Top Dawg: Jaguars opt for potential, pick Georgia’s Travon Walker No. 1

Bulldogs edge rusher is Jacksonville’s choice to jumpstart defense

Travon Walker #44 of the Georgia Bulldogs sacks Tyler Macon #10 of the Missouri Tigers in the second half at Sanford Stadium on November 6, 2021 in Athens, Georgia. (Todd Kirkland, 2021 Getty Images)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Travon Walker’s meteoric rise is complete.

The Jaguars made it official on Thursday night, selecting Georgia edge rusher Walker with the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft to cap a rocket ride up the charts for the junior from Thomaston, Georgia. Walker opened draft season with 30-to-1 odds to be taken with the first pick.

Now, he’s the cornerstone of a rebuilding defense and expected to join edge rusher Josh Allen as the new deputies of Sacksonville. The NFL Network reported after Walker’s selection that he was involved in a “serious car accident in Athens, GA” before the draft but he was uninjured. General manager Trent Baalke said that the team was aware of the accident and Walker said that it was a fender bender and he wasn’t hurt.

Hours after Jacksonville took Walker first, it traded back up into the first round and picked Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd with the 27th overall pick. The Jaguars traded the No. 33, 106 and 180 picks to Tampa Bay to move up and pick Lloyd.

With Trevor Lawrence going No. 1 overall last season and Walker following, the Jaguars are betting that an infusion of top-shelf talent begins translating into victories on the field.

“I’m definitely prepared for it, the No. 1 pick,” Walker said. “I have to say there’s a lot of expectations behind that but it’s just the game of football to me. I’m just going to continue to do what I’ve been doing, giving my all to the game of football because that’s something that I love to do, and I’m not making it more pressure on myself than it should be.”

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Coach Doug Pederson said last week that the team doesn’t expect to be in position to have the top pick again anytime soon. If the Jaguars can get Walker to reach his enormous potential, that can happen soon for defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell.

For long-suffering Jacksonville fans and Duval County taxpayers who will soon be asked to chip in on a revamped stadium of the future, the wins can’t come quickly enough.

Since Shad Khan purchased the team from Wayne Weaver in 2012, the Jaguars have just one playoff appearance, nine seasons under .500 and arguably the worst and most embarrassing head coaching hire in NFL history (Urban Meyer) on the ledger.

Jacksonville’s struggles with first-round picks are notable (Taven Bryan, Dante Fowler, Luke Joeckel, Leonard Fournette, CJ Henderson and K’Lavon Chaisson have all been selected since 2013) and naysayers won’t be swayed by Walker’s lack of statistics in college.

In the video below, Scott Johnson speaks with Jaguars’ fans about the first-round pick

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The selection of Walker was a classic case of potential — what can Jacksonville get out of a still developing player — over proven production.

Michigan edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson, who went No. 2 to the Lions, was viewed as a far safer choice as the top selection and had been favored by many mock drafts to be Jacksonville’s guy for months. He was the Heisman Trophy runner-up who had 14 sacks as a senior and 18.5 in his career.

But the Jaguars, and embattled general manager Baalke, were drawn in by Walker’s immense upside and potential. The 6-foot-5, 272-pound Walker has played all over the defense, including mostly at tackle during his first two seasons at Georgia. His output there was decent but not otherworldly.

Walker wasn’t considered the best player on Georgia’s defense last season, his first as a starter, and was a role player as a freshman and sophomore (28 total tackles, 3.5 sacks combined) while playing mostly inside on the inside.

“That’s one of the things we liked about Travon is his versatility and the fact that he can move up and down the defensive line. It’s something that as we go and as we grow with him, knowing that he’s been able to do that, maybe you come up with a package or two where he goes down inside on third down or something of that nature,” Pederson said..” But again, for right now, let’s get him in here and let’s get him working with our guys, with our coaches, get him in one spot and get him with the group.”

Walker shook things up with a spectacular performance at the NFL scouting combine, including a blistering 4.51 time in the 40-yard dash. His work in drills like the short shuttle and three-cone ranged from the 85th to 94th percentile among all participants. Baalke said that it wasn’t just the combine production that caught Jacksonville’s attention.

“Well, the first time that I saw him personally was early October, and from that moment on I felt he added a lot of talent,” Baalke said. “Obviously you don’t make the decision the middle of October or early October; it’s a process. But he checked the boxes as we went through the process.”

On the Bulldogs’ national champion team last season, Walker shed weight, dropping from 290 to 275 pounds and was a far greater force (37 total tackles, team-best 36 QB hurries, 6 sacks) than he was when he was tethered to just the line.

Some will be put off because Walker played on an excellent defense and wasn’t even the best player on that unit. Others may appreciate the untapped potential and a new Jacksonville coaching staff’s ability to unlock it.

“What we can do is look at the film and watch production. There’s a lot of things that go into production. It’s not at the end of the day how many sacks they tally or how many pressures they have,” Baalke said. “There’s a run element to the game, too. So there’s a lot of ways to look at production, and we feel very comfortable about his production run and pass with a lot of upside. But again, he’s got to come in like these young guys do, they’ve got to come in and earn it.”

While Walker’s rise in the draft process has been exceptional, he was far from an unknown in high school.

Walker arrived at Georgia in the Class of 2019 out of Upson-Lee High School in Thomaston as a major national recruit. Walker was a four-star by Rivals (34th overall) and ESPN (46th in the country), and a five-star by 247 Sports Composite (22nd overall).

The Travon Walker bio

A glance at some notable things in the life of Travon Walker, the edge rusher who the Jaguars selected No. 1 overall in Thursday night’s NFL draft.

Where’s he from

Thomaston, Ga.

His name

Travon is actually his middle name. Yury is his first name.

How old is he


Where he played in high school


Notable in high school

Often played at middle LB, he had 40 tackles, 8 sacks as a senior in 2018. He had 4 TD catches as a tight end and rushed for 4 TDs. … In basketball, he played center and averaged 16 points and 12 rebounds per game. Walker averaged 11.7 ppg and 10.8 rpg over his four-year career. He helped lead Upson-Lee to back-to-back state titles in 2016-17, a period where his team won 75 consecutive games.

He did what?

Walker grew up playing the trombone, telling in an interview that he learned to read music when was in the band and started playing the trombone because he thought it would be an easy class to take.

At Georgia

Walker was a one-year starter (2021).

He played all over the defense. According to the NFL Network, Walker logged 381 snaps at defensive end, 105 at tackle, 98 at linebacker, 11 at nose guard and one at cornerback.

His pass-rush win rate in one-on-one situations in 2021 was 12%, according to Pro Football Focus. For comparison, Aidan Hutchinson’s was 31%.

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.