The Jacksonville Jaguars are entering this season with newfound expectations. The defending AFC South champions possess a young nucleus that should allow them to contend for years to come. One ascending talent that must continue emerging is sophomore outside linebacker Travon Walker. Walker appears poised to enjoy a breakout campaign in 2023.
The No. 1 overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Jaguars decided to draft Walker ahead of Aidan Hutchinson based on athletic merit and potential. Walker’s acclimation to the professional ranks went as expected. Slow and steady.
Walker ultimately wrapped up his rookie campaign by recording 49 total tackles, 5.0 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks. Pro Football Focus credited Walker with 36 total pressures and 26 quarterback hurries. Walker also had two pass breakups, one interception, and a forced fumble. Including his postseason totals, Walker’s 43 total pressures ranked fourth among all rookie EDGE defenders, via PFF.
There’s no denying that Walker played his best football toward the conclusion of the regular season. Walker was outstanding in a Week 18 division-clinching victory over the Tennessee Titans. Walker then recorded a season-high five pressures, a sack, and three hurries against the Los Angeles Chargers in Jacksonville’s historic come-from-behind win on wild-card weekend.
Walker was a versatile chess piece for Doug Pederson’s defense. Walker played inside and outside and was mostly utilized via a three-point stance through the second portion of the season. Walker’s penchant for lining up in different alignments helped the Jaguars identify favorable matchups pre-snap. Walker’s versatility will continue to serve him well moving forward.
The coaching staff immediately placed their trust in Walker despite his raw traits requiring some seasoning. He ranked fourth among all Jaguar defenders by playing 788 total defensive snaps. Walker’s weekly snap count remained steady. The former Georgia standout debuted with an 83% snap-share in Week 1. In Jacksonville’s crucial regular-season finale, he was on the field for 64 plays, which accounted for 84% of their defensive snaps. Pederson’s faith in Walker never wavered.
The Jaguars need another pass rusher to emerge. EDGE Josh Allen led the team in sacks with 7.0 quarterback takedowns. The Jaguars expect Walker to form a more fearsome and consistent tandem alongside Allen.
Expectations equal opportunity. The Jaguars allowed Arden Key to depart via unrestricted free agency, and he chose their arch-rival Titans. Key outperformed Walker last season by totaling 4.5 sacks. Key played a total of 475 defensive snaps last season.
Dawuane Smoot, who remains available via free agency after suffering a late-season Achilles tear, recorded a second-best 5.0 sacks. That’s nearly 1,000 combined snaps and 9.5 sacks that need replacing between Smoot and Key. While Walker was plenty involved, his total snap count should increase to 900-plus snaps if he remains healthy.
Jacksonville’s offense has sky-high potential with the likes of Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne, and Calvin Ridley qualifying as team-building pieces. But the defense will need to be more consistent if the Jaguars hope to achieve their lofty goals in 2023. Travon Walker’s breakout is crucial to them reaching their performance ceiling.
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