It's not often that teams use the top selection in the NFL Draft on a developmental prospect but that's what the Jacksonville Jaguars did when they selected outside linebacker Travon Walker first overall in 2021. Although the former Georgia Bulldog flashed at times as a rookie, he needs to make a huge leap in Year 2 if the Jags want to have a shot at slowing down Patrick Mahomes and some of the other quarterbacks they'll face next season. Tyler Sullivan of CBS Sports for one wonders if Walker will be able to put it all together in his sophomore campaign.
Sullivan recently drew up a list of questions surrounding every NFL club following the 2023 draft. He straight up asks if Walker will make the leap for Jacksonville, noting that he will be tasked with anchoring the defense.
"The Jaguars didn't do much to deepen their pass-rushing unit in the NFL Draft, which places a lot of hope in last year's No. 1 overall pick in Travon Walker and his ability to take a leap in Year 2. Walker had just 3.5 sacks last season and 21 total pressures. Given where he was selected, Walker will be asked to anchor Jacksonville's pass rush in a 2023 season where expectations are to make the postseason again. "
The Jaguars could have taken the safe route and gone with defensive end Aidan Hutchinson or one of the top-2 offensive line prospects, Ikem Ekwonu or Evan Neal. However, they chose to bet on Walker's upside. The team's brass knew that there was a chance he wasn't going to make an impact because he was switching to outside linebacker full-time after playing different roles on the Bulldogs defensive line.
Travon Walker is in a position to make an impact for the Jaguars in 2023
Walker has had a year to feel comfortable rushing the quarterback from a standup position, so asking him to make strides isn't unreasonable. Working in his favor is that there are different reasons he's going to be able to improve considerably in 2023.
For starters, he spent several months preparing for the draft, and that included traveling across the country, doing prep work for meetings, and going to interviews; not just working out. Without any commitments of that sort on his schedule, the Thomaston, Georgia native can fully focus on being better and getting ready for the 2023 season.
Also, Walker is entering his second year in defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell's system. By now, he should be familiarized with his role, which should make him more assertive on the football field. Similarly, 2023 is Caldwell's second year on the job. He was still figuring things out in 2022 but he had a better grasp as the season progressed. He now knows Walker's strengths and weaknesses and how to deploy him more effectively.
The last reason Walker should show progress in 2023 is that the won't have to carry the team on his shoulders. The front office refurnished the defensive front and added Louisville outside linebacker Yasir Abdulla to their pass-rush rotation. Walker won't have to single-handedly win games and will instead need to focus on performing his job to the best of his capabilities.
Players' readiness is always variable coming out of the draft but Walker showed enough in his rookie campaign to make you think that he'll make a leap in 2023 and come clutch for the Jacksonville Jaguars.