Players’ reading is always variable coming out of college. Some need time to find their footing in the NFL but there are others that can make an impact right out of the gate. Jacksonville Jaguars outside linebacker Travon Walker belongs in the latter group. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 draft was dominant in his pro debut and was one of Bleacher’s Report’s top-graded rookies in Week 1 of the regular season.
Brent Sobleski of B/R recently assigned grades to some of the most notable members of this year’s draft class and Walker got an A. Only Washington Commanders wide receiver Jahan Dotson earned a higher mark, an A+.
Sobleski points out that the Jags raised eyebrows when the Jags selected Walker first overall due to his lack of experience rushing the passer but goes on to say that he demonstrated in Week 1 why he got the nod over other high-profile prospects such as Aidan Hutchinson or Evan Neal.
"Walker registered his first sack against a pretty good right tackle in the Washington Commanders’ Samuel Cosmi. The 23-year-old fired off the ball, dipped his shoulder, turned the edge, and closed on quarterback Carson Wentz.The more impressive play came later when the defensive lineman intercepted a pass. The rookie rushed the passer, identified an oncoming screen, redirected, and plucked the ball out of the air with ease. He ven gained 10 yards on his return."
Walker logged four total tackles, one for a loss, a sack, and one interception. Moreover, he was credited with total pressures and got a Pro Football Focus overall grade of 66.8. Here’s the sack he recorded in Week 1 and a superb breakdown by Brian Baldinger of NFL Media.
The Jaguars should be thrilled about Travon Walker’s Week 1 outing
General manager Trent Baalke shot for the moon when he used the top pick on Walker. Then again, he’s previously shown an eye for finding defensive line talent, so maybe the pick wasn’t as risky as it seemed from the outside looking in.
So why was Walker seen as a massive gamble? His elite power and athleticism were never in question coming out of college. Instead, he was seen as a risky bet due to his lack of experience getting after the quarterback. Back at Georgia, he didn’t often rush the passer from a standup position and was instead asked to play different positions across the line of scrimmage.
Heading into Week 2, he’s become the frontrunner to earn the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award. Had you told someone he would have a good chance to get the award a few months ago, you would have probably gotten a weird look, as there were other players with seemingly better odds.
After all, the Georgia native is making the transition to outside linebacker full-time and he was supposed to experience a learning curve. However, it seems like his further along in his development than originally expected at this point of his rookie campaign.
Having said that, just because Walker is off to a good start doesn’t mean he will finish the season strong. He’s not the kind of player that will let his Week 1 performance get to his head but he must now build off of it and keep working on becoming the difference-maker the Jaguars expect him to be.