Kayvon Thibodeaux or Travon Walker?
That's a question the Jets will be forced to answer next month as they prepare, in all likelihood, to select a pass rusher with the No. 4 pick in the 2022 NFL draft.
Thibodeaux has been linked to Gang Green throughout the offseason, a player that would excel under head coach Robert Saleh. In fact, he's been mocked to the Jets countless times by plenty of high-profile evaluators.
In a recent notebook breaking down some buzz leading up to the draft, however, ESPN's Matt Miller has New York taking Walker rather than Thibodeaux.
Here's how Miller's top 10 shakes out in this mini mock (with his analysis on both of New York's picks):
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
2. Detroit Lions: Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
3. Houston Texans: Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
4. New York Jets: Travon Walker, EDGE, Georgia
The biggest riser on my board this offseason goes to a perfect landing spot with the Jets. His potential is the highest of any pass-rusher in the class.
5. New York Giants: Ikem Ekwonu, OT, NC State
6. Carolina Panthers: Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
7. New York Giants (from CHI): Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
8. Atlanta Falcons: Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
9. Seattle Seahawks (from DEN): Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
10. New York Jets (from SEA): Drake London, WR, USC
Zach Wilson needs a receiver who can win over the top, beat up press coverage and be a go-to option in the red zone. That's London, who dominated Pac-12 defenses with 88 catches in eight games before fracturing his ankle in late October.
Fellow ESPN draft analyst Jordan Reid explained in this same story why he thinks Walker, the EDGE from Georgia, could be the second defensive lineman off the board next month:
It's trending in the direction of the Georgia edge rusher going before Kayvon Thibodeaux (Oregon) in the top 10, which would have been extremely surprising three months ago. Thibodeaux and cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. (LSU) received the most hype coming into the 2021 season, but scouts I've talked to about Walker have him rising. At 6-foot-5, 272 pounds, evaluators are enamored with the possibilities of what he could become two or three years from now. As one area scout told me this week:
"A lot of teams passed over Danielle Hunter [in 2015] and the [Odafe] Oweh kid last year because of the lack of production even though they have ridiculous athleticism," he said. "It's not going to happen a third time with Walker."
Walker's combination of size, physical traits and upside could put him in the top-five picks. The common theme when talking about him with evaluators: He didn't get enough pass-rush opportunities in a Georgia scheme that forced him into tight alignments over the outside shoulder of offensive tackles. He was forced to stack-and-shed tackles more than show his acceleration around the cup of the pocket. NFL teams think he will be a star with proper coaching and more edge-rush opportunities.
Here's how the two top-ranked prospects stack up against one another statistically from the 2021 season:
- Thibodeaux — 10 games, 49 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 7 sacks
- Walker — 13 games, 33 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 6 sacks
This will come down to New York's internal evaluations, taking the time to make sure they're picking the prospect that fits best in their system and has the highest ceiling. Of course they'd love to add Hutchinson, but grabbing the second-best pass rusher from this class wouldn't be the worst result by any means.
From there, seeing New York grab London 10th overall comes as no surprise. Unless the Jets elect to address their secondary with a cornerback like Ahmad Gardner—although he's already off the board in this mock draft scenario—odds are the Jets will dip into this year's pool of wide receivers.
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