Walker, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s NFL draft, played only two series in his team’s 27-11 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium on Thursday night, but he recorded a sack and had another pressure in what he says was just a glimpse of what he will eventually be able to consistently do for years.
“It was definitely exciting, just to be out there on an NFL roster, out there on an NFL team playing with other NFL players,” Walker said. “Something that I’ll always remember [will be] my first snap.”
That’s when Walker first flashed some of the reasons the Jaguars elected to take him over more proven pass-rusher Aidan Hutchinson, who went second to the Detroit Lions. He bull-rushed Raiders left tackle Brandon Parker and got to quarterback Jarrett Stidham as he released the ball. Unfortunately, Walker got his hand up around Stidham’s neck and got flagged for roughing the passer.
Head coach Doug Pederson called it one of the numerous teaching moments Walker will experience as a rookie.
“There’s timing issues when you [rush] quarterbacks and hitting quarterbacks and when you can hit quarterbacks and all this kind of stuff, and it’s just going to come from just watching it, learning from it,” Pederson said. “You never try to slow down his athleticism and power that way, but he’ll learn from it and do better.”
He learned pretty quickly, apparently. Walker — who said he was disappointed he wasn’t able to get the sack on his first snap — got Stidham on the Raiders’ next possession, this time grabbing Stidham around his midsection and pulling him to the ground for a 3-yard loss.
“It was definitely an exciting feeling,” Walker said. “It was my first [sack] but, like, plenty more to come.”
That’s what the Jaguars are hoping for, and it’s one of the reasons why they drafted Walker, a 6-foot-5, 272-pound former Georgia defensive lineman. Walker had only 9.5 sacks in his three seasons with the Bulldogs, but he played mainly inside. The Jaguars have moved him to outside linebacker. They feel he can thrive there because of his size, length, speed and power.
Walker had been impressive in one-on-ones in training camp, but his lack of experience as an outside pass-rusher has left him deficient in pass-rush moves and counter-moves. Those are things he’ll have to develop over the course of his first few seasons, but for now he’s going to rely on his speed and power as much as he can.
It was effective against the Raiders, at least.
“I thought he did some really good things,” Pederson said. “There were some early good, quick pass rushes in there. He’s very disruptive. He showed his length, athleticism, his power. He’s going to be fun to watch all season.”