NFL

Who is P.J. Walker? Panthers’ possible Week 11 starting QB was the XFL’s best player

Teddy Bridgewater injured his right knee in Week 10’s game against the Bucs, and was questionable heading into Week 11. If he is ruled out Sunday, Panthers backup P.J. Walker would start in Bridgewater’s place.

Walker had to battle with Will Grier for the starting job heading into Week 11. This brought up an interesting quarterback battle because on one hand, Walker has experience with coach Matt Rhule at Temple. On the other hand, Grier was a third-round draft pick in 2019.

When asked whether each factor would play into his decision, Rhule said he’d go with whoever was best for the team.

“I think the minute the guys in the locker room say he’s playing this guy because he was drafted, or this guy because he has history with him… People can think those things, but if that’s true, you erode the competitive aspect of the team,” Rhule said. “So I just try to go off what I see, and the tape, and the practice, and the meetings, and that’s at every position.”

In the end, Walker won the job, and his presence brings back a familiar face for XFL fans.

Who is P.J. Walker?

Phillip “P.J.” Walker is currently on the Panthers, but it was a unique path to get here. Walker played under current Panthers coach Matt Rhule at Temple from 2013-2016. Oddly enough, their careers perfectly lapped each other at Temple. When Walker joined in 2013, so did Rhule. When Walker left in 2016, so did Rhule.

Walker then became an undrafted free agent, and joined the Colts in 2017. He was on-and-off of the Colts’ practice squad a number of times from 2017 to 2019. In fact, Walker was cut and resigned by the Colts 11 times from 2017-2019.

In 2019, he was picked up by the XFL and was one of eight quarterbacks in the league who was assigned to a team. He was assigned the Roughnecks, who immediately went and spent their first-round draft pick on another quarterback — Connor Cook.

Some thought Cook may end up being the starter for Houston, but Walker won the job. And then he took the league by storm.

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P.J. Walker XFL stats

Walker started in five XFL games, and went 5-0 while tearing defenses apart. He averaged 267.6 passing yards and three passing touchdowns per game. He was also strong as a runner, with 24 carries for 99 yards and a touchdown on the ground. He led the league in passing yards (1,338) and touchdowns (15), and had the second-highest QB rating (104.4).

Walker looks back on his XFL days fondly. In a first-person piece written on The Players’ Tribune, Walker was glad to get the opportunity to play professional football.

“The best thing about the new XFL was that it gave the guys who are on the fringes of pro football the opportunity to go out there and play and show what they can do,” Walker writes. “There are so many great, talented players on NFL rosters that the league just isn’t big enough for everybody to play. And that’s a shame. The XFL was important to so many guys. It’s hard to single out names because I don’t want to leave anybody out — because there are just a lot. If the season had gone on, most of them would definitely be getting their chances to play in the NFL. I believe that. I mean, some of them already are. Like me.”

P.J. Walker on the Panthers

After dominating the XFL, P.J. Walker had some options for his next move. He received interest from the Steelers even before he played a game in the XFL, and afterwards he reportedly received interest from the Seahawks, Cardinals and Broncos among others.

Walker eventually decided on the Panthers as his best opportunity, despite the team already signing Bridgewater.

“It was more so the opportunity with Carolina and it was the best fit for me,” Walker said in April. “And for me, I wanted to go where I felt comfortable, and I felt comfortable with coach Rhule. And especially with the opportunity, I just wanted to take advantage of that as well.

“Just to continue to develop and get better as a quarterback and grow, just to learn as much as I can from Teddy and Will and just continue to grow as much as a player and help those guys as much as I can as well.”

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