Mike Walker (Getty Images)
Traditionally, a star wide receiver is born in the third year of their respective careers. The Jacksonville Jaguars are hoping this will be the case with Mike Walker, who has shown flashes of brilliance during his limited time with the Jaguars. While the 24-year-old has had to overcome adversity throughout his young career, expectations are still high for the UCF alum.
A third-round draft pick in 2007, Walker burst onto the scene during OTAs for the Jaguars, dazzling coaches and fans alike with his remarkable hands and route-running ability. There were whispers about Walker being a potential savior for Jacksonville but a reoccurring knee injury forced him to spend his rookie campaign on the I.R.
This rollercoaster ride of emotions did not begin during Walker’s rookie year and it certainly did not end there.
As a junior at Central Florida, the former Orlando high school star was evolving into a dominant receiver at the collegiate level. He led the team in interceptions the year before, but had found a home at receiver, where he had accumulated 855 yards on 65 receptions.
With just two games remaining in the season though, Walker tore his ACL and missed the remainder of the Knights’ season. Despite having major surgery, Walker returned the next year with a vengeance, nabbing 90 catches despite playing with a bum knee. In the NFL combine, he ran a 4.35 40-yard dash even though he was still far from 100 percent.
After his emergence in the offseason of his rookie campaign, the Jaguars though that sitting him would be the best path to take in hopes that he would regain full strength in his knee.
A year later, Walker was again in the same position. He was productive in the offseason and had fans drooling over his potential. Then the regular season began. Walker had just one reception for eight yards in the team’s first three games before hauling in five catches for 46 yards against the Texans in week four. A week later, Walker had the game that everyone had been waiting for, catching six balls for 107 yards against the eventual world champion Pittsburgh Steelers.
It was then that the up and down career of Mike Walker took another plummet.
“I'm a big Mike Walker fan, and I don't think any of us could ever fully comprehend how tough of a year Mike had last year,” Jacksonville offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter told CBSSports.com. “He came off a 100-yard-plus game against the Steelers, feeling like he's coming into his own, and then he hurts that knee and gets that fluke staph infection. All of a sudden, he's in the hospital and they say he's out for four weeks.”
The knee injury and infection were both obstacles that Walker would overcome to get back onto the field, but it was non-football related incidents that would inevitably stick with Walker.
In late November, Walker’s friend was stabbed to death in an Orlando nightclub right before Walker arrived and saw Winfred L. Ezell lying in a pool of blood. On the same day as Ezell’s funeral, Walker’s father passed away.
These are the type of incidents that define someone’s life and it is unsure how Walker will respond. The young man has dealt with adversity through his entire life and has never given up, so it stands to reason that he will do everything in his power to overcome these dramatic obstacles.
Coaches seemingly have faith that Walker can and will rebound.
“Right now Mike looks confident and healthy, and I think he's going to do some good things for us.”
Jacksonville head coach, Jack Del Rio, always is interested to see what Walker does on the field this year.
“[W]e’ve got a collection of young guys that we’re anxious to see from, Mike Walker being one, and we’ll let that play out,” said Del Rio.
If Walker responds to this controversy like he has throughout his life, then there’s a good chance he will emerge as a breakout receiver for the Jaguars in his third year.