Teams that end with the first overall pick in the NFL draft usually want to choose a franchise building block. The Jacksonville Jaguars have held the top selection in back-to-back years, which they used on Trevor Lawrence and Travon Walker, respectively.
While it seems like the Jags found a franchise quarterback in Lawrence, Travon Walker, this year’s pick, has still a long way to go, which is why they go with cornerback Sauce Gardner in Pro Football Focus’ 2022 draft do-over.
Trevor Sikkema of PFF recently re-did this year’s draft and had Jacksonville taking Gardner, who originally went to the New York Jets with the fourth overall pick. Here’s what Sikkema had to say.
"For as much as I’m sure the Jaguars believe Travon Waler can be a great edge player for them down the line, Sauce Gardner has to be the pick here. He has a 90.4 coverage grade on the season and has allowed only 20 catches for 189 yards on 347 coverage snaps. He feels like he’s a top-10 cornerback (maybe even higher) in the entire NFL already."
Gardner was a starter from Day 1 and has gone on to become a mainstay of the Jets’ defense. His 86.1 PFF overall grade ranks third among all NFL cornerbacks, not just rookies. Similarly, his 43.5 percent completion rate is one of the best in the league, and he could give the Jags a dynamic cornerback tandem opposite sophomore Tyson Campbell, who’s having a pretty good season himself. Here’s a video of Gardner showing his playmaking skills.
The jury is still out on Jaguars OLB Travon Walker
Garner is currently the frontrunner for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award, and it might be difficult for Walker to catch up with him. But just because he’s a work in progress doesn’t mean he won’t become a difference-maker.
There’s no doubt Gardner is currently the better player of the two and arguably the best player of the 2022 draft class. Having said that, you can’t tell whether a player will go on to have a fruitful NFL career based on a nine-game sample.
The Jaguars could certainly use Gardner, but they had a chance to take him, along with other players, but they ultimately went with Walker because they think he will turn out to be the best of the bunch. And looking at general manager Trent Baalke’s track record of selecting defensive linemen and pass rushers in the first round, the Jaguars should be feeling confident about their decision.
Sure, Walker’s pass-rush win rate and total sack tally leave a bit to be desired but the Jaguars saw him as a long-term term investment and understand he’s currently dealing with the ebb and flows and flows of making the transition to outside linebacker full-time after hardly rushing the quarterback from a standup position at Georgia.
Gardner is certainly having a pretty good rookie season. But Walker has shown progress and effort throughout his rookie campaign, so there’s a reason to believe he’ll keep getting better and may even become the Jags’ X-Factor in the second half of the season if he can improve as a pass rusher.