Travon Walker, Jaguars expecting a better 2023 after 'a growing year'

Walker was selected as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft. Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Travon Walker had no idea what to expect in his first season with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but now that it’s over, the outside linebacker is confident he’ll make a bigger impact in 2023.

“It was a growing year,” Walker said. “This year was basically just getting a feel for things. There’s plenty more to come.

“I will definitely still be rushing the passer for sure, just at a different level.”

Walker's 3.5 sacks, 10 quarterback hits, 18 hurries and 8.9% pressure rate (per Next Gen Stats) in 2022 wasn't quite the production expected from the 2022 No. 1 overall pick. Detroit Lions DE Aidan Hutchinson -- the No. 2 overall pick -- led all rookies with 9.5 sacks and 45 pressures.

However, the Jaguars weren’t disappointed with what Walker did. General manager Trent Baalke and coach Doug Pederson knew Walker was raw as a pass-rusher since he mainly played along the interior of the defensive line at Georgia. Transitioning to outside linebacker while adjusting to the NFL meant Walker was going to struggle as he learned pass-rush moves and counter moves while dealing with veteran offensive tackles.

But Baalke and Pederson were pleased with the way Walker set the edge against the run and are confident he’ll only get better.

“Everything that we saw in him in the draft process, we’re so thankful that we drafted him,” Pederson said. “He’s excited for this offseason. He’s excited for his future. He understands he can get better and he can help us in different ways. He wants to take that next step in a leadership role, and I think that’s important for him to do. That’s the next step, to be a dominant edge rusher and even an interior rusher.

“We just [have to] find ways to utilize his strengths, and when he comes back, he’ll be ready to go and eager to get back out on the field.”

Walker’s rookie season had some highlights, lowlights and stretches where he wasn’t particularly noticeable. He had a sack and also intercepted a screen pass from Carson Wentz to Antonio Gibson -- disengaging from a pass rush with an offensive tackle and moving to his left -- to set up a touchdown in the season opener against the Washington Commanders.

He also had a sack and forced fumble in the Jaguars’ Week 14 victory over the Tennessee Titans and a half sack and two quarterback hits in the comeback victory over the Los Angeles Chargers in the wild-card playoff game at TIAA Bank Field.

But Walker also had some untimely unnecessary roughness penalties: On a third-and-20 play in the Jaguars’ 13-6 Week 5 home loss to the Houston Texans, on a third-and-11 play in a Week 6 loss to the Indianapolis Colts and on a sack in the fourth quarter against the Chargers in the playoffs.

“He’s gaining the recognition and respect of the opponents, but at the same time, he needs to understand, he can’t get frustrated,” Pederson said. “He’s got to continue to work and find ways to create rush and play within himself. He’s a good player and only going to get better. These are great learning experiences. There were two penalties [in the regular season] I know he would love to have back, and he’ll learn. Sometimes you learn the hard way, and that’s what he’s going through right now.”

Walker said one of the main things he took from this past season was the amount of preparation required to be a successful pass-rusher, such as studying tendencies and looking for weaknesses and ways to exploit offensive tackles.

“The biggest thing I want to work on this offseason is just being able to switch it up within the game, just like veteran offensive linemen did to me this year,” Walker said. “I always knew that it wasn’t just talent that players went off of. You really have to know the game of football. It all goes from the little small inches to little mental things you have to go through within the game of football that you have to take in and understand.”

First, he’s going to take a break and reflect on the past year. Then he wants to spend time talking with veteran pass-rushers around the league.

“It was definitely a long year,” he said. “I’m the type of person where everything I go through, I like to take in that moment.”