The Jacksonville Jaguars had several options with the first overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft. Ultimately, they went with Travon Walker and his immense upside. While he has yet to reach his ceiling, the Jags should be encouraged by his development. Based on the progress he's made the past two years, he should continue to make strides next season. Jonathan Macri of Pro Football Focus, for one, is excited about Walker's potential, so he named him an early breakout candidate for 2024.
Macri put together an early list of players set to have a breakout year for each NFL team. He included Walker, noting that he's not a top performer yet when it comes to pass-push but has still managed to find ways to produce.
"Walker hasn’t yet delivered the high-end pass-rush metrics that most would expect from a former first-overall pick, but this was always the most likely case for Walker, who was very much touted as a work in progress as a pass-rusher. The positives through his first two seasons come from him still finding ways to win and produce strong pressure and sack numbers, greatly increasing his totals from his rookie to sophomore season. "
Macri goes on to say that pass rushers usually put it all together in Year 3, so nobody should be surprised if Walker does have a banner season in 2024.
The Jaguars chose Walker over Aidan Hutchison because they believe he'll be the better player down the road. Although it's common for clubs to take developmental players in the draft, they do it in the later rounds, not with the top pick of the draft, which is why the Jags were severely criticized for taking Walker. While he had all the tools to develop into a dominant pass rusher, he was a project coming out of Georgia.
See, Walker almost exclusively played with his hand on the ground in college but Jacksonville projected him to rush the quarterback from a standup position full-time. He then spent his rookie season learning the finer points of rushing the passer from a two-point stance. The fact that he dealt with a flurry of activity during the draft process also affected his transition.
However, Walker showed how good he could be once he got acclimated to playing outside linebacker. He got off to a relatively quiet start last season but finished strong, posting five sacks in the last four games, giving him 10 for the year.
What's next for Travon Walker and the Jacksonville Jaguars?
There are reasons to believe Walker will indeed enjoy a breakout campaign in 2024. Besides having settled at outside linebacker, he'll benefit from the arrival of defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen. Throughout his coaching career, Nielsen's specialty has been the defensive line. Players such as Sheldon Rankins, Cam Robinson, and Marcus Davenport flourished under his tutelage. Walker could be next.
Nielsen has previously run 4-3 defenses but deployed a scheme with elements of a 3-4 system as the Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator last year. With the Jaguars, it's possible that he'll have Walker switch between a three-point stance and outside linebacker in 2024. Either way, he'll find a way to unleash the former Bulldog's full potential.
To ensure there is some carryover, the Jaguars kept outside linebackers coach Bill Shuey, one of the few defensive assistants who wasn't let go after the end of the season. Both Walker and bookend pass rusher Josh Allen thrived under Shuey, so it's easy to see why the top brass wanted to retain him.
The jury is still out on Travon Walker. However, he's begun to show signs that the Jacksonville Jaguars made the right pick in 2022. If he has a breakout decision, the decision to draft him first overall will no longer be under scrutiny.