We’re only six days away from the start of the Panthers’ 2021 season, so today’s countdown piece will be dedicated to the player on the roster currently wearing No. 6 — quarterback P.J. Walker.
P.J. played under Matt Rhule at Temple then entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2017. He spent the next three years bouncing around the Colts preseason teams and practice squads without appearing in a regular season game. He joined the XFL’s Houston Roughnecks in 2020 and had five very good games in February and March before COVID-19 spoiled the rest of the season. He then signed with the Panthers in 2020 and saw his first regular season action.
In 2020 Walker played 107 snaps at quarterback over four games. He completed 32-of-56 passes (57.1%) for 368 yards, one touchdown, and five interceptions. While he’s fairly mobile, he ran the ball just five times for minus-two yards.
Despite these less-than-stellar stats, P.J. beat out Will Grier as the No. 2 quarterback behind Sam Darnold. The Panthers staff felt comfortable enough with Walker that they decided to waive Grier when final roster cuts were made. At this point Matt Rhule & Co. are all in on P.J. Walker to be the caretaker of the offense should Darnold get injured or otherwise add to his already bizarre list of reasons for missing games.
The main positive from P.J. Walker’s 2020 campaign is he threw a handful of really nice balls in his only start, a 20-0 win over the Detroit Lions in Week 11. As a starter against Detroit he completed 24-of-34 passes for 258 yards with one touchdown while taking just one sack. Yes, the Panthers defense was outstanding in pitching a shutout, but P.J. had some moments, including a beautiful 52-yard bomb down the sidelines to DJ Moore. You can watch all of P.J.’s Week 11 highlights here.
But — and there’s usually a “but” with inexperienced quarterbacks — in that same game against the Lions he threw two terrible interceptions in the end zone. On the first pick he stared down his receiver in the end zone and the defender easily undercut the route. The second interception was cover-your-eyes bad with three Lions defenders in better position to make the catch than Walker’s intended receiver.
In three preseason games this year he went 16-of-39 for 252 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. As with all preseason stats it’s hard to tell if those numbers are good or bad because so many of the players on both sides of the ball were camp bodies who had little shot at making the 53-man roster. But each of those snaps added to Walker’s experience, which can only help given his thin professional resume.
In the end, P.J. Walker won the trust and confidence of the Panthers coaching staff. If Sam Darnold goes down, he’ll be leading Carolina’s offense.