Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker runs a drill during the NFL football scouting combine, Saturday, March 5, 2022, in Indianapolis. Walker is expected to be taken in the NFL Draft. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)

Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker runs a drill during the NFL football scouting combine, Saturday, March 5, 2022, in Indianapolis. Walker is expected to be taken in the NFL Draft. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File)

Jaguars take ‘athletic freak’ Walker with No. 1 pick in NFL draft

Seahawks tab left tackle Charles Cross with No. 9 pick

Travon Walker “had a good feeling” he might be the top pick in the NFL draft when he visited Jacksonville earlier this month.

He was way ahead of just about everyone else — maybe even the Jaguars.

The Georgia pass rusher rose up draft boards following an impressive combine and ended up being the No. 1 selection Thursday night. It wasn’t a total shocker since he was the betting favorite in Las Vegas, but few saw it coming a month ago.

Placing more emphasis on pro potential than college production, the Jaguars chose Walker to pair with Josh Allen in hopes of turning a mediocre pass rush into one of the best in the league.

“I was hoping it was the Jaguars from the get-go,” said Walker, who grew up about four hours north in Thomaston, Georgia.

Jacksonville took the 6-foot-5, 272-pound “athletic freak” over Michigan star Aidan Hutchinson, who set a school record with 14 sacks in 2021 and finished second in Heisman Trophy voting. The team traded its second-round pick (No. 33 overall) plus Nos. 106 and 180 to move back into the first round and draft inside linebacker Devin Lloyd from Utah at No. 27.

Lloyd becomes an immediate replacement for Myles Jack, who was cut earlier this month in a cost-savings move. He will join Walker as plug-and-play starters for a defense that is undergoing a major overhaul.

General manager Trent Baalke had been leaning toward Walker for weeks, maybe even months, and new coach Doug Pederson insisted he was totally in agreement on selecting the former Bulldogs defender at No. 1.

“This thing was never split,” said Pederson, who reportedly wanted North Carolina State left tackle Ickey Ekwonu. “It’s out (there). I just want to go on record and say it was never that way. I don’t know where that came from. One of the things I loved about our process was the communication and us being on the same page.”

Picking Walker wasn’t close to the slam dunk drafting quarterback Trevor Lawrence was a year ago. Critics argued that Hutchinson was the more polished product and pointed to Walker’s limited college numbers. He had 9 1/2 sacks in three years in Athens, Georgia, including six during last season’s national championship run.

But Baalke and Pederson see a more versatile player in Walker, who logged snaps at defensive end, defensive tackle and outside linebacker in Georgia’s vaunted defense last fall. His highlights include more than sacks; he stops the run, tackles speedy receivers in the open field and tips passes that lead to interceptions.

“He’s an athletic freak,” Georgia defensive coordinator Will Muschamp told The Associated Press. “I swear to God he could line up at middle linebacker and go be fine. I would take him at No. 1 and not even blink.”

The Jaguars did just that.

Once a two-sport star with NBA dreams at Upson-Lee High School in Thomaston, Georgia, Walker eventually settled on football and quickly became one of the most sought-after recruits in talent-rich Georgia. He signed with the Bulldogs and played college ball a little more than 100 miles from his hometown.

He bided his time as a backup for two years at Georgia and started to blossom as a junior. He started all 15 games in 2021, finishing with 37 tackles, including 7 1/2 for a loss, and two pass breakups.

“There’s not a single red flag,” Muschamp said. “He’s the real deal now.”

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• The Seattle Seahawks filled a need at left tackle by selecting Mississippi State’s Charles Cross with the No. 9 pick in the first round of the NFL draft Thursday night.

For just the second time in the Pete Carroll era, the Seahawks had a top 10 selection. And just like they did in 2010, the Seahawks used that top 10 pick on a left tackle.

Cross was a first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection last season, starting 12 games for the Bulldogs, and he plays a position that’s crucial to the Seahawks. Seattle entered the draft with veteran Duane Brown a free agent after spending the past 4 ½ seasons with the team, and the Seahawks seem hesitant to commit to a lengthy deal with him. Brown will turn 37 before the start of next season.

Cross said he had an interview with the Seahawks during the combine and a couple of phone conversations afterward. After seeing fellow left tackles Ikem Ekwonu and Evan Neal selected earlier in the draft, Cross had a feeling he could be headed to Seattle.

“I kind of expected it to be honest,” Cross said.

Seattle was initially without a first-round pick due to the trade for Jamal Adams before the start of the 2020 season. But the trade of Russell Wilson to Denver landed the Seahawks back in the first round and with a top 10 selection for the first time since 2010, which was the first draft with Carroll and general manager John Schneider in charge.

• 2022 NFL Team-by-Team Draft

Arizona

no first-round selection.

Atlanta

1 (8) Drake London, wr, Southern Cal.

Baltimore

1 (14) Kyle Hamilton, s, Notre Dame.

1 (25) Tyler Linderbaum, c, Iowa.

Buffalo

1 (23) Kaiir Elam, cb, Florida.

Carolina

1 (6) Ikem Ekwonu, ot, North Carolina State.

Chicago

no first-round selection.

Cincinnati

1 (31) Daxton Hill, s, Michigan.

Cleveland

no first-round selection.

Dallas

1 (24) Tyler Smith, ot, Tulsa.

Denver

no first-round selection.

Detroit

1 (2) Aidan Hutchinson, de, Michigan.

1 (12) Jameson Williams, wr, Alabama.

Green Bay

1 (22) Quay Walker, lb, Georgia.

1 (28) Devonte Wyatt, dt Georgia.

Houston

1 (3) Derek Stingley Jr., db, LSU.

1 (15) Kenyon Green, g, Texas A&M.

Indianapolis

no first-round selection.

Jacksonville

1 (1) Travon Walker, de, Georgia.

1 (27) Devin Lloyd, lb, Utah.

Kansas City

1 (21) Trent McDuffie, cb, Washington.

1 (30) George Karlaftis, de, Purdue.

Las Vegas

no first-round selection.

L.A. Chargers

1 (17) Zion Johnson, g, Boston College.

L.A. Rams

no first-round selection.

Miami

no first-round selection.

Minnesota

1 (32) Lewis Cine, s, Georgia.

New England

1 (29) Cole Strange, g, Tenn.-Chattanooga.

New Orleans

1 (11) Chris Olave, wr, Ohio State.

1 (19) Trevor Penning, ot, Northern Iowa.

N.Y. Giants

1 (5) Kayvon Thibodeaux, de, Oregon.

1 (7) Evan Neal, ot, Alabama.

N.Y. Jets

1 (4) Ahmad Gardner, cb, Cincinnati.

1 (10) Garrett Wilson, wr, Ohio State.

1 (26) Jermaine Johnson II, de, Florida State.

Philadelphia

1 (13) Jordan Davis, dt, Georgia.

Pittsburgh

1 (20) Kenny Pickett, qb, Pittsburgh.

San Francisco

no first-round selection.

Seattle

1 (9) Charles Cross, ot, Mississippi State.

Tampa Bay

no first-round selection.

Tennessee

1 (18) Treylon Burks, wr, Arkansas.

Washington

1 (16) Jahan Dotson, wr, Penn State.

Mark Long, The Associated Press

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