JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The biggest challenge for NFL evaluators is determining whether a prospect is an ideal fit for the team’s scheme. For a media scout, the lack of information and insight from each organization can make it difficult to play the mock draft game when attempting to match top prospects with pro franchises.
In the 2022 NFL Draft, the surprising rise of Travon Walker to No. 1 overall created quite a stir in media circles, with many observers obsessing over the Georgia product’s sack production instead of focusing on his intriguing traits as a super-sized defensive playmaker with positional flexibility.
With the Jacksonville Jaguars’ pass-rush need, the pre-draft debate between Walker and Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson dominated discussion in the days leading up to the top selection, as analysts weighed each prospect’s pros and cons.
After Jacksonville turned in the card for Walker, questions ensued about the 6-foot-5, 272-pounder’s relative lack of college production and how the Jaguars planned to maximize his skill set. What was the thinking behind spending the draft’s No. 1 overall 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 film 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 gain that information. And we just felt at the time, and even sitting here today, that the best for our organization was Travon Walker.
“When you look at his body of work at Georgia, from Day 1, the day he got there, they moved him all up and down that defensive front. He’s a very versatile player. There’s a lot of unique things that he can do along And for us, we feel like he’s going to be a good outside edge rusher with Josh Allen and KC, K’Lavon Chaisson, and these guys that we have, and Jordan Smith.He just adds to that room. It’s a position that we addressed in the draft and we’re happy and we’re excited and we can’t wait to get him in here. “
After spending a few days in Jacksonville this week watching the team conduct OTAs, I understand why Walker was the Jaguars ’choice at No. 1. The massive edge defender is an intimidating presence as a stand-up player in a 3-4 defense. Moreover, he is an explosive athlete with heavy hands and a non-stop motor. Walker’s pass-rushing tools are unrefined, partly because, in UGA’s defense, he wasn’t routinely asked to just pin back his ears and hunt quarterbacks. As Pederson noted, though, the 21-year-old’s rare natural gifts offer immense upside.