Green Bay Packers draft Georgia linebacker Quay Walker, defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt after an early run on receivers in NFL draft
GREEN BAY – Maybe it wasn’t Quay Walker’s fault. He was late to football, a converted power forward, only picking up a new sport his sophomore year at Crisp County High after realizing 6-4 basketball players earn a hard living near the rim.
Walker had the size and athletic gifts for a much more promising future on the football field. He just didn’t have the instincts. “I wasn’t a football player at all,” Walker said. Linebacker, a position perhaps more reliant on instincts than any other, was a tough place to cut that path.
A late start was no advantage in Georgia’s loaded program. Unable to get snaps on the nation’s best defense, Walker stared at a difficult truth midway through his college career.
“I’ve been through kind of like hell and back,” Walker said Thursday night, explaining how he went from backup a year ago to a Green Bay Packers first-round pick. “It was really, really frustrating for me at first. I wasn’t seeing the field at first because we had so many good, good guys, and to be honest I just wasn’t good enough at the time.”
Devonte Wyatt had a different Georgia experience. He was an early starter with the Bulldogs, an athletic specimen who ran a faster 40-yard dash than any defensive lineman at this year’s NFL scouting combine. For Wyatt, there was nothing holding him back from becoming a first-round pick. At least when it came to the film.
That the Georgia teammates joined the Packers' defense less than 45 minutes apart Thursday night was the type of storybook beginning that might distract from concerns neither is a wide receiver. The team enters Friday’s second and third rounds desperately needing to draft wideouts after selecting Walker with its 22nd overall pick and Wyatt with the 28th.
Brian Gutekunst, surely aware of the roster void, wouldn’t back himself into a corner when asked if he needed to draft a receiver Friday. For now, the Packers general manager was content to continue what has become the theme of this offseason, building the Packers' defense into potentially one of the NFL’s best.
To do so, he double dipped into a Georgia defense that produced five first-round picks.
“What they’re coming from,” Gutekunst said, “is about as close as you can get to the National Football League. They do such a good job there training their players, like a lot of the other schools do. I just think that certainly they’ve been on the big stage, they’ve been in really, really big games. Both these guys have played against NFL players their entire career, not only during games but during practice.
“So I think that is always extremely helpful for kind of the transition to the National Football League.”
When Gutekunst used his first pick on Walker, he expected Wyatt was no longer an option. The twitchy defensive tackle might not have been available at No. 22 if not for a spate of off-field incidents that dropped him into the late first round.
Wyatt was arrested and charged with misdemeanor criminal trespass, damage to property and family violence in 2020 after he kicked in the door of a woman he intermittently lived with following a verbal altercation. The woman told police she never feared for her safety, and the charges were later dropped. Wyatt was later released on a $1,500 bond. He was never suspended.
The Packers brought Wyatt to Green Bay on a pre-draft visit. Gutekunst said he and the personnel department conducted a “deep dive” into his character, ensuring no reservations that he would fit in the locker room. Ultimately, the GM described Wyatt’s off-field history as nothing more than “a couple hiccups," believing the young defensive lineman has grown out of his past immaturity.
“We went into that pretty deep with him,” Gutekunst said, “to make sure we felt comfortable with the human being. In the incidents that he had, he never put his hand on anybody, he never hurt anybody. It was just two or three incidents as a young person, he stubbed his toe. We don’t have a lot of tolerance for that, but we wouldn’t have brought him in if we didn’t feel good about the person.”
Gutekunst felt great about Wyatt’s film. The Packers have long sought an interior defensive lineman who can help unburden Pro Bowl nose tackle Kenny Clark. Though Wyatt had only five sacks in four college seasons, his 1.59-second, 10-yard split in the 40 suggests pass-rush potential in the NFL.
Wyatt is even better as a run defender. At Georgia, Walker said his teammate “ate up a lot of blocks for me” in the box.
“He’s such a disruptor on the line of scrimmage," Gutekunst said. "He can play the (nose tackle), he can play the (defensive tackle). He’s a dynamic pass rusher. His ability to scrape and get to the ball in the run game is almost linebacker like.”
Wyatt was the third Georgia defensive lineman drafted Thursday, joining top overall selection Travon Walker and No. 13 pick Jordan Davis. His 4.77 40 narrowly edged Davis’ 4.78 at the combine. The two trained together before the draft, competing at the top of their class. It was during those workouts, Wyatt said, when he realized his speed was uncommon.
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While preparing for the 40, trainers plucked Wyatt and Davis out of the lineman group, placing them with linebackers.
“That,” Wyatt said, “is when I knew I was fast.”
Walker didn’t know he was capable of being a first-round pick until accepting that difficult truth last year and rededicating himself to football. He ate better, trimming his body fat. He also took the game more seriously, becoming a student during walkthroughs. Walker finally earned that full-time starter job, finishing his senior season with 65 tackles, 5.5 for loss, 1.5 sacks, three defended passes and a national title.
“It was kind of slow putting everything together,” Walker said, “but no complaints about it at all.”
After hanging up the phone with Gutekunst and Packers coach Matt LaFleur on Thursday, Wyatt said it didn’t take long for Walker to call. Walker was on the phone with reporters when the Packers drafted his college teammate. The two grew close in their four years at Georgia, describing their relationship as a brotherhood.
Now they’ll carry that bond into the NFL.
“That’s crazy,” Walker said. “It’s a reunion. Ah, man. Dang, that’s crazy. Ah, man. I can’t really say it out loud. I’ll probably cry again, but I’ve cried too much. I can’t cry no more.”