Travon Walker, Kayvon Thibodeaux’s status in the 2002 NFL Draft

As Kayvon Thibodeaux sinks, Travon Walker does more than float.

He makes waves.

Six months ago, Thibodeaux was considered the No. 1 consensus pick overall in the 2022 NFL Draft. Then Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson put together the better season, surpassing Oregon’s Thibodeaux as the top edge rusher and likely No. 1 pick in a light quarterback draft class. It happens.

Except for now, it appears Thibodeaux has again been surpassed by Georgia defenseman Travon Walker, who recently became the betting favorite at No. 2 overall ahead of offensive tackles Ikem Ekwonu and Evan Neal, safety Kyle Hamilton and Thibodeaux. What is going on here?

“That’s the million-dollar question: Where will Thibodeaux go?” said ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. “He really doesn’t have a lot of pass rush moves. He’s strong and he has this great pace with the first step – and he relies on that. In the NFL, pass rush moves need to be developed. How he is coached will have a big impact on what kind of player he will be.”

NFL draft
Kayvon Thibodeaux

Despite an ankle injury that caused him to miss three games last September, Thibodeaux was the better playmaker with 12 lost tackles, seven sacks and two forced fumbles in 10 games. Walker averaged 7.5, six and zeros in 15 games.

But box scores can lie.

“Walker’s band is crazy,” said an NFL scouting source. “I would probably choose him over Hutchinson because he has more potential. Aidan is going to be a really good player for many, many years because he’s a grinder. Walker is similar but he’s a better athlete who’s bigger, faster and stronger and still comes into his own.”

Walker was so overshadowed by his own team that he didn’t even earn All-SEC honors. Georgia’s historic defense fielded three first-teamers — all of whom were expected to be selected less than walkers in the first round — and three defenders other than walkers, who named either first- or second-teamers.

But excitement around the 6-foot-5, 272-pound walker began to build right in front of the NFL combine, exploding after he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.51 seconds — the fastest time ever for a player with one Weight over 270 pounds. The remainder of his dazzling athletic performance included a 35.5-inch vertical jump, a 10-foot-3-inch long jump, a 6.89-second three-cone drill, and a 4.32-second 20 yards – Shuttle.

Travon Walker

“I think it’s more about Thibodeaux slipping than Walker getting up,” the scouting source said. “The teams have been on Walker since the fall.”

While Walker offers the coveted versatility of the design – including the effectiveness of all the down lined up on the inside or on the edge – there are some concerns about whether Thibodeaux is better on the inside. In that case, the 6-4, 254-pounder could be too light and risk losing quickness from adding muscle.

The two scouting hits to Thibodeaux ahead of Oregon’s Pro Day last week were that he looked “stiff” and inconsistently exerting himself – made worse by his spur of the moment decision to withdraw from combine drills after hitting the 40-yard dash (4.58 seconds) and the bench press was 27 reps. With Thibodeaux on the radar as a true freshman in 2019 since leading the nation in the fourth quarter, there could be an overanalysis of errors.

Kiper ranks Thibodeaux’s bottom as the No. 9 Seahawks but likes the consistency with the Giants at No. 7. The Seahawks and Lions (picking No. 2) both sent seven representatives to Oregon’s Pro Day and the Giants sent five, under General manager Joe Schoen to watch Thibodeaux finish his athletic tests and go through positional drills. Afterwards, Thibodeaux said it was “ridiculous” to name anyone else the best player in the draft.

Kayvon Thibodeaux
Getty Images

“He will be motivated to prove himself in the NFL,” said a second scouting source. “You see insane explosiveness in lightning. Check out his exit.”

Walker is a year-old starter with less overexposure. A year ago, Odafe Oweh was a first-round pick after a deadlock last season at Penn State. But Oweh finished No. 31 and was successful with five sacks and two starts as a Ravens rookie.

Much more is expected of Walker as a top five pick – and the box scores will tell the truth.

“What he was asked to do in Georgia is not what he will be asked to do in the NFL,” said a third scouting source. “Just let him go.” Travon Walker, Kayvon Thibodeaux’s status in the 2002 NFL Draft


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