JACKSONVILLE – Versatility mattered. A lot.
So did potential and athleticism.
Travon Walker, an outside linebacker from the University of Georgia, has a rare combination of those traits – and Trent Baalke and Doug Pederson said that's why Walker became the No. 1 overall selection by the Jaguars in the 2022 NFL Draft.
"There's a lot of work to do, but there's a lot of talent to work with," Baalke, in his second draft as the Jaguars' general manager, said of Walker moments after the selection.
Baalke said the Jaguars ad narrowed their possibilities at No. 1 to six or seven players "for quite some time," finalizing the decision by meeting with Jaguars Owner Shad Khan Wednesday.
"It's never final until you meet with ownership," Baalke said.
Walker (6-feet-5, 272 pounds), who forewent his senior season to declare for the draft, started all 15 games this past season for the national-champion Bulldogs. He registered a career-high six sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss with 37 tackles.
He played defensive tackle, defensive end and outside linebacker/edge, playing standing up and as a down lineman. Pederson, working his first draft with the Jaguars after being named head coach in early February, cited Walker's "athleticism, length, ability to bend the corner."
"The thing you see with this guy is his versatility," Pederson said.
“He played all up and down the defensive line at Georgia. He’s just a tremendous kid. He’s going to be great for the locker room. It’s exciting to be able to see where he can help us. He’s already coming into a good room and he just made the room better. We’re excited for that.” Head Coach Doug Pederson
Pederson said the early emphasis will be identifying one position and allowing Walker to develop there.
"That's where we feel he's really going to make the most impact for us," Pederson said. "For right now, let's get him in here, let's get him working with our guys, with our coaches, get him with our guys and get him working with a group."
Baalke agreed, saying: "He's young. He's 21 years old and a lot to learn, especially when you step into this league and this arena. The expectation is to settle him into one position, get him comfortable, get him playing, and then take it from there in terms of the versatility.
“He has proven he can do all the things we’re going to as him to do in our system and have the versatility to do it at a high level.” GM Trent Baalke
Walker – a Southeastern Conference All-freshman selection in 2019 – played 36 games with 15 starts in three seasons at Georgia, registering 9.5 sacks and six pass breakups with 65 total tackles and 13 tackles for loss.
"There's a lot of learning to do for all of these guys coming in," Baalke said. "We feel very strongly about him as a player, that we're going to end up with a good football player, but it's not going to be without a lot of work on his part. The ceiling is up to him.
"We're going to do our best to put him in position to reach that ceiling."
Walker impressed scouts and observers during the Scouting Combine earlier this offseason, running a 4.51-second 40-yard dash with a 35.5-inch vertical leap and a 10-feet, three-inch broad jump. If that performance solidified his status as a potential Top 5 selection, Baalke said the Jaguars thought positively of Walker well before that.
"The first time I saw him was early October," Baalke said. "From that moment on, I felt he had a lot of talent. Obviously, you don't make the decision in the middle of October or early October. It's a process, but he checked the boxes as we went through the process.
"This is a guy who played very consistent football all year long. This isn't a guy who just jumped on the screen because he ran 4.51 in the 40-yard dash at the combine. He played some very good football through the course of the year."
Baalke on Walker's collegiate production: "There are a lot of things that go into production. It's not at the end of the day just how many sacks they tally or how many pressures they have. There's a run element to the game, too. There are a lot of ways to look at production. We feel very comfortable about his production run and pass with a lot of upside."
Baalke and Pederson both called the process of identifying Walker as the No. 1 selection collaborative, with Pederson pointedly answering a reporter's question about potential disagreement over the selection by saying: "Can I just stop you? This thing was never split. I want to go out on record and say it was never that way. I don't know where that came from. That's one of the things I've loved about our process is the communication and us being on the same page. These unnamed sources … I don't get into a lot of that. A lot of work went into making this selection tonight and we're just fired up to have Travon in the building." Baalke: "There was never a non-consensus. There was a lot of collaboration through this process. We never had that debate. We took a look at each prospect – how they fit our system, how they fit out our organization, the culture – and we worked from there. We just felt at the end of the day this was the best pick for this organization at this time."