Will Jacksonville Jaguars make history with back-to-back No. 1s Trevor Lawrence, Travon Walker?

Will Jacksonville Jaguars make history with back-to-back No. 1s Trevor Lawrence, Travon Walker?

Will Jacksonville Jaguars make history with back-to-back No. 1s Trevor Lawrence, Travon Walker?

8:46 PM ET

Michael DiRoccoESPN Staff Writer Close

  • Covered University of Florida for 13 seasons for ESPN.com and Florida Times-Union
  • Graduate of Jacksonville University
  • Multiple APSE award winner

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke got a laugh with a one-liner about the franchise having the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft for the second year in a row.

“I’m pretty confident that this will be the last time that I’ll be making the first pick,” he joked at a pre-draft media availability last Friday.

That could be taken two ways: Baalke believes the franchise has begun turning things around and won’t be as bad as they’ve been the past two seasons ... or he won’t be employed if the team is again picking first overall in 2023.

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The latter is pretty much a lock, because no franchise or GM has ever picked first for three consecutive drafts.

As for whether the Jaguars (3-14 in 2021) are indeed on their way to at least mediocrity, a lot of that will depend on whether they successfully nailed the back-to-back No. 1 overall picks of quarterback Trevor Lawrence (2021) and defensive end Travon Walker (2022).

It shouldn’t be a big ask when you literally have your pick of any player, but historically it has been. The five other times an NFL franchise had back-to-back No. 1s in the common draft era (since 1967), they failed to turn both picks into impact players.

The Cleveland Browns drafted quarterback Tim Couch first overall in 1999 and defensive end Courtney Brown in 2000, and they picked defensive end Myles Garrett in 2017 and quarterback Baker Mayfield in 2018.

Also doing it twice, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took defensive lineman Lee Roy Selmon in 1976 and running back Ricky Bell in 1977, then running back Bo Jackson in 1986 and quarterback Vinny Testaverde in 1987.

The Cincinnati Bengals selected defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson with the top pick in 1994 and running back Ki-Jana Carter in 1995.

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The tally: One Hall of Famer (Selmon), one quarterback who started a playoff game for the team that drafted him (Mayfield), two players who made the Pro Bowl while playing for the team that drafted them (Selmon, six times; Garrett, three), and one player who refused to play for the team that drafted him (Jackson).

After Selmon (also a one-time All-Pro) and Garrett (who has been named All-Pro twice), those remaining eight No. 1 draft picks were busts to varying degrees.

Unfortunately, whiffing on high first-round picks isn’t anything new for the Jaguars.

This is 14th time in the past 15 years the Jaguars have picked in the top 10 and the eighth time in the past 11 years they have picked in the top five. Only two of the 12 players the Jaguars drafted in the top 10 from 2008 to 2020 earned a second contract with the franchise. Seven players (including Jalen Ramsey, Leonard Fournette and Dante Fowler Jr.) were traded or cut before their rookie contracts ended, another (Justin Blackmon) was suspended indefinitely in his second season, and two others (Luke Joeckel and Taven Bryan) finished their rookie contracts but were not re-signed.

Those two players who did sign an extension? Defensive tackle Tyson Alualu, the 10th overall pick in 2010, became a solid starter but never made a Pro Bowl, and quarterback Blake Bortles, the third overall pick in 2014, was cut one year after agreeing to a three-year, $45 million extension.

There are still questions about Lawrence, who was the no-brainer top pick in 2021. He did throw for a franchise rookie record 3,641 passing yards, but he completed 59.6% of his passes and had 12 touchdown passes compared to 17 interceptions. He does get a bit of a pass, though, because he was trying to adjust to life in the NFL, learn a new offense and win games despite the dysfunctional mess that former coach Urban Meyer created in his only season with the team.

Taking Walker first overall in this year's draft might turn out to be the right decision, but in selecting the former Georgia defensive end, the team passed on edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson.

Hutchinson set a Michigan record with 14 sacks last season, and many draft analysts believe will make an immediate impact as a rookie.

The Jaguars like Walker’s position flexibility -- he lined up at defensive end, tackle and outside linebacker for the Bulldogs last season -- and plan to use him in a similar way.

But it’s clearly a projection-over-production pick. The Bulldogs won the national championship and had the nation's top defense last season, but Walker had 9.5 sacks in three seasons, including six in 2021, and he wasn’t even the best player on the Georgia defense in 2021 (that was linebacker Nakobe Dean).

However, Walker had a great combine, running a 4.51 40-yard dash and posting a 35 1/2-inch vertical leap and a 10-foot, 3-inch broad jump. Plus, numerous draft analysts consider him more athletic than Hutchinson with a higher ceiling.

Even so, Walker was a riskier pick. Should the Jaguars have taken that risk, considering the franchise’s recent track record with first-round picks?

Maybe that’s the correct move because not gambling certainly hasn’t paid off. If it works out, the Jaguars could become the first franchise in NFL history to slam dunk their back-to-back No. 1 picks.