Today, we’re continuing our multi-part series in which one of our writers makes the case for the Detroit Lions drafting one of each of the top talents in the 2022 NFL Draft. The purpose is to examine the fit each of these players have in Detroit and profile the talent prior to next week’s draft.
Next in our series, Mike Payton explains why he thinks Georgia edge rusher Travon Walker is the perfect pick for Detroit.
Previously: Kayvon Thibodeaux
The NFL Draft is just days away, and I still can’t tell you who the Lions are actually going to select with the second pick. At this point, it seems like there’s a fairly good chance that the player will be an edge rusher. Which one will they wind up with though? Will it Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson, Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux, Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson or Georgia’s Travon Walker? After considering everything, the Lions should take Walker if he’s there.
The reason I say “if he’s there” is because there’s now rumblings that Walker could wind up going first overall. If the Jacksonville Jaguars take one of the other guys, the Lions need to swoop in and take Walker before anyone else can. Here’s the case as to why.
The man is an athlete. Not just an athlete, but an ath-a-lete. Check out his 40-yard dash.
Hard not to be impressed when a defensive end runs a 4.51 40. Will Travon Walker be the first Georgia player taken in the Draft?@44Ytw | @GeorgiaFootball pic.twitter.com/5vThGtGAVW— NFL (@NFL) March 10, 2022
That’s a 272-pound man just a-moving out there. Travon Walker is a very big man. He stands 6-foot-5 inches and his hand size is a staggering 10 3⁄4 inches big. He also has 84 1⁄4 inch wingspan and a 35 1⁄2 inch arm length. Despite that size, he was able to run a 4.51 40-yard dash. That’s third among all edge rushers in this class.
It’s not just 40-yard dash though. Walker put up numbers at the combine that were so good that he wound up with an almost perfect 9.99 RAS score. That’s third out of 1,428 edge rushers since 1987. His comparisons are Myles Garrett, Jevon Kearse and Ezekiel Ansah to name a few. That’s good company.
The Lions need a guy that can get past offensive lineman and do it with speed. Walker can do that. Look how he gets past the Michigan lineman to get to J.J. McCarthy with ease. Just a beautiful sight to behold.
Travon Walker’s hand swipe move can be lethal…ignore the missed sack here pic.twitter.com/iBPQ85e1rH— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) March 4, 2022
This is the kind of thing you see a lot on Walker’s tape. He gets past lineman. He’s a problem in the run game. In this same game he beat a lineman to get to Hassan Haskins at nearly the point the ball was handed to him.
And that’s where Walker stands out from the rest of this year’s edge class: his versatility. He not only showed flashes of crazy pass rush potential, but he was an elite run defender (73.7 PFF grade), and the Bulldogs utilized his athleticism to use him as a coverage defender, too.
This is a 6-foot-5, 275 lb man making an athletic play to cause the INT. Travon Walker drops into coverage, gets a piece of the football by diving into the passing lane which results in the turnover.— WBG84 (@WBG84) April 17, 2022
His athletic upside as well as his versatility makes him so coveted. #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/Uk8ecxmMC5
Show me a single edge defender prospect that can do all of that at a high level.
Walker would be a perfect fit for the Lions, as Erik Schlitt laid out when he selected Walker with the second pick in our Community Mock Draft.
At the end of the day, Walker—like the rest of this year’s draft class—is still developing parts of his game, but he has rare traits, the ability to impact the game from all over the defense, and a hard-nosed, team-first mindset. As soon as he steps on the field he will improve the team’s run defense and pass rush both on the edge and on the interior.
A bigger, more athletic version of Trey Flowers, Walker has a high developmental ceiling and a chance to elevate his game to Cam Jordan/Za’Darius Smith-like levels.
Walker didn’t exactly light up the box score when it comes to sacks. That highlight above is very good, but he did miss that sack. In three years Walker got to the quarterback just 9.5 times, and it wasn’t just a case of missing the tackles. His pressure rate of 8 percent is among the lowest in this year’s class. Sure, some of that is due to how Georgia used him, but it’s not often we see a dramatic increase in pressure rate when going to the NFL. Expecting him to develop into an elite pass rusher is relying on a lot of projection and hope.
Walker is not a fully polished player. He is a project with major upside. If Todd Wash can help Walker with his wrap up ability and field vision, the Lions can get the player they want out of this. The good news is that Wash has a history of working with similar players in Jacksonville when he was the defensive line coordinator during the Sacksonville era. He’d also certainly benefit from the likes of former players-turned-coach Aaron Glenn and Kelvin Sheppard.