We conclude our post-draft Q&A series here at Big Cat Country with the No. 1 overall pick of the 2022 NFL Draft — outside linebacker/edge rusher Travon Walker out of Georgia.
While Jaguars fans have gotten familiar with Walker over the past few weeks, there are still plenty of things to learn about his college background. With that in mind, we spoke to “MaconDawg,” managing editor at Dawg Sports — SB Nation’s website for all things Georgia Bulldogs — to get additional insights into Walker.
Did Georgia fans expect Walker to be the top pick? Was his limited college production due to Georgia’s defensive scheme? Did Walker contribute to the Bulldogs in other ways that may not have shown up on the stat sheet?
Our conversation is below:
1. Travon Walker had a pretty dramatic rise from a prospect nobody was talking about as the best player available into eventually becoming a No. 1 overall pick. Of course, Walker started to get some buzz after his incredible NFL Combine performance, but before that happened, did you expect Walker to be a top-10 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft? Where did you see him going? Now that it is over, do you think Jacksonville made the right decision with Walker?
I think Georgia fans were fairly confident that when NFL personnel types got a look at Travon they would be impressed. His physical measurables are just undeniable. That’s something that Georgia fans have known about since he came to Athens, and was summarily placed on the kickoff team to run down and cover kicks in the open field at 285 pounds. He just happened to be one of the quickest and most athletic guys to do the job, even if it was pretty eye-popping to see it in person.
I’m not sure that most bulldog fans were prepared for him to go in the top overall spot, however. Walker just did not get the publicity that some of his defensive unit mates received. That was a little unfair based on the way to Georgia system is set up (more on that later), but it did take a leap of faith on the part of the Jags to trust the process and take him in that slot.
2. A lot is made about Walker’s lack of production in college, but Georgia’s defensive scheme, and the talent at just about every position on its defensive unit, could explain it. What does Georgia do defensively that makes the unit so strong as a whole, and how was Walker used specifically for the Bulldogs?
Georgia is theoretically known as a base 3-4 team, but in practice plays out of a 4-2-5 far more often. That was especially true in 2021 when the Bulldogs took fewer than 15 percent of snaps with less than a 10-point lead, and teams were slinging it to try to catch up. That took Walker out of his more natural position of strong-side edge run defender and made him play serious snaps as either an edge pass rusher or an interior pass rusher. That didn’t result in a lot of sacks, which is obviously the headline number for pass rush success.
But it did result in 36 quarterback pressures, as we often saw opposing signal callers running from him like they’d just seen a video of a girl in a nightgown crawling awkwardly out of a well. The result was often that those ball carriers ran into pursuit from the other side (Nolan Smith) or the second level (Nakobe Dean, Channing Tindall, Quay Walker).
Travon’s versatility also allowed him to occasionally drop back in zone coverage when Dan Lanning brought pass pressure from the second and third level, and with his gargantuan wingspan, it was pretty effective. For example, he had a tipped ball against Florida that resulted in an interception during the disastrous 21-point run right before halftime that functionally ended this year’s Georgia-Florida game (Hola, combination Gator/Jaguars fans!)
3. Walker is expected to play on the edge in Jacksonville’s defensive scheme, likely as a standup outside linebacker/pass rusher. While he may be moved around a bit and could still play some snaps as a down lineman, he said he is ready to focus on just one position. Do you think this is the best role for Walker to primarily play in the NFL, or do you think his skills are better used elsewhere? Why or why not?
That’s certainly where his body type seems to fit. And while it makes sense to sort of plant him there until he’s reliable in that role, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him used in more exotic ways as time passes and the situation dictates. Again, we’re talking about a guy who showed the ability to play decent man coverage on SEC tight ends at 290 pounds. It’s really tempting to find different ways to use a player like that.
4. While perhaps his statistics didn’t always show up in the box score, were there any other ways Walker helped the Bulldogs eventually win a national championship, on the field or off the field?
In addition to his versatility, Walker was also one of the quiet leaders of that veteran UGA defense. I think one reason the Jags felt comfortable making him the top pick is that steady, workmanlike manner. Travon Walker is a guy who’s going to show up to work every day, and that influence on the Georgia defense was a huge asset.
5. Coming into the NFL, Walker is known as a strong run defender, but perhaps a “raw” pass rusher. What would you say his biggest strength is, and what areas do you think he needs to improve upon?
That’s a fair assessment. I don’t think he’s a bad pass rusher (again, he led the national champions in quarterback pressures), but he does need to hone his craft. Walker struggles a little when good tackles break his first move. He doesn’t really have counters for those situations and would sometimes just sort of stalemate or default to a bull rush when initial pressure didn’t work. He needs to work on that technical aspect of pass rushing, but I think it’ll come together for him if that’s what he’s assigned, and if he’s given the chance to really develop in that area early in his career.
6. Is there anything else Jaguars fans should know about Walker?
I think the most important thing to know about Travon Walker is that, even though he could have had that dream moment to walk across the stage in Las Vegas as the top overall pick, he stuck with his plans to celebrate in Atlanta with family and friends who would not have been able to join him out west. This is not a guy who wants the limelight. That’s going to endear him the Jags fans if his performance tracks with his potential. Jacksonville had a few needs they could have addressed with that top selection. But with Travon Walker, they got a guy with genuine star potential and not nearly as much downside as a lot of other players. There are no guarantees in the NFL, but I like the odds of this pick working out.
Thank you to “MaconDawg” for providing thorough analysis and insights into what the Jaguars are getting in Walker. If you want to continue to follow Georgia athletics, make sure to follow Dawg Sports on Twitter.