Jaguar’s GM Trent Baalke has something to do with making risky choices

Trent Baalke can risk it all on Travon Walker.

Trent Baalke can risk it all on Travon Walker.
Picture: Getty Images

Maybe appropriate for the Jacksonville Jaguars, the 2022 Draft will be held against the backdrop of casinos on the Las Vegas strip. NFL Drafts is always a high-stakes poker table. Even with novice paychecks, it’s a multi-million dollar mistake to work out the wrong guy. There is a reason why the same losing players throw themselves into debt and disciplined players typically win. Bad players make more risky bets on proposals where the house has the advantage.

A magnificent advantage of the 2022 NFL Draft, which lacks a leading superstar in the top pile of prospects, is that we get to see some of the NFL’s worst general managers try to discern talents. Choosing leads is as much about talent evaluation as risk assessment. Jags General Manager Trent Baalke has about two weeks more to decide who to choose with the first overall choice.

It seems the casino energy has activated their worst inclinations and the Jaguars may be ready to risk it all on the slim odds that Georgia’s defensive end Travon Walker is the defensive game-changer they need. Last week, Jaguar cornerback Shaq Griffin made a convincing case to activate the motor drive on the Travon Walker hype. Baalke may have listened.

The presumption for several weeks has been that the Jags would solve their defensive line problems by drafting Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson with the first pick. The story, however, suggests that Baalke will reach out to Walker, the combines master. In 2011, as GM for the 49ers, Baalke drafted Aldon Smith with the seventh pick, taking DeForest Buckner seventh in 2016 after a monstrous combination. That story ignores that Aldon Smith was a proven pass-rusher in Missouri, while Buckner was the Pac-12 defender of the year. Whatever Baalke’s instincts tell him, he should do the opposite.

Choosing Walker No. 1 feels like Baalke putting Jags’ mortgage on a risky future bet. What are they thinking about? Of course, there is a chance that Walker can prove that Baalke is right, but why go so far with the first choice when there are options with better odds? Only nine first-time players from Jacksonville have reached another contract with the Jaguars, and the last player to re-emerge was Blake Bortles.

In April last year, Baalke selected Trevor Lawrence with one of the easiest first overall picks in recent times, and then followed it up by making the inexplicable decision to draft his Clemson team-mate Travis Etienne with the 25th pick. Choosing a runback in the first round is an idiotic strategy, but even more so when you take into account the presence of the 2019 out-dated free agent gem James Robinson in the backfield.

Like Jake Locker and many others before him, Walker is this year’s unicorn whose production pales in comparison to his exploding hype. There have been glimpses, but the No. 1 choice is for superstars who must not be missed. In Walker’s breakout season, he collected 37 tackles and six sacks in 15 games on the national championship-winning defense. Can he be the guy on the worst team in the NFL?

Walker’s tackle of Alabama’s Agiye Hall in the National Championship match is the clip that scouts have salivated over. On Alabama’s last possession of the first half, Bryce Young came in contact with Hall for a brief win. But after Georgia cornerback Kelee Ringo whipped on the tackle, Hall sprinted up an open court with a block in front. Walker, who was close to the line after Hall’s catch, ran up the field to close Tide’s freshman receiver and saved a touchdown. Walker’s goal of 6-foot-5, 271 pounds, combined with a 6.89 in the 3-cone drill and a 4.51 40-yard stroke, is a buffet of physical skills.

In three seasons, however, he has only recorded 9.5 sacks. In April last year, Pro Football Focus rated Jacksonville as the 29th worst team to make the first-round pick since 2010. In drafts like this, the mystery becomes a lure.

Baalke already made that mistake before, in 2020, when Jags selected LSU passer rusher K’Lavon Chaisson. There is a little more leeway to miss on the 20th election in their defense. One of the few picks Jacksonville has hit was Jalen Ramsey, who they traded to the Los Angeles Rams. There is no excuse here.

In a draft where Kayvon Thibodeaux and Aidan Hutchinson are the two best pass-rushers, a franchise to stop the bleeding should not chase long odds. If they want to play, take a shot at injured Michigan winger Rusher David Ojabo in the second round.

There is more at stake for Baalke than just the season. Baalke’s reputation is in tatters right now. He overpaid a host of veterans in the free agency in the biggest spending spree in the league’s history. Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich reportedly was interested in Jags’ head coach job if Baalke was removed from his post. His career is at stake. But Baalke has a gambling problem – metaphorically speaking. After the last decade of bad betting, the worst possible move for a franchise in search of stability is to double and constantly swing for the fence with these get rich quick games.

Leave a Comment