signed former XFL star PJ Walker to a two-year deal.

A second addition to the revamped Carolina Panthers quarterback room is former Colt and XFL star PJ Walker. The Panthers and Walker agreed to a two-year, $1.57 million contract back in March to make him the backup to fellow newcomer Teddy Bridgewater. While Bridgewater will go into the 2020 campaign as the undisputed starter in Carolina, Walker and Will Grier will battle throughout training camp and the preseason to be second on the team’s quarterback depth chart. Walker’s time in the XFL this past spring makes him perhaps the most intriguing backup quarterback in the NFL, and his familiarity with the Panthers’ new head coach can only help.

Walker and new Panthers head coach Matt Rhule were together at Temple from 2013-2016.

When the now-defunct XFL said its players were allowed to sign with NFL teams back in March, the Panthers seemed like the perfect fit. Cam Newton was on the outs, Kyle Allen wasn’t viewed by Matt Rhule as a starting quarterback in the NFL, and Grier is still a bit of a project. The team had just signed Bridgewater away from New Orleans and was in search of a compatible backup. That’s where Walker comes into play. The 5’11” standout was the starting quarterback at Temple during all four years of Rhule’s tenure at the school, and was a big part of why the Owls went to back-to-back conference championship games.

Walker steadily improved his numbers under Rhule, finishing his career with 74 touchdown passes, which ranks second in American Athletic Conference history. Walker also added nine scores on the ground and still holds the conference record for career completions. He holds records in nearly every major passing category at Temple and finished his collegiate career with two 10-win seasons and was the key to Rhule’s turnaround project with the Owls. Rhule knows how to win with Walker, and if he were called upon this season, there’s no reason to think the pair can’t win in Carolina.

Walker underwent a career resurrection this spring when he lit up the XFL en route to earning MVP honors.

Despite his success at the collegiate level, Walker went undrafted in 2017 and later signed with the Colts as a free agent. He bounced on and off of the practice squad from 2017-2019; however, his abilities impressed former Colts star Andrew Luck enough that he personally recommended he be rostered in the XFL. In his five games with the Houston Roughnecks, Walker went 5-0 and led the league in passing yards and touchdowns and put up highlight-worthy film on a weekly basis. He completed 65% of his passes with the Roughnecks for a total of 1,338 yards and 15 touchdowns. It’s also worth noting that he threw just four interceptions on 184 attempts.

While the level of competition in the XFL was obviously nowhere near that of the NFL, the attributes that Walker put on display in his short five-game stint was plenty reason for the Panthers to give him a shot. He showed good decision-making along with a quick release and good accuracy, all of which are important in running a West Coast offense. Walker struggled throwing the deep ball, but was elite on passes less than 20 yards. Arm strength could certainly limit his ceiling, but the talent he displayed on short-to-intermediate routes still make him a plenty serviceable player in the right system.

If Bridgewater were to go down, Walker is a similar player and would make a seamless transition into the offense.

When the Panthers lost Newton after Week Two of last season, the offense had to be altered significantly; however, this season the starter and backup have very similar skill-sets. Seeing as though Bridgewater and Walker are both quick, intelligent decision-makers and excel in the same areas, a potential Bridgewater injury shouldn’t cause too much change in Joe Brady’s offensive scheme. Obviously nobody wants to see him go down, but if he does it’s good to have a backup who can do the same things.

At the same time though, it’s important to keep in mind that Walker isn’t a given to be Carolina’s primary backup in 2020. The Panthers did use a third-round pick in last year’s draft on Grier, so they probably aren’t quite ready to give up on him. The competition for the second quarterback spot will probably last until the end of the preseason, although Walker’s abilities and familiarity with the coaching staff certainly appear to give him the leg up.

Regardless of where he begins in the Panthers’ quarterback pecking order, the upcoming preseason will be hugely important to his career. The 25-year-old has already spent time in the NFL and been washed out, so who knows how many more chances Walker will get. He’s still young enough that he should continue to get better, but with the XFL a thing of the past, this may be Walker’s last chance to prove himself in the NFL. Fortunately for him Carolina is perhaps the best place he could have landed.

For the first time in his NFL career Walker will have a real opportunity to prove he belongs in the league and he’ll be doing it in front of a coaching staff that he’s already had success with in the past. Walker is certainly a wild-card heading into the 2020 season, but if there’s ever been a chance for him to establish himself in the NFL, the time is now.