Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke chooses traits over production, and Travon Walker over Aidan Hutchinson with the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NFL draft.
Trent Baalke is consistent, if nothing else. For months, a great debate has been held among various TV talking heads, blogs, podcasts, YouTube channels and radio stations regarding who should be the number one pick for the Jaguars in the 2022 draft. Once the Jags extended left tackle Cam Robinson, it became clear to most observers that the choice would come down to former Georgia Bulldog Travon Walker and former Michigan Wolverine Aidan Hutchinson.
Rarely has there been so obvious a contrast between one player in Walker, whose athletic profile is sensational but whose production in college is questionable, and another player in Hutchinson who, while perhaps a notch below Walker physically, had excellent stats to go along with his athleticism. Now, we know that Walker is the choice.
And that choice reveals a lot about the Jacksonville Jaguars moving forward. Because, the main differences between Walker and Hutchinson boil down to a more long-standing, broadly ranging question that afflicts every team and fanbase league-wide: What’s more important when evaluating a college player, traits or production?
Production is easy to measure. Look no further than the player’s college statistics. How many yards did the tailback gain? How many touchdowns did the receiver catch? How many sacks did the defensive end get?
Traits are also easy to measure. How fast can he run? How much can he bench? How far can he jump? The NFL has a whole event called the Scouting Combine just to answer these questions.
The difficulty is in determining how much weight to give one characteristic over the other. It becomes particularly difficult when two candidates are considered close in potential, with one candidate possessing better athletic traits and the other candidate possessing a better history of performance.
Some evaluators lean toward production. They say things like, “trust the film,” or “believe what you see.” To them, playing football is a different activity than working out in front of scouts wearing shorts and a T-shirt.
However, other evaluators, like Trent Baalke, lean toward traits. They tend to view traits as a sort of baseline required to perform at the NFL level. They tend to say things like, “Yeah, he had success, but at that weight, he won’t be able to bully NFL tackles the way he did in college.”
Baalke has a long history of valuing traits over production as noted in this article from Zachary Huber of USA TODAY Sports:
"“[Baalke] opted to take players with more potential and better traits like Aldon Smith, DeForest Buckner, and Arik Armstead instead of players with stronger production in college, which points to him likely favoring Walker.”"
As luck would have it, in each of the examples listed above, the next player taken at the same position in their respective drafts was more of a production player. The way those picks played out may give some insight as to why Baalke picks the way he does.