JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The biggest challenge for NFL evaluators is determining if a prospect is a perfect fit with the team’s program. For a media scout, each organization’s lack of information and insight can make it difficult to play the simulated draft game when trying to match top prospects with professional franchises.
In the 2022 NFL Draft, Travon Walker’s surprising rise to No. 1 in the world caused a stir in media circles, with many observers obsessed with producing sacks of the Georgian product instead of focusing on his intriguing traits as a as a tall defensive playmaker with positional flexibility.
With the Jacksonville Jaguars’ need to rush passes, the pre-draft debate between Walker and Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson dominated discussion in the days leading up to the first draft, as analysts weighed the pros and cons of each perspective.
After Jacksonville handed Walker the card, questions arose about the relative lack of 6-foot-5, 272-pound college production and how the Jaguars planned to maximize his skill set. What was the thinking behind spending the No. 1 draft pick on a raw prospect?
“For us it was just the potential, the upside,” Pederson said last month on The Rich Eisen Show. “As coaches, we’re privy to a lot of movies and a lot of conversations that a lot of people don’t get, and a lot of information. And part of our job is to get that information. And we felt just then, and even sitting here today, that the best for our organization was Travon Walker.
“When you look at his work at Georgia, from day one, the day he got there, they’ve all moved him up and down on that defensive front. He’s a very versatile player. There’s a lot of unique things he can do along the defensive front and for us, we feel like he’s going to be a good outside rusher with Josh Allen and KC, K’Lavon Chaisson, and these guys we have, and Jordan Smith. He just adds to this play. And that’s a position that we tackled in the draft and we’re happy and we’re excited and we can’t wait to get him here.”
After spending a few days in Jacksonville this week watching the team lead OTAs, I understand why Walker was the Jaguars’ pick at No. 1. The massive edge defender is an intimidating presence as a standing player in a 3 defense -4. Plus, he’s an explosive athlete with heavy hands and a non-stop drive. Walker’s pass-rushing tools are unrefined, in part because, on UGA’s defense, he wasn’t routinely called upon to stick his ears and chase quarterbacks. As Pederson noted, however, the 21-year-old’s rare natural gift offering immense Upside down.