Three weeks into the XFL’s season, a star has emerged in the upstart professional football league.
Houston Roughnecks quarterback PJ Walker has become something of a viral sensation for some of the throws he’s made and plays he’s extended in Vince McMahon’s late winter football federation. Walker has been called — with at least some sense of irony, we would assume — the Patrick Mahomes of the XFL.
So, it’s up to us to determine if that actually means something. Is Walker actually a talented quarterback with an NFL future, or is he simply the least-worst in a crop of players who couldn’t cut it in the big leagues? Is Walker simply the equivalent of the best Nickelback song?
The 5-foot-11, 214-pound QB has completed 67-of-105 passes for 748 yards with 10 touchdowns and one interception in three games. He’s also carried the ball 12 times for 87 yards with a touchdown.
Walker, formerly known as Phillip, has played in the NFL. He went undrafted out of Temple in 2017 and spent most of his first two seasons on the Indianapolis Colts’ practice squad. He also spent the 2019 preseason with Indy.
His preseason numbers aren’t nearly as good as his XFL stat line. He went 32-of-64 for 349 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions in 2019. He was 30-of-49 for 446 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions in 2018. He went 17-of-39 for 147 yards with a touchdown and an interception in 2017.
Walker’s advanced numbers, via Pro Football Focus, were largely nothing to write home about and generally poor, as well. He was solid while throwing under pressure in 2018, but he was awful in that category in 2017 and 2019. His adjusted completion percentage never ranked high, and he’s never been an overly accurate deep passer.
His adjusted completion rate ranked 61st out of 71 qualified quarterbacks this summer. He didn’t complete a deep pass during the 2019 preseason on eight attempts and ranked last among 71 qualified quarterbacks in PFF’s accuracy rate under pressure in the 2019 preseason. Waker’s best preseason came in 2018, when he was 69th of 85 quarterbacks in accuracy rate, 33rd of 61 quarterbacks in deep accuracy rate and 44th of 85 quarterbacks in accuracy rate under pressure.
Walker was a successful college quarterback but never overly prolific. He led Temple to back-to-back 10-4 seasons under head coach Matt Rhule, who now holds the same position with the Carolina Panthers after a stint at Baylor. Walker completed 56.9 percent of his passes for 10,668 yards with 74 touchdowns and 44 interceptions in four seasons as a college starter. He only completed over 60 percent of his passes once — as a freshman. He completed 58.2 percent of his passes for 3,295 yards with 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions as a senior in 2016. He rushed 341 times for 771 yards with nine touchdowns at Temple but college football subtracts rushing yards on sacks (which is dumb). Because of that, he had negative rushing yards as a senior.
The 24-year-old had one of the lowest adjusted completion percentages (66 percent) among quarterbacks listed in PFF’s 2017 draft guide. For comparison’s sake, Mahomes’ was 75.4 percent. DeShaun Watson’s was 76.1 percent.
Walker completed just 41.5 percent of his passes under pressure as a senior. He went 29-of-72 for 932 yards with nine touchdowns and one interception on deep passes in 2016.
All of this is to say Walker was never special until he got to the XFL. He was out of the NFL for the entire 2019 season, but it would be surprising if some team didn’t give him a second chance in a camp this summer. What Walker is doing in the XFL is impressive, but there’s no real recent history to suggest he can produce similarly in the NFL.
Walker’s best shot would be to land with Rhule and the Panthers. If they aren’t interested in the former Temple QB, however, it will be telling.
For the New England Patriots, who may need a quarterback if Tom Brady departs in free agency, they’d be better off sticking with Jarrett Stidham and Cody Kessler than taking a flier on Walker. Walker is a shiny new object, but Stidham and Kessler have been better against actual NFL players.
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