2. Travon Walker, EDGE/DL, Georgia: Soaring riser whose productivity falls short of his immense physical traits
It's no secret that the Jets' scouting department favors players with high-end athletic measurables. See 2020 second-round wide receiver Denzel Mims.
On paper, Georgia's defensive linemen Travon Walker has one of the best overall athleticism grades of any draft prospect ever. At 6-foot-5, 275 pounds, Walker has 4.51 40-yard dash speed.
At the NFL Combine, he also posted otherworldly numbers like a 35.5 vertical leap, a 123-inch broad jump, a 6.89 3-cone drill, and a 4.32 short shuttle. Walker was also in the 95th percentile for arm length at 35.5 inches. Walker's measurables were all in the 85th percentile or better for defensive linemen.
With the god-given physical traits that Walker possesses, you would figure that he would have routinely dominated the opposition in the SEC. Except he didn't and, based on his freakish athletic traits, he should have.
For his entire collegiate career, Walker had a grand total of 9.5 sacks and only 13 tackles for loss. He did have 29 QB pressures in 2021, but for someone who is projected to go as high as No. 1 in this year's draft, you would figure that Walker would be a guaranteed double-digit sack producer who was unblockable in college.
But he was far from that. Walker's production profile falls way short of his immense physical talents. And it's not like he didn't play next to talented players at Georgia. The "he was surrounded by inferior talent and was double and triple-teamed" argument doesn't hold water.
For believers in the pass-rush win-rate category, Pro Football Focus stacked Travon Walker's win rate in "true" pass-rush situations, (no screens, play-action of designed rollouts) up against other top prospects in this draft class.
Walker's win rate of 11% was way behind Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson's 33%, Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux's 30%, and even Purdue's George Karlaftis's 29%. Walker was way below other prospects as well in this category like Michigan's David Ojabo at 23%.
For the traditionalists, who don't put much stock in win rates or efficiency metrics and solely rely upon the eyeball test, Walker doesn't score well there either when he is in pads. The productivity numbers, or lack thereof, speak for themselves.
Make no mistake, sacks aren't the end all be all of defining an edge rusher's worth, but T.J. Watt, Aaron Donald, or Myles Garrett wouldn't be revered as world-beaters if they didn't produce high-end double-digit sack totals every single season.
And if you are going to be selected as high as Travon Walker will, you better be in that rarefied air as a pass rusher. You have to produce at a high level.
The Jets desperately need an outside edge rusher who can be a game-changer, especially considering Jeff Ulbrich and Robert Saleh's defensive scheme. New York doesn't rely upon blitzing to confuse opponents. They are not a matchup-based defense.
Their success is tied to their ability to get to quarterbacks and take them down. When the Jets are unable to do that, as evidenced in 2021, they struggle as they were ranked last defensively in the entire NFL.
For ages, the green and white have lacked an elite edge rusher. Not since the days of John Abraham have the Jets had a difference-maker who can post 10-plus sacks a season.
Travon Walker is not that type of player. He is a projection. Hutchinson, Thibodeaux, and Jermaine Johnson are all better pass rushers than he is. Walker is, in many ways, a tweener. Kind of like a super amped-up Solomon Thomas.
He's in between being a true defensive end and a situational pass rusher at defensive tackle. There's certainly value in that type of versatility, but it doesn't lend itself towards someone who is a natural fit schematically as an edge rusher.
Perhaps with great coaching, Walker will become a dominant force, but if you are the Jets, let someone else take that pie in the sky pipedream.
If the Jets do draft Walker, five-sack seasons are not going to be worth the draft capital spent. He needs to be a consistent 10-15 sack player every year to justify his lofty draft status.