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Travon Walker, Georgia football freshman, looks to buck trend of 5-star defensive tackles
In the past decade, Georgia has landed only two 5-star defensive tackle prospects. Freshman Travon Walker is one of them, as he was rated as the nation’s No. 22 player for the 2019 cycle.
That ranking is higher than the likes of George Pickens, Dominick Blaylock and Tyrique Stevenson, who have all gotten considerable praise in the early stages of their Georgia careers.
Walker has received his fair share of attention this fall as well, with most of the offensive linemen praising Walker’s athletic ability. Offensive tackle Isaiah Wilson almost immediately identified Walker as the defensive lineman who has caught his eye so far.
Cade Mays was a little more descriptive in his praise of Walker and why he’s been able to stand out so far.
“He’s a good player,” Mays said. “He’s fast off the ball, strong. He looks the part. He’s a big dude, long arms.”
Having established the fact that Walker’s athletic traits have allowed him to stand out early — in-person his arms look like octopus tentacles —it’s fair to mention that expectations for Walker’s freshman season should not be all that high.
For starters, the defensive line depth chart is crowded with upperclassmen. Tyler Clark, David Marshall, Michael Barnett and Julian Rochester are all seniors with tons of experience — even if Marshall and Rochester are currently working their way back from injuries. Juniors Malik Herring and Devonte Wyatt seem primed for bigger roles this season after flashing in limited duty last year.
As of right now, all of those defensive linemen seem likely to get more playing time than Walker to start the 2019 season. That’s probably the way it should be, given all of those players have spent multiple years with the Georgia program, while Walker was playing basketball with his high school team just six months ago.
There’s also a bit of recent history regarding 5-star defensive tackles and how successful they’ve been as a freshman. From the 2014 to the 2018 recruiting cycles, 17 defensive tackles earned a 5-star ranking. Only two of them — Ed Oliver of Houston and Terry Beckner of Missouri — produced a freshman season that featured 5.0 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks.
By comparison, of those same 17 defensive tackles, five have already been selected in the first round of the NFL draft.
In Smart’s time at Georgia, the most disruptive freshman defensive tackle was Marshall. He — who comes from the same Upson-Lee High School program as Walker — finished with 3.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks in the 2016 season.
Many of the aforementioned veterans didn’t have much of an impact early on in their time at Georgia. Part of that is because they just didn’t fully understand what they were supposed to be doing in Kirby Smart’s defense.
“Just learning the playbook,” Barnett said on the most difficult aspect of playing on the defensive line as a true freshman. “Right now they’re out there just thinking they know this or they know that. But they don’t know the system behind them. So once they learn that aspect, I feel like they’ll play a lot faster.”
Clark offered up a more blunt assessment.
“It can get a little overwhelming with all the plays,” Clark said. “But once you learn the plays it’ll be smooth.”
And for all the examples of freshmen not making a significant impact early, there was a freshman defensive lineman for Georgia who made meaningful contributions just last season. The Georgia defense got markedly better when Jordan Davis was in the line-up. While Daivs didn’t post eye-popping numbers — 1.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks — that can somewhat be attributed to the fact that in Smart’s defense, linebackers are given far more freedom to create disruptive plays.
Prior to Walker, the last 5-star defensive tackle Georgia landed was Trenton Thompson. He was the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect in the 2015 class. But he never lived up to that lofty billing and went undrafted after declaring for the 2018 NFL Draft. In his freshman season, Thompson finished with only 2.5 tackles for loss and 0.5 sacks. His sophomore year he was much more disruptive, as he finished with 9.5 tackles for loss and 5.0 sacks.
So a year from now, if we’re wondering why Walker didn’t have a better freshman season, it will be worth remembering how difficult it is to be a disruptive player along the defensive line as a freshman.
But for the season ahead, it also bears repeating that Walker’s athletic ability might make him too good to stay off the field.
“I’m definitely excited to see what he can do,” Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning said. “He’s a guy that’s good moving but he’s also strong enough to hold the point. So, I don’t think I would put a ceiling on Travon.”
More Georgia football stories from around DawgNation
- ESPN makes surprising picks for Georgia’s most important players
- WATCH: Versatile Georgia football offensive lineman Cade Mays elevating game
- Georgia football practice report: ‘Everybody’s legs back’ after hilarious Matthew Boling prank
- Georgia football podcast: UGA might have history on its side in championship pursuit
- Richard LeCounte is arguably one of college football’s most underrated players
- Why Sedrick Van Pran-Granger decided it was time to commit to Georgia
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— Georgia Football (@GeorgiaFootball) August 20, 2019
— Georgia Football (@GeorgiaFootball) August 20, 2019
I was lucky enough to see this race in person. Great fun! I continue to be amazed by the UGA family. They have definitely found the right formula for success, both on and off the field. https://t.co/NCjS66wFVA
— mboling57 (@mboling57) August 20, 2019
It was clearly a race for fun folks , Let’s not start talking crazy
— Richard LeCounte III (@LilEasy_35) August 20, 2019
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This is Jessie. She works at a children’s hospital teaching patients not to be afraid of certain procedures. For an echocardiogram, just lie on your back and hold your mom’s hand. 14/10 pic.twitter.com/1VtAE74M0O
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