Even the most dedicated NFL draft experts might not have penciled in Georgia pass-rusher Travon Walker as a guaranteed first-round pick when the 2021 season ended. Although the 6-foot-5, 272-pound lineman had remarkable potential, it was common to see pundits and fans alike project him to go late in the first round or early in the second in large part because of questions regarding his ability to reach the quarterback.
Shows what we know.
Depending on who you ask or who’s reporting the news, the Jacksonville Jaguars could legitimately be considering selecting Walker first overall in the 2022 NFL Draft. Who needs Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal or Michigan pass-rusher Aidan Hutchinson when the long-suffering franchise can shore up its defense with Walker?
Pros: Travon Walker reportedly fits Jaguars GM’s Trent Baalke’s type of player
Typically, prospects like Walker don’t go within the first five selections. More often than not, those are the prospects who go later in the first round or even drop outright to Day 2. We’re talking about a player who only started one year in college, albeit at the sport’s highest level, and excels as a run-stopper.
However, the Jaguars appear sold on Walker’s overall potential. NFL Media’s Mike Garafolo recently reported Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke “sees a lot of Aldon Smith in Walker.” The veteran executive, then the San Francisco 49ers’ GM, selected Walker, a standout pass-rusher from Missouri, seventh overall in the 2011 NFL Draft.
The good news? Smith totaled 33.5 sacks, 31 tackles for a loss, and five forced fumbles in his first two seasons. Smith played at 6-foot-4 and 263 pounds, while Walker clocked in at 6-foot-5 and 272 pounds at the 2022 NFL Combine.
The bad news? Various suspensions and off-field issues derailed Smith’s career. However, there are no credible character issues surrounding Walker, so such a comparison may be a moot point.
Although this is a pro for Baalke, we’re not sure if it qualifies as such for the entire organization.
Cons: Walker’s ceiling doesn’t mean he’s worthy of being selected atop the draft
In his pre-draft scouting report, NFL Media’s Lance Zierlein praised Walker’s “violent hands” and “all-day aggressiveness.” One might think that’d be enough for the Jaguars, right?
“[Walker] has quick-shed ability to make plays near his gaps but lacks lateral quickness to play with desired range. He won’t be considered a skilled or threatening rusher from any alignment but can plow his way forward to find occasional success. He’s effective against the run but is likely to be a one-way player who comes off the field on passing downs.”Lance Zierlein
This early in the draft, whether you’re selecting No. 1 or No. 6, you’re almost always looking for players to build a franchise around. Why would the Jaguars, a team with so many other holes, want to use the first overall pick on a player who wouldn’t play all three downs? The Jaguars don’t need a quarterback, so common sense would dictate the franchise look for an offensive lineman or an explosive pass-rusher.
Could Walker become that explosive pass-rusher? Maybe, but that we’re already concerned about his ability to stay on the field for passing downs should be a damning indictment.
Should the Jaguars really select Walker with the first overall pick?
We can defend many draft decisions in large part because so much is uncertain until the games begin. However, there is no conceivable reason why the Jaguars should draft Walker first overall and pass on Hutchinson or an offensive lineman.
If Jacksonville truly wants Walker, the best play might be to trade down. How much would a team give up for Hutchinson? Might another organization send significant assets to the Jaguars for a shot at Liberty quarterback Malik Willis?
Even then, though, I don’t know how much I could defend this if, say, the Jaguars traded down to select Walker at No. 6. This has all the makings of a bad pick, which means Jacksonville is definitely going to do it and act confused when things don’t work out.
To be clear, this is nothing against Walker the prospect or Walker the person. This has far more to do with Jacksonville potentially wasting the first overall pick on a lineman who might not be on the field for third down. There’s a reason why the Jaguars have only reached the playoffs once since the start of the 2008 season, and it’s not because of players like Walker.