Back when draft season was just starting to kick into full swing, Georgia edge defender Travon Walker was projected to land somewhere in the bottom half of the first round.
The 6-foot-5, 272-pounder came off the board at No. 27 in Todd McShay’s maiden mock draft in December. He was the 24th pick in Mel Kiper Jr.’s first mock in January. Daniel Jeremiah’s late-January Mock Draft 1.0 had him slightly higher at 13th overall, but even that is significantly below where Walker is being selected in mock drafts now.
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Per DraftKings Sportsbook, Walker is now -450 to be taken in the first five selections of the 2022 NFL Draft. He’s co-favorites with Aidan Hutchinson to be the second overall pick by the Detroit Lions at +250, and the most likely way Hutchinson falls to Detroit is if the Jacksonville Jaguars fall in love with Walker’s upside enough to make him the first overall pick.
Jacksonville and every other NFL team got an up-close look at that upside during the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, where Walker put on a freakish display of athleticism.
His 4.51-second 40-yard dash and 6.89-second three-cone are already in the elite tier for edge defenders, and those numbers become even rarer when they’re attached to the 6-foot-5, 272-pound frame with 35.5-inch arms. At a position like edge defender, where size and athleticism carry so much importance, it’s not difficult to see why the Houston Texans, Lions or even Jaguars would want to bet on Walker’s traits early in the draft.
The problem those teams have to grapple with before April's draft is that those traits resulted in a very average production profile at Georgia. And that is not average in terms of first-round NFL draft prospects — it is average compared to the collegiate level.
Walker played more than 200 defensive snaps for the first time in his career in 2021, and he ended the year with a 71.4 overall grade and a 65.8 pass-rushing grade. When you stack his pass-rush win rate in “true” pass-rush situations up against other top prospects in the class, it highlights that Walker didn’t come close to sniffing the pass-rushing production of other top names in the draft class.
2021 @PFF pass-rush win rates (no screens, PA or designed rollouts):
Kingsley Enagbare: 40%
Aidan Hutchinson: 33%
Nik Bonitto: 33%
Arnold Ebiketie: 32%
Kayvon Thibodeaux: 30%
George Karlaftis: 29%
Boye Mafe: 25%
David Ojabo: 23%
Jermaine Johnson II: 17%
Travon Walker: 11%
— Ben Linsey (@PFF_Linsey) March 30, 2022
An evaluation process should be comprehensive: There’s no one number to fall back on that tells the whole story of a prospect, and it’s certainly not a singular pass-rushing metric. However, the tricky thing with Walker is that there isn’t one on-field production metric that justifies spending a top-five pick on him.
Below is a list of edge defenders drafted in the first round since 2019, along with their career PFF grades.