NFL Groups Love Georgian Soccer’s Potential DE Travon Walker

Even on a weekend trip to a golf tournament, Justin Elder kept getting asked this question.

Where is Travon Walker selected in the NFL Draft?

“Everywhere I go, someone asks for it,” Elder said. “I must have been asked 50 questions over the weekend. It’s neat. I love it. I’m really looking forward to him. It’s just a big accumulation.”

The Upson-Lee football coach has seen Walker’s stock soar in the months leading up to the start of the NFL draft Thursday night.

More:How a heated moment during UGA’s national title win showed the bond between Georgia’s NFL-bound ILBs

The former defensive end of Georgia football, who played for Elder at Thomaston school, could start in a spot no one imagined when the preliminary draft process began.

According to Tipico Sportsbook, which lists him at -220, Walker is the clear favorite for No. 1 overall, followed by Aidan Hutchinson (+210), Michigan defensive end Ikem Ekwonu (+400) and Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal ( +2000).

If Jacksonville takes the 6-foot-5, 272-pound top pick walker, he would become Georgia’s first defender to become No. 1 overall. Officials from Walker and Jaguars had dinner the night before UGA Pro Day last month with a player who started his first game for the Bulldogs in the season opener last season.

“I really feel like it’s a blessing to be in a position where people are talking about me as number 1 because a lot of people are really sleeping on me,” Walker said on NFL Network Tuesday morning.

More:Meet the UGA Law School graduate representing George Pickens and two NFL Bulldogs

Walker won’t step down to hug NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being picked. He turned down a chance to go to Las Vegas for the draft and will be at the Omni Hotel in Atlanta at the Battery with family and friends. His small hometown is about 75 miles south of there.

“I’ve always been one of those people who has been underestimated, but it’s all good that I like being that way,” Walker said at last month’s UGA Pro Day. “That way I can set my own standard and work as hard as I can to do my best.”

He is no longer underestimated. He came to Georgia, which was heralded as a five-star prospect, but Walker mixed in a Georgia defense with Butkus Award-winning linebacker Nakobe Dean and Outland Trophy-winning nose guard Jordan Davis last year as another playmaker for an elite defense.

It could include three first-round defenders if Davis and Devonte Wyatt also go in the first 32 picks. Only Clemson has let three D-linemen go in the first round in the same draft since 1967 in 2019.

Walker’s workout numbers boosted his stocks. He ran a 4.51 at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, where his arms measured an eye opening of 35½ inches.

“He’s a freak,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “He’s got a lot of length. He’s an incredible athlete.”

His 1.54 10-yard split is better than Hutchinson’s 1.61 and Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux’s 1.56, writes former Eagles and Browns manager Joe Banner for The 33rd Team website

“We rarely see numbers like this for guys who have that kind of size and ability to become quality NFL players,” Banner wrote. “His 10-time mark is why people who see that correlation would consider Walker the top player at #1, and that thinking is valid.”

Walker had just 9½ sacks in three collegiate seasons, including 6 as a junior in his senior season with the Bulldogs, where he competed everywhere.

Walker played 200 snaps as a backup in 2020, according to Pro Football Focus. He had 37 of his career 65 college tackles last season.

As a junior, he played 381 snaps in defensive end, 105 in defensive tackle, 98 in linebacker, 11 in nose guard, and one as a cornerback, according to NFL Network.

“They can be scattered all over the field,” he said at the NFL combine. “I’m someone who can do everything, an athlete, whatever the coaches need.”

Ahead of last season, defense coordinator Dan Lanning said he had “high expectations for Travon. His athleticism is really unique. He’s a guy we’re always trying to figure out how to fit into our scheme. … We ask him to do more this year than ever.”

Smart said: “He didn’t just line up and rush to the edge. There are several NFL scouts that say, hey, you just put him on an outside backer and let him put an advantage, he’s going to be great at that. He’s really strong, he’s really fast. But we didn’t ask him that. We asked him to do many different things.”

Walker appeared first in mock drafts before the NFL combine late-mid, but some saw him as a top-10 pick at the time.

“If you see him on tape in Georgia some people will point out the pressure percentages and pass production and be a little disappointed, but if you study him and see how tight his alignments are there and what he’s asking to do, you loosen him up not on the edge and just let him go,” NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah said in February. “I think an NFL team is going to give him that opportunity and I think you’re going to see a really, really good player. But this is someone, if you talk to GMs and hiring managers almost every day, this guy’s name comes up almost every day. This guy has a lot of love in the league.”

ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said on air, “If you call him up as No. 1 in Jacksonville or No. 2 in Detroit, you’re betting on the characteristics and you’re betting on what you see on tape and what’s possible be if you use it a little differently. … He’s been accused of just bulldozing offensive linemen and letting other guys (get after quarterback).”

Walker started playing football at the age of 7 and excelled. Elder knew he had a special talent on his way out of the Recreational League, but he wasn’t sure what would become of him.

“A lot of people told me when I was young that I was going to be a great player because I was big,” Walker said. “My father was always one of those who humiliated me.”

Father Stead was a Marine, and Elder said Walker mostly stayed out of trouble.

“He was damn stable,” Elder said. “He had mommy and daddy with him.”

Walker made his name on defense — he had 8 sacks and 40 tackles as a senior — but also had 4 touchdown catches as a tight end and ran for power as quarterback, rushing for 4 touchdowns.

“I didn’t play with a lot of technique,” Walker said. “I was just out there having fun.

Elder often played Walker as a middle linebacker in space and recalls reaching out to Upson-Lee coaches after Walker made a one-handed interception against Spalding County and almost mistook it for a touchdown.

“No doubt that joker plays on Sundays,” said Elder. “You never in your wildest dreams believed it would be a top five draft pick.”

Or maybe just maybe #1 overall.