Erik Walden: Effective Pass Rusher?
Leading his team in sacks, Indianapolis Colts outside linebacker Erik Walden has developed into a productive pass rusher over the years since signing with the Horseshoe.
In his first 3 seasons with the Green Bay Packers (2010-12) prior to joining the Colts in free agency during the 2013 offseason, Walden had 9 career sacks to his name in 40 career games. Through 7 games in 2016 with the Colts, the 9-year veteran already has 5 sacks.
It’s worth noting his career high is 6 sacks, which Walden set in 2014 with the Colts.
Currently, he’s set to shatter that career mark, as Walden’s 5 sacks are tied for the 11th most sacks in the NFL among pass rushers this season.
Before you laugh, that’s the same number of sacks as prolific pass rushers such as the Cincinnati Bengals Carlos Dunlap, the Arizona Cardinals Chandler Jones, and the Baltimore Ravens Terrell Suggs among others.
It’s more sacks than other elite pass rushers like the Oakland Raiders Khalil Mack (3), Green Bay Packers Clay Matthews (3), Seattle Seahawks Michael Bennett (3), and the Miami Dolphins Cameron Wake (3).
If you want to talk about heavy-lifting, Walden is responsible for more of the Colts total team sacks than any other pass rusher proportionately of their respective team:
Initially brought to “set the edge” against the run, signing a 4-year, $16 million dollar free agent contract with the Colts in the 2013 offseason, Walden’s pass rushing actually has been a pleasant surprise.
It’s ironic that Walden has actually become a productive starter for the Colts because out of the team’s disastrous 2013 free agent class which included offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus, safety LaRon Landry, offensive guard Donald Thomas, and cornerback Greg Toler, he was originally the most heavily criticized signing of the group.
Now, 4 seasons later, Walden is the only highly paid free agent of that forgettable class still playing for the franchise–having proven to be a serviceable starter for the Colts defense with 51 career starts.
The fact that the 31 year old has actually developed a new wrinkle to his game since joining the Colts by showing a knack now for pressuring the passer after his mid-20’s is surprising to say the least.
Yes, there’s indication that Walden has benefitted from simply being at ‘the right place at the right time’. Per Pro Football Focus (subscription), his pass rushing grade of +64.1 is 53rd among 93 qualifiers of ‘edge-setters’–showing that a regression may be due.
For a defense that has struggled generating consistent pass pressure, someone is going to have to get what little sacks are readily available after all.
Nevertheless, he’s clearly the best pass rusher that the Colts currently have right now–like it or not.
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It’s no longer 35-year old veteran pass rusher Robert Mathis, who’s the Colts franchise’s career leader in sacks with 119 career sacks, but has just 1 sack this season.
There’s no emerging young stud pass rusher to take over the reins.
An outside linebacker, who was initially brought in to stop the run, but has since developed into the team’s most productive pass rusher.
That speaks to the current sad state of affairs that is the Colts defense–particularly in the pass rushing department, but it’s also a testament to Walden for actually developing his pass rushing game in Indianapolis en route to becoming a more complete player in the process.
Walden, an effective pass rusher?
It’s no longer a laughing matter, but a reality.