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College-to-pro projections for 2022 NFL Draft first-round edge defenders

East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux (5) practices a drill during rookie camp at Quest Diagnostics Training Center. Mandatory Credit: John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

We don’t have much to look forward to for a few months vis-a-vis NFL following the draft and the schedule release, so let’s dive into some projections of future NFL performance.

We're going to look at first-round edge players using our PFF IQ system — which is available to NFL teams. For each player, we go over why they are projected a certain way to provide context, along with giving some volume-based pressure, stop and sack numbers for the 2022 season and showing where those numbers would rank last year among the edge position group.

Travon Walker, Jacksonville Jaguars

The surprise No. 1 pick by the Jaguars joins a defense in need of a pass-rusher after ranking 25th in team PFF pass-rushing grade and having no players with more than 50 total pressures in 2021. While edge defender wasn’t exactly a surprise, the particular edge Jacksonville drafted was, as Walker — while playing for a great Georgia defense — wasn’t exactly productive during his collegiate career. He generated just 0.03 wins more than the average FBS player:

No matter how you sliced and diced the data, Walker was not generating pressure at a rate commensurate with his draft contemporaries. In fact, in many cases he was the least-productive player among the top players vying to get selected during the first two days of the draft, let alone the first pick:

Now, the reason Jacksonville ultimately coveted him was that he was a plus athlete, earning a PFF combine score two standard deviations above the average edge defender (97th percentile) as a pass-rusher:

Walker was a 94th percentile athlete in the three-cone and a 97th percentile athlete in the 40-yard dash, all while being 6-foot-5 and over 270 pounds. He likely would have had an even higher combine score had he participated in the bench press. This fact, as well as a built-in bump for being drafted first overall, yields a better-than-expected projection for him, given his modest pressure rate (8%) a season ago at Georgia:

Median projection: 43.4 pressures, 7.2 sacks (425 pass-rushing snaps) — would have placed 37th among edge defenders last year

In the run game, Walker’s projections are still modest, but the upside potential is clear through the distributions:

Median projection: 14.5 run-defense stops (250 run-defense snaps) — would have placed 39th among NFL edge players last year

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