Mike Walker (Getty Images)
When the Jacksonville Jaguars made Mike Walker their third-round pick in the 2007 draft, few people outside of Central Florida knew much about him, much less what to expect. Despite catching 90 passes as a senior at UCF, Walker entered the NFL Draft without much fanfare, and was considered a project, being a little over one season removed from a torn ACL.
Despite Walker’s surgically repaired knee, he still reportedly ran a 4.35 40-yard dash at his Pro Day, a number that skeptics say was somehow inflated. Walker showed great route running abilities in college, very strong hands, and if he hadn’t suffered the knee injury, would likely have been a first-round pick, as many saw him as a better player than the Denver Broncos surprising number one receiver and former UCF teammate, Brandon Marshall.
Through the Jaguars mini-camps, and first two weeks of training camp last season, Mike Walker was more than impressive. He showed fluid movement, great hands and agility, and a tendency to make circus type of catches. Walker was clearly the Jaguars best receiver despite being a rookie, and fans and media alike were jumping on the 6’1”, 200 lb. receiver’s bandwagon, as he was envisioned to be the second coming of Jaguars great, Jimmy Smith.
The honeymoon ended abruptly for Walker, as his production tailed off in preseason games, and he wasn’t able to keep up a consistent practice schedule due to the lack of strength in his surgically repaired knee. With the emergence of seventh-round pick John Broussard, and the free agent acquisition of Dennis Northcutt to go along with former first-round picks Reggie Williams and Matt Jones, as well as the dependable Ernest Wilford, Walker’s presence wasn’t desperately needed, and the team decided to place him on the injured reserve to let his knee fully heal.
Walker had a clean-out procedure done on his knee a few months ago, and when asked if Walker would be ready for action, Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio said that he wasn’t able to go right now, but he was hopeful that the former Knight would be available for training camp. Walker spoke to reporters after the Jaguars voluntary workouts this week—
"I'm doing great, I'm feeling good," said Walker. "I had a little cleanup, a little scope. It was nothing serious. We just wanted to make sure there wasn't anything different than what we thought was in there.
"Everything looked good from the doctor's perspective and now it's just back to the basics."
Although Walker is no longer an unknown commodity in the minds of many Jaguars fans, as they remember the show that Walker put on last year in mini-camp. Walker will not have to be “the man” in 2008, or the savior of the Jaguars offense. Jacksonville set single-season franchise records in points scored (411), touchdowns (50), touchdown passes (28), and yards per play (5.6) without the talented youngster.
This season Walker will be in a completely different position and mindset. The Jaguars signed free agent wide receiver Jerry Porter to be their number one wide receiver, and Reggie Williams is coming off a franchise record 10 receiving touchdowns in 2007. The team still has Dennis Northcutt and Matt Jones to help carry the load, as well as former first-round pick Troy Williamson who was recently acquired. Walker will be able to begin his NFL career without fantastic expectations, and most importantly, with a healthy knee. The team can afford to bring Walker along slowly, and with all of the other weapons around him, he will likely not have to face many double-teams, at least early on. Walker will be able to begin his rookie year (even if it’s technically not his rookie year) playing with a rising star at quarterback, a fantastic running game, and some experienced talent around him at wide receiver. Expectations are low and the pressure should be off for Walker, as he is in a perfect position to succeed.