The XFL helped PJ Walker become a star and find his way back into the NFL. With Teddy Bridgewater banged up. Walker may finally get a chance to start his first-ever NFL game.
PJ Walker, the former star quarterback at Temple, for Matt Rhule, the current Carolina Panthers and then Owls head coach, has seen his career come full circle.
Despite breaking multiple records and winning bowl games at Temple. When his college career ended, PJ Walker found himself in a position where most players end up when they enter the NFL. He had to prove himself all over again.
By now, most followers of PJ Walker’s career know the story. The AAC Championship game MVP went undrafted in 2017. The Owls’ all-time leader in wins, passing yards, passing touchdowns, and total touchdowns was served a big slice of humble pie. An obscure fact is that PJ Walker hasn’t lost a game he has started since 2016. The road to starting again for Walker has had several detours.
PJ Walker signed with the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted free agent. The undersized signal-caller (5’11) started his pro journey as a fringe NFL quarterback. From 2017-2019, Walker signed to the Colts practice squad and was waived twelve separate times in three years.
In danger of washing out in the NFL, it is common for so many fringe players just like PJ Walker. A final lifeline was on the way. The existence of the emerging XFL and Walker’s time in Indy would both prove to be fruitful.
Former Colts teammate Andrew Luck recommended Walker to then XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck. The rest, as they say, is history. The XFL assigned PJ Walker to June Jones and the Houston Roughnecks. He would win the team’s starting quarterback job, which would, in turn, lead to Walker becoming the face of the league and its MVP front-runner.
The ascension of Matt Rhule into the NFL and Carolina lined up the stars perfectly for the XFL’s biggest superstar in PJ Walker.
It’s amazing the type of impact that a league like the XFL has had, despite being derailed by the pandemic and only having five weeks of total play.
The year 2020 is almost over, and many wish that it never existed. It’s as if the XFL came and went in some diehard football fan’s crazy dream.
The XFL really did happen earlier this year, no matter how much of an illusion it may appear to have been.
There are currently twenty-nine former XFL players on NFL rosters. Ten of those players are on the 53-man rosters of NFL teams. The Carolina Panthers have three former XFL players on their active roster.
On Sunday, the game between the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers was on Fox. One of the XFL’s broadcast partners during their season.
Calling and dissecting the action were former Dallas Renegades Director of Personnel Daryl ‘Moose’ Johnson and Kevin Burkhardt, who also called games during the XFL season for Fox. Both Johnson and Burkhardt were witnesses to the XFL’s quality and value firsthand, and the game they covered yesterday provided evidence of that.
In the same game where PJ Walker would be called into duty for the second time this year. Safety Kenny Robinson, the former St. Louis BattleHawk, whom the Panthers drafted in the fifth round, was active for Carolina’s secondary.
In the same game, former Tampa Bay Vipers tight end Colin Thompson, who has been active all season for the Panthers, would score his first-ever NFL touchdown on his first-ever reception.
Supporters and advocates of spring pro football and the XFL have a strong sense of attachment and experience validation when players from these leagues succeed in the NFL.
Recently, former AAF star Garrett Gilbert got the improbable starting nod as the Dallas Cowboys quarterback against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The former Orlando Apollos standout more than held his own in his first-ever NFL start. Gilbert threw for 243 yards, one touchdown, and one interception in a closely contested 24-19 loss to Pittsburgh.
Will PJ Walker be the next alternative pro league quarterback to get his first-ever start in the NFL?
The good news is that Carolina Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has avoided serious injury to his right knee. In yesterday’s loss, Bridgewater had to exit the game late. As a result, PJ Walker came into the lopsided loss in relief of him. Walker completed two of four passes for a modest twelve yards.
The early word on Teddy Bridgewater from multiple sources is that his MRI shows no structural damage to his right knee. Bridgewater has some soreness and swelling, but he is day to day with an MCL sprain and could play this coming Sunday at home against the Detroit Lions.
Supposing that Bridgewater can practice throughout the week. He should reclaim his job. However, If Bridgewater is unable to go, there’s no guarantee that PJ Walker automatically gets the nod as the team’s starting quarterback against Detroit.
One of the reasons PJ Walker has been active for four of the Panthers’ last five games as Bridgewater’s backup is because of his versatility.
With Christian McCaffrey missing time, Walker also serves as an emergency running back on game days. Offensive Coordinator Joe Brady has inserted Walker in games and practice at wide receiver and in red-zone packages. Walker offers more on game days than fellow backup Will Grier does.
Panthers head coach Matt Rhule has not designated a #2 quarterback on his depth chart. It’s something that he announced before the season. The idea is to create a weekly competition between backups Will Grier and PJ Walker.
It’s within the realm of possibility that if Bridgwater can’t play this coming weekend. That Grier and Walker could split reps in practice with a final decision about who starts coming by the tail end of the workweek.
Supporters of PJ Walker and the XFL would love to see him make his first-ever NFL start this coming weekend. In many ways, just like Garrett Gilbert. It could be just for one game, but the long journey to get to this point would provide a rewarding destination.
No matter what the outcome is. The fact that PJ Walker is in this position validates him, the XFL, and all the people who love and believe in the concept of an alternative pro football league.
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