Jaguars used as cautionary tale for teams looking for a pass rusher in the NFL Draft

• The Jaguars went with Travon Walker becaused of his upside but Aidan Hutchinson was the more NFL-ready of the 2.

Jaguars owner Shad Khan, head coach Doug Pederson, first-round draft pick Travon Walker and general
Jaguars owner Shad Khan, head coach Doug Pederson, first-round draft pick Travon Walker and general / Corey Perrine/ / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Jacksonville Jaguars could've drafted Aidan Hutchinson first overall in 2022 but went with Travon Walker because he had a higher ceiling. While Walker has made strides, Hutchinson has had the better NFL career so far. Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus is now asking teams not to make the same "mistake" the Jags made.

Monson recently made the case for teams not to overlook Laiatu Latu in the 2024 NFL Draft, arguing that he's a better pass rusher than Dallas Turner right now. However, clubs may want to bet on Turner's ceiling over Latu's proven track record, which is why Monson brought up the Walker-Hutchinson debacle.

"This dynamic is most obvious in pass rushers. Two years ago, the Jacksonville Jaguars passed up a demonstrably better player in Aidan Hutchinson to chase the upside in Travon Walker, who was literally the greatest athlete the game has ever seen at the position.

By every conceivable measure, Hutchinson was the better player at the time, but Walker’s theoretical upside and potential, set by the fact that he had the greatest measurables composite of any edge rusher in history, was what captivated the Jaguars into spending the No. 1 overall pick on him."

Monson goes on to say that something similar is happening with Turner and Latu, pointing out that the former is an awesome athlete while the latter is being perceived as limited even though he was highly productive at the collegiate. In fact, Latu has posted two of the best 12 PFF passing rush grades since 2014, and Monson notes that that kind of success carries over into the NFL more often than not.

But even though Latu isn't nearly as athletic as Turner, he still tested well at the NFL Scouting Combine, posting a 40-yard dash of 4.64 seconds. Similarly, his PFF Game Athleticism Score was in the 97th and 99th percentile in 2022 and 2023, respectively.

Heading into the draft, Latu's biggest potential red flag is the neck injury he suffered at Washington back in 2020. It was so bad that the medical staff retired him. But after sitting out 2020 and 2021, he transferred to UCLA, where he resumed his football career without any setbacks.

Latu says that he didn't hear any concerns about his medical condition at the scouting combine. That may be a sign that teams aren't overly concerned about his neck injury, which bodes well for his chances of being a top-15 pick.

The Jaguars aren't double-guessing the Travon Walker pick

While it's true that Aidan Hutchinson has become a mainstay of the Detroit Lions' defense, the Jacksonville Jaguars aren't having buyer's remorse. Travon Walker got off to a slow start to his NFL career, spending his rookie season getting adjusted to playing standup linebacker. However, he had a strong grasp of his position by Year 2 and finished 2023 with 10 sacks.

Walker will once again line up with his hand on the ground in defensive coordinator Ryan Neielsen's 4-3 scheme, so there's a strong chance he'll be even better in 2024. This is to say that the Jaguars don't deserve nearly as much criticism for passing on Hutchinson. So there may be parallels between but also several differences in the Dallas Turner-Laiatu Latu debate.

The biggest one is that Turner was more productive than Walker at the college level. Moreover, he's more NFL-ready than Walker was in 2022, which isn't a knock on the latter. You could even make the case that both Turner and Latu will be fine picks for teams in need of pass-rush help. Heck, the Jaguars could bolster their rotation, and at No. 17, there's a chance one of them will be available.

The bottom line is that the Jaguars drafted Trevon Walker because they believed he could develop into a difference-maker. On the other hand, it will be interesting to see how the draft plays out and where Dallas Turner and Laiatu Latu go.

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