First, the Jacksonville Jaguars made an unconventional selection with the first pick in the 2022 NFL draft. Now they're asking the player they picked to switch positions before his first NFL game.
Travon Walker tested through the roof at the NFL scouting combine and worked his way into being the top overall selection to the Jaguars. But Walker very much was a down lineman at Georgia, and a one-year starter at that. And now the Jaguars want to see what Walker can do as more of a linebacker in their system.
Jaguars defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell said Sunday that the team believes Walker's best fit will be as an outside linebacker in the team's odd-front defense.
"I think his best position is outside linebacker because of his length, his athletic ability going against tackles," Caldwell said, via the Florida Times Union. "That is a premium position in this defense. He can play other positions, but his home for us is outside linebacker, where we see him being a force. We are going to try to mold him and let him take off and go."
Will it work? That's a mystery now.
Remember, Walker checked in at the combine at 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds. Even in a role that likely will ask him to rush the passer quite a bit, this is a notable role change. According to Pro Football Focus, Walker dropped into coverage a mere 26 snaps last season (and only 32 times over his three college seasons with the Bulldogs).
Walker was only used sparingly, per PFF, as a true stand-up linebacker last season — a mere 16 defensive snaps. But to be fair, he lined up as an outside LB of sorts quite a bit (more than 60% of the time), so this is not a massive shift in responsibility.
The question now becomes: How much will Walker be asked to cover and/or make plays in space? That element of his responsibilities in college was much more streamlined; more often than not, he was moving forward, not reverse.
Travon Walker is "like a unicorn"
Caldwell appears confident that the Jaguars have the right plan for Walker.
"You think about the size — his height, his weight, his speed — it's like a unicorn," Caldwell said. "He is unique. He plays that way and you see it on tape. You see the burst, you see the speed, you see the moves he has. We are excited about him, and I think he will be ready to roll."
As we noted in our pre-draft scouting report on Walker, he offers tremendous movement skill. But will he be in his head with the expanded duties? Thinking too much and not reacting? That remains unknown and will be fascinating to watch play out during preseason and the early regular-season games.
The eye level changes at linebacker, too. So do the angles to the ball. Playing in space vs. NFL-caliber athletes can task even the most gifted defenders, especially those not accustomed to facing that level off ability.
And at 275 pounds — freak athlete or not — Walker will be among the bigger edge players in the NFL lining up in two-point stances. A similar comp, perhaps, might be the Packers' Rashan Gary at 277 pounds. Although Gary does stand up from his rush LB spot, he's not asked to kick out to the slot or drop into coverage all that often.
Gary also took a few years to arrive at the tier he's at now through three NFL seasons. It might not be stunning to assume that Walker, who turns 22 years old in December, might have a similar timetable of growth.