Why drafting Travon Walker No. 1 overall would be a massive mistake
Somewhere, an extremely casual football fan ignored all the NFL Draft coverage the past 3-plus months. That person didn’t click on a single mock draft, they did social things instead of watching grown men go through tests in their underwear and they decided to show up to draft week fresh instead of being overloaded with information.
I’d love to see the look on their face when I told them that Travon Walker was the new betting favorite to go No. 1 overall just 2 days before the NFL Draft.
If they were a casual college football fan, there’s a good chance they’d scratch their head. Maybe they remembered that he was a defensive lineman for Georgia. Perhaps they remembered that he had a game-high 7 pressures in the College Football Playoff National Championship.
On second thought, who are we kidding? A casual fan isn’t filing away a “total pressures” stat. That’s for the college football diehards.
Reality is, though, you don’t have to be a diehard to understand why drafting Walker at No. 1 overall would be a massive mistake for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
To be clear, this isn’t an argument about Walker being a bust. It wouldn’t be surprising if he did indeed turn out to be a more productive pro than a college player. We’ve seen that happen, specifically at the edge position.
Odafe Oweh didn’t have a single sack in his pre-draft season at Penn State, and yet the Baltimore Ravens took him at No. 31 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. Oweh was a disruptive force from the jump and he earned PFWA All-Rookie honors.
Walker could very well follow that path. Unlike Oweh, Walker did at least get in the backfield in his pre-draft season. He had 7.5 tackles for loss, 6 of which came via sacks. Like Oweh, who ran a 4.36-second 40-yard dash at 257 pounds during his pro day, Walker also tested extremely well for a player of his size. At 272 pounds, Walker ran an absurd 4.51-second 40-yard dash (that was faster than 12 receivers at the Combine), he had a wingspan of 84 1/4 inches, his broad jump was a ridiculous 123 inches and he posted a 35 1/2-inch vertical.
Combine that with ridiculous viral plays like this and yes, it’s hard not to fall in love with Walker’s potential:
The Travon Walker dialogue just gets more and more disingenuous as the days go by
Doesn’t take much time to turn on the film and see the traits that might get him taken first overall pic.twitter.com/06bQtLffHA
— karan (@905Kar) April 25, 2022
So then why would it be a mistake for the Jaguars to go with Walker when they already have their franchise quarterback in Trevor Lawrence?
Think about this. Walker has freaky traits. There’s no denying that. There’s also no denying that at best, he was the 5th-best player on that Georgia defense. Was it a historically dominant Georgia defense? Absolutely. Did Dan Lanning and Kirby Smart task their defensive linemen as being more about eating up space to free up linebackers to make plays? Also true.
But at some point for the No. 1 overall pick, you have to be more skeptical. In the same way we’re told to be skeptical of quarterbacks who don’t start until their pre-draft seasons, shouldn’t we also be skeptical of a guy who didn’t start on the defensive line until his pre-draft season? And sure, college production doesn’t mean everything. Isn’t it supposed to mean something?
Let’s even look beyond the typical stats. Pro Football Focus didn’t grade Walker among the top 150 edge rushers in FBS in 2021. He finished graded No. 172 among FBS edge rushers, which was 171 spots behind Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson, AKA the previous favorite to go No. 1 overall to the Jaguars. Hutchinson was easily the highest-graded edge defender in the sport, he had no shortage of production (16.5 TFLs, 14 sacks) and he was the Heisman Trophy runner up. Oh, and on top of that, you know what position he can play.
You see, it’s not just that Walker was lost in the shuffle compared to guys like Jordan Davis, Nakobe Dean and Devonte Wyatt. He’s still a relative unknown at his projected edge rusher position. Why?
Career snaps played outside the tackles, per @PFF:
Aidan Hutchinson — 1,514
Kayvon Thibodeaux — 1,353
George Karlaftis — 1,349
Arnold Ebiketie — 1,208
Jermaine Johnson — 1,032
Travon Walker — 529
Inexperience & role are reasons to combat the production concerns with Walker.
— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) March 27, 2022
Yikes. That’s raw.
That’s not meant to take away anything from Walker as a person. Listen to him talk and you’ll see a small-town guy who loves football and would be a great locker room presence.
If we were talking about the Kansas City Chiefs or the Los Angeles Rams somehow having the No. 1 overall pick, sure, roll the dice on a dude like Walker.
We’re not, though. Not at all.
This is the Jaguars. This is the team who just experienced a year of hell courtesy of Urban Meyer. Stability? Nope. One playoff appearance in the past 14 years isn’t stability.
Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney were the last non-quarterbacks selected No. 1 overall. Fittingly, both were freakish edge rushers who had their production questioned in their pre-draft seasons. Clowney still had 11.5 tackles for loss in 11 games, while Garrett had 15 tackles for loss in 10 games and that’s after both earned All-America honors as underclassmen.
But sure, Walker tested awfully similar to those guys and unlike Clowney and Garrett, Walker got a chance to post a career-high 7 pressures on a national championship stage. If that suddenly makes Walker just as good of a prospect as those guys, who were obvious No. 1 overall picks, so be it.
If Walker is the first name called Thursday night, it’ll be a gamble unlike any we’ve seen in the NFL Draft in recent memory. Passing up a quarterback would be one thing. Passing up someone playing the same position like Hutchinson would be a totally different level. Go back to December and you can find plenty of mock drafts that didn’t have Walker in Round 1 at all. In his pre-bowl season mock draft, Todd McShay had Walker at No. 27 overall.
Clearly, Walker made teams fall in love with him. Good for him. Even if he gets a stunned reaction from the Las Vegas crowd after hearing his name called No. 1 overall, he should soak that moment in.
He has a whole lot of diehards to prove wrong. Myself included.