After not landing the number one overall pick in any of the first 26 seasons of the franchise's existence, the Jaguars have now done just that ... and done so in consecutive seasons.
In 2021, the team landed Trevor Lawrence, one of the top quarterback prospects in recent history. Now, after a season in which Urban Meyer proved to be one of the very worst NFL head coaches in the history of the league, the Jaguars are set to pick at the top of the NFL Draft once again.
Earlier in 2022, prior to the Jaguars placing the franchise tag on left tackle Cam Robinson and signing Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Scherff, Evan Neal — a mountainous offensive lineman out of Alabama — was the betting favorite to be the number one pick. But after general manager Trent Baalke and head coach Doug Pederson allocated resources to the offensive line earlier in the month and failed to add pass-rushing talent, Michigan edge defender Aidan Hutchinson has become the clear favorite. It makes sense: the Jaguars desperately need an edge threat opposite Josh Allen.
But another edge-rushing prospect is starting to get some buzz as early as the first overall pick. And it's not Kayvon Thibodeaux, who was the consensus top pass rusher entering the 2021 college football season.
Travon Walker, the long-limbed athletic marvel out of Georgia, is being talked about as a potential dark horse to be selected with the first overall pick.
But should the Jaguars actually consider Travon Walker at one?
Let's take a look!
Walker is a prospect who I've done a ton of work on this draft cycle. His physical traits are pretty much unparalleled throughout NFL Draft history. He's a 21-year-old junior who stands 6'5" and weighs in at 275 pounds with long 35 1/2" arms. As someone who used to play at a much heavier weight, Walker moves with incredible ease. Even before the combine, it was easy to see the flashes of fluidity, flexibility, strength, agility, explosiveness, and straight-line speed. The NFL Scouting Combine further confirmed Walker's freakish traits. He posted a 4.51 40, 35.5" vert, 1003 broad, and registered elite agility scores. When folks talk about a rare athletic and physical specimen, this is who they're talking about.
Draft analysts love to talk about his potential, but the reality of the situation is that Walker is already an elite-run defender on the edge. He wins from the jump with his powerful, vine-like arms, keeping offensive lineman out of his chest. He then reads and reacts quickly to make plays on the ball carrier or funnel them towards help defenders. His overall package as a run defender offers an elite floor and ceiling.
But as a pass rusher, Walker is a challenging study. For a wide variety of reasons, we haven't seen Walker pin his ears back and rush the passer all that often. Georgia's defense featured more than a handful of pro prospects, and because of that, each member of the defensive front ate into each other's snap counts. Walker was also moved around the front, playing inside at tackle on nearly 20% of his snaps in 2021. And when Walker was aligned on the edge, he was generally playing head-up with the tackle and in more of a contain role than a "go get the quarterback" situation. Still, there are plenty of flashes of pass-rushing talent.
At his size, you might not expect it, but Walker also looks fluid in space and can drop back into shallow zones and make plays on the ball in coverage.
All of this makes for an extremely enticing package. But projection IS required. You simply can't make the argument that Travon Walker has the pass rush prowess of a Kayvon Thibodeaux or Aidan Hutchinson. And while he might be a higher-level athlete than both Thibs and Hutch, those two have elite athletic traits of their own and get the job done against the run.
In my Travon Walker scouting report from early January, I wrote, "With more experience, and a more defined role, he could develop into the best edge defender in this class." I still believe that to be the case. But just because Walker could develop into the best of this bunch, that doesn't mean you should bet on him over Aidan Hutchinson or Kayvon Thibodeaux. And that's just from an EDGE perspective. Evan Neal handled Travon Walker in their individual matchups in the SEC Championship and the National Championship. So I'd have a tough time selling myself on Walker over Neal, regardless of team needs.
So, to answer the question plainly, the Jaguars should not select Travon Walker with the top pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
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