It’s April Fools Day, which means that we’re less than a month away from the Jaguars making the first pick in the NFL Draft...again. Many mock drafts have had the Jaguars taking Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson first overall, but another name has been heating up recently: Travon Walker from Georgia. Walker’s odds of being the first overall pick have increased drastically since the start of free agency, and some pundits could see GM Trent Baalke loving Walker’s athleticism and frame.
However, at the expense of Walker’s rise has been the drop of Kayvon Thibodeaux. The junior from Oregon was the number one pick for most of last summer, but an injury-riddled season and NFL teams concerns about his effort, motor, and “want-to” for the game (I’ll get to that later). So which prospect actually is better? Let’s go find out!
Against The Run
Aidan Hutchinson is a smart run defender. Despite having smaller arms (32-inch arms puts him in the eighth percentile among all EDGE defenders drafted according to Mockdraftable), Hutchinson has a high motor and powerful hips that allow him to get his hands on linemen or TE’s first in the run game, and he can stack and shed with the best of them.
Scouts rave about Hutchinson’s motor, and it’s evident in the run game. Once he gets off the ball and gets his hands on you, it’s pretty much over. Just ask this Wisconsin TE:
Travon Walker is one of the better run defenders in the draft as well. Coming out of high school he was the third best defensive tackle in the nation, and in Georgia’s defensive scheme he was asked to two-gap more than Hutchinson or Thibodeaux, and he did that perfectly, being a key cog in the greatest college defense of all time. Walker has pterodactyl wings for arms, his 35.5-inch arm length puts him in the 95th percentile for all EDGE defenders drafted. He doesn’t win like Aidan Hutchinson does, where he uses get off then stacks and sheds: he simply does it from the jump.
Walker also has a great feel for blocking schemes. Here he feels the outside zone coming because the TE goes to hook his outside shoulder. Walker extends so the TE can’t latch, then disengages to make the play:
Thibodeaux is probably the worst run defender of the three, but that doesn’t mean he’s a bad run defender. I just think that he’s more of a weakside run defender more than a strong side who can hold the edge. You want Thibodeaux going forward, and Oregon used him a lot on the weakside of plays where he can chase plays from the backside, or simply blow up zone read plays:
Thibodeaux is a good run defender, but I also think when he’s on the strong side of plays he can get sucked into the play and doesn’t hold the edge.
VERDICT: Hutchinson/Walker 1A & 1B
Basically splitting hairs between Hutchinson and Walker. Understanding what Walker was asked to do at UGA should make him the pick by far and away, but Hutchinson was just as good, just in a different position.
Against The Pass
Alright so here’s the thing: as much as Hutchinson and Thibodeaux get compared and contrasted, they both want to win the same way in pass rush: converting speed to power.
However, I think they approach getting to their best move differently, and that’s what makes this so fun. Everyone can throw a fastball, but how you set it up can vary from person to person. For Hutchinson, he uses variation in counter moves. He has a nasty counter swim move that he uses when OT’s overset:
However, I do have one problem with Hutchinson in his pass rush: he doesn’t have bend. Why is bend important? Because being able to flatten the corner on outside pass rush moves makes a DL’s whole life easier. Think of the the best edge rushers in the game: TJ Watt, Myles Garrett, Von Miller. Those guys all have fantastic bend. Hutchinson actually ran the same 3-cone time as Miller at the combine, but this gives me pause:
For Thibodeaux, his counter to the speed-to-power is the speed rush around the edge. I think he has enough bend to get it done, and does it more consistently than Hutchinson:
One thing I also like about Thibodeaux is that he sequences and sets up his moves well. Football isn’t a string of isolated plays; defensive linemen can set up a move for the entire game. Thibodeaux sets up the speed to power for the entire game, then bursts around the corner to get to the QB.
My biggest issue with Thibodeaux is inconsistent hand usage. His arm length is in the 34th percentile, which is fine, but he’s sometimes late with his hands. You’ve probably heard every defensive line coach say, “You beat the hands, you beat the man”. Thibodeaux shoots his hands late, allowing the OL to get his hands on him and push him out of the loop he can bend on.
Travon Walker doesn’t have a lot of isolated pass rush reps. Again, that’s a consequence of Georgia’s scheme, which called for their DL to free up blitzers from the second level. However, when looking at Walker’s isolated pass rushing reps, you see flashes of potential. His long arms give him a lethal power rush where he can extend the OL and get push.
Now we’ve talked about counters and setting up moves when it comes to Hutchinson and Thibodeaux, but Walker doesn’t really have that counter move. He did flash a push-pull move that could be a super effective counter if he uses it. Overall, he just needs more reps to refine his technique.
I went with Thibodeaux mainly because of the ability to bend is super important in the NFL. The counter moves work well, but if you can’t flatten that corner and get to the QB it makes your life a lot more difficult. Not that Hutchinson is a bad pass rusher, he has the best hand usage of the three, and will be a good player. I just think having that bend opens up a lot more tools in the toolbox.
I really don’t think you want Aidan Hutchinson dropping into coverage. Honestly, you don’t want him or Thibodeaux dropping into coverage, because if you’re dropping your best pass rusher into coverage often, you’re a bad DC. Versatility wise, this is Travon Walker’s category to win, by far and away. Georgia lined him up as a heavy 5T, out on the edge, had him over the guard in a 3T, even over the nose. He also can do this:
I’ve seen this clip of Travon Walker dozens of times.— Brooks Austin (@BrooksAustinSI) June 23, 2021
And it never ceases to amaze me that a 6’5, 300 LB man moves like this. pic.twitter.com/XNYL7cOmhj
And also this:
Like how Travon Walker's playing off the QBs eyes and has the athletic ability to disrupt the ball in flight.— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) December 29, 2021
Dude is 6'5 276 lbs. pic.twitter.com/F0B3eYkrTG
So I’m going to approach this differently than how I used to for prospect battles. I’ll give my take on who I think is the best, who the best fit for the Jaguars is, and who I think the FO loves.
I think Kayvon Thibodeaux is still EDGE1. I think the questions about his “want-to” are unfair, and really open up a lot of questions about what the NFL wants its’ players to be. Thibodeaux is a smart young man who knows his value outside of sports. So what he’s interested in NFT’s? You’re going to drop him down your draft board for worrying about what his life would be like after football? The average NFL career is 3.3 years according to Statista, and a lot of players are unable to find their footing after hanging up the cleats. In addition, I think how scouts and the language around Thibodeaux is going to end up hurting the NFL in the long run because there are going to be more kids who have the same interests outside of football as Thibodeaux. People change, times change. It’s about time the NFL and its’ scouts do too.
On the field, I think he’s the best blend of speed, bend, power and technique among the three. He can be a franchise pass rusher and elevate a DL group.
However, I think Aidan Hutchinson is a better fit for what the Jaguars want to do on defense. Thibodeaux and Josh Allen kind of approach pass rushing in the same way. Hutchinson is a better complement to Allen, and his power rushing and counter moves would make he and Allen a good 1-2 combo.
The Jaguars probably LOVE Travon Walker, though. I outlined what Baalke and Doug Pederson look for in EDGE defenders using RAS, and Travon Walker fit both categories. Furthermore, using Mockdraftable again, Walker’s comparisons athletically are Montez Sweat, Josh Sweat (no relation) and Joe Tryon-Shoyinka. Sweat was a Doug Pederson and the Eagles draft pick in 2018, and Montez Sweat visited the Eagles as well. Tryon-Shoyinka was a first round draft pick of the Buccaneers last year, and Jaguars DC Mike Caldwell worked on that same defensive staff. Dreams of finding Aldon Smith still run around in Trent Baalke’s head, and I have no doubt he sees Walker like that.
When it’s time for the Jaguars to make their first overall pick in 2022, I think it’ll be Hutchinson. However, Travon Walker being picked would not surprise me at all.