Travon Walker’s rapid ascent in the 2022 NFL draft took him all the way to the top overall spot.
The Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday selected Walker, the Georgia defensive end, with the No. 1 overall pick in the first round.
The Jaguars, selecting at the top of the draft for the second consecutive year after taking quarterback Trevor Lawrence in 2021, had been deciding among four players as of last week, general manager Trent Baalke said. But the team’s move Wednesday to sign franchise-tagged left tackle Cam Robinson to a three-year extension signified that the Jaguars were likely in the market for a pass rusher.
Throughout much of the pre-draft process, Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson had been the presumptive front-runner to be the first player selected. Last week, however, Walker became the widespread betting favorite to be the No. 1 pick.
The Jaguars, however, didn’t publicly tip their hand until NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced the selection in Las Vegas.
Walker maintained last week that he did not know where he would land in the draft, telling USA TODAY Sports, “I wish I knew.”
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The former five-star recruit enjoyed a meteoric rise in his lone season as a starter for Georgia, helping the school win its first national title since 1980. His stock appeared to tick up even further with a strong performance at the NFL scouting combine in early March. Measuring in at 6-5 and 272 pounds, Walker ran a 4.51-second 40-yard dash, which ranked third among all defensive ends.
But Walker managed just 9 1/2 sacks in three seasons at Georgia, though he was afforded fewer edge-rushing opportunities than many of the other top defensive end prospects. Hutchinson, meanwhile, recorded 14 sacks in 2021 alone, finishing as the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy.
“I think when you look at both those players, they’re productive in their own way,” Baalke said during a pre-draft news conference, referring to Hutchinson and Walker. “[They’re] used differently, totally different schemes, used differently within those schemes.”
Walker, however, acknowledged that he could have been more productive during his career with the Bulldogs.
“I feel like I could’ve taken advantage of a lot more plays on my own,” he said, adding that he had been working on his pass-rush technique in hopes of achieving better results at the next level.
In Jacksonville, Walker will be a vital building block for a franchise seeking a reset after coach Urban Meyer was fired just 13 games into his inaugural campaign. The Jaguars finished the year 3-14 and subsequently hired former Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson to take the reins of the team.
Walker will team with 2019 first-round pick and former Pro Bowl selection Josh Allen as the cornerstones of the Jaguars’ pass rush. Jacksonville tallied just 32 sacks in 2021, tied for the sixth-lowest total in the NFL.
Moments after Walker’s selection, NFL Network reported that he had been involved in a “serious car accident” in Athens, Georgia in the leadup to the draft.
According to the crash report, which was obtained by USA TODAY Sports, Walker’s Dodge Durango sideswiped a pair of parked cars near a student apartment complex near the University of Georgia’s campus just before 11 p.m. on April 16. No injuries were reported and no citations were issued, according to Athens-Clarke County Police Department spokesperson Shaun Barnett.
Contributing: Tom Schad