After months of evaluation and research, the Jaguars settled on one guy with the first pick in the 2022 NFL Draft — Georgia defensive lineman/outside linebacker Travon Walker, a versatile player who the team feels has plenty of talent to work with.
Entering the night, there were four players the team ultimately settled on. Speculation amongst media, fans and observers included Walker, Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson, and offensive linemen, N.C. State’s Ickey Ekwonu and Alabama’s Evan Neal as the four players.
The decision wouldn’t be made final until the team’s leadership spoke with owner Shad Khan, a meeting that general manager Trent Baalke said lasted about an hour and a half to two hours.
Ultimately, of the speculated players, the team honed in on Walker, something that had been in the works since general manager Trent Baalke first personally saw Walker play in October. To them, the team is getting a player that fits exactly what the team, including defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell, wants to do.
“He played all the way up and down the line of scrimmage, anywhere from a zero technique all the way to a seven technique. Played in the two point off the edge, which he’s going to be used a lot in our scheme,” Baalke said. “That versatility, ability to stop the run, rush the passer, there’s a lot of work to do, but there’s a lot of talent to work with.”
There’s a lot of work to do because Walker was moved around so much while at Georgia. As a result of that, along with perhaps a bit more development to go, Walker was only able to account for 9.5 sacks throughout his college football career, along with 13 total tackles for loss.
The lack of production doesn’t worry Baalke, though, he said, he was productive in other areas including his ability to stop the run and against the pass. Still, he didn’t want to make excuses for Walker or any player, he said.
“There’s a lot of things that go into production. It’s not at the end of the day how many sacks they tally or how many pressures they have,” said Baalke.
“There’s a run element to the game, too. So there’s a lot of ways to look at production, and we feel very comfortable about his production run and pass with a lot of upside. But again, he’s got to come in like these young guys do, they’ve got to come in and earn it.”
Entering the day, Walker was viewed as a player that didn’t have a particularly high floor, but did have a high ceiling, something that Baalke says will ultimately be up to him.
His ceiling isn’t clear, but the reason why it’s high is obvious. At the NFL Combine, Walker put up gaudy numbers. Coming in at 6-foot-5, 270 pounds, Walker ran a blistering 4.51 40-yard dash (98th-percentile), a 36-inch vertical jump (80th-percentile), a 123-inch broad jump (87th-percentile) and a three-cone time of 6.89-second (93rd-percentile).
Couple those numbers with his great length, including an 84.25-inch wingspan (95th-percentile) and 35.5-inch arms, Baalke feels as though it will be something Walker ought to be able to take advantage of, but it’s not all that matters.
“Well, length is important. It’s not that guys with shorter arms or less length can’t play the game. There’s been plenty that have played it and played it at a high level, but it’s certainly an asset if they use it to their full potential,” Baalke noted. “He’s extremely long, 35 plus arm length, 85[-inch] wingspan. The guy has got great length at a little bit over 6’5”.
“If used properly, and he knows how to use it, it can be a great advantage for any player at any position, especially on the defensive side of the ball.”
Simply put, Walker’s numbers are staggering, and what makes him such an intriguing athlete and player to put on the team’s defensive line.
“We’re going to do our best to put him in position to reach that ceiling, but at the end of the day it’s really on these guys, these young men to come in, put in the time both mentally and physically, to reach the ceiling that they’re all capable of reaching.”
For Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson, connecting with a player on a personal level, getting to know them more than just as a football player is important. In speaking with coaches with the Georgia Bulldogs, Pederson says he found out what kind of “humble, down-to-earth” person Walker was.
“Comes from a really good family background, supportive family, and a guy that just wants to work. Conversations with their coaches, that’s exactly what we got.”
As a player, Pederson echoed Baalke’s previous statement regarding Walker’s athleticism and versatility.
“He played all up and down the defensive line at Georgia. Just a tremendous kid,” Pederson said.
“He’s going to be great for the locker room. Really, I think, for us, too, just getting him in here, getting him going as soon as we can, and I think getting him in one position and letting him really get good at one position, and that’s where we feel he’s really going to make the most impact for us.”
Ultimately, the Jaguars simply felt as though Walker was the best pick for the organization at this time. Something that’ll make the defense better immediately, especially opposite of pass-rusher Josh Allen.
“He’s already coming into a good room, and he just made the room better, and we’re excited for that.”