Jacksonville Jaguars select Georgia Bulldogs DE Travon Walker No. 1 overall in 2022 NFL draft


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Travon Walker played his best when the stakes were the biggest and followed that up with an impressive performance at the scouting combine — and now he is the top pick in the NFL draft.

The Jacksonville Jaguars used the No. 1 pick on Walker on Thursday night, and they are counting on the former Georgia defensive end to be a key part of turning around one of the NFL’s worst franchises.

The Jaguars have lost 10 or more games in 10 of the past 11 seasons and have made just one playoff appearance since 2007. It’s the second year in a row the Jaguars have had the No. 1 overall selection — they picked quarterback Trevor Lawrence first overall in 2021 — and they’re still reeling from former head coach Urban Meyer’s dysfunctional 11-month tenure.

Walker played his best football of 2021 during the College Football Playoff. He had 10 of his 29 pressures in the two games, including a season-high seven in Georgia’s title game victory over Alabama. He had sacks in each game, giving him a career-high six in 2021, after having only 3.5 sacks in his two previous seasons combined.

Walker played the majority of his snaps at defensive end last season and was a key part of the Bulldogs’ rush defense, which ranked second in the FBS in allowing only 2.6 yards per rush.

The 6-foot-5, 272-pound Walker turned heads at the combine with a 4.51-second 40-yard dash, which was the fastest among all front-seven players. He also posted a 35½-inch vertical leap and a 10-foot, 3-inch broad jump — numbers that helped him shoot up teams’ draft boards.

Walker should immediately help a Jaguars pass rush that was among the NFL’s worst over the past two seasons. They totaled 50 sacks — including just 18 in 2020 — during that stretch, which was fewer than every NFL team except the Atlanta Falcons (47).

The Jaguars are the fifth NFL franchise to have back-to-back No. 1 overall picks. The Cleveland Browns (2017-18 and 1999-2000) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1976-77 and 1986-87) are the only franchises to do it twice. The Cincinnati Bengals (1994-95) and the Chicago Cardinals (1939-40) are the others with back-to-back top picks.

This is the 14th time in the past 15 years the Jaguars have picked in the top 10 and the eighth time in the past 11 years they have picked in the top five.

Of the 12 players the Jaguars drafted in the top 10 from 2008 to 2020, only defensive lineman Tyson Alualu and quarterback Blake Bortles earned second contracts with the club. Offensive tackle Eugene Monroe, quarterback Blaine Gabbert, defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. and cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and CJ Henderson were traded. Defensive end Derrick Harvey and running back Leonard Fournette were cut, and wideout Justin Blackmon was suspended indefinitely before the end of their rookie contracts. Offensive tackle Luke Joeckel and defensive tackle Taven Bryan finished their rookie contracts but were not re-signed.

The Jaguars exercised the fifth-year option on defensive end/linebacker Josh Allen, whom they drafted seventh overall in 2019, earlier Thursday.

The Jaguars went 1-15 in 2020 — losing their last 15 games — to earn the top pick in the 2021 draft, which they used on Lawrence. He had a rough rookie season, throwing only 12 touchdown passes to go along with 17 interceptions — though he did set a franchise rookie record with 3,641 passing yards — while dealing with a mountain of off-field distractions, including multiple videos of Meyer behaving inappropriately in a bar with a woman who was not his wife.

Meyer was fired on Dec. 16.

The Jaguars upset the 14-point favorite Indianapolis Colts in the season finale under interim head coach Darrell Bevell to finish 3-14, improving their record in the past two seasons to 4-29.