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2022 NFL Draft: College edge rushers, Pass Rush Win Rate, and Georgia prospect Travon Walker

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2022 CFP National Championship - Georgia v Alabama Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks have a lot of needs, so predicting their first pick is particularly challenging. Especially since they are in a position that they haven’t been for over a decade... drafting inside the top 10. Regardless of how holey their roster is right now, the biggest problem I see for the team is that the closest thing they had to an identity in the last few seasons — their Russell Wilson-led offense — is no longer a reality, and they desperately need to add some players that strike fear into the hearts of opponents once again. One of the best ways to do this is with a premier pass rusher on the defensive side of the ball.

They had guys like Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, and Chris Clemons before them, who used to terrorize offenses and forced coaches to gameplan around them. They even got some decent years out of Frank Clark, before the trade to KC. Jamal Adams had a record-setting season before being relegated to a more traditional role in 2021. And of course, they have some young talent on their team, such as Darrell Taylor and Alton Robinson. But a team can never have too many pass rushers, and this draft looks deep at the position. Here is Dane Brugler’s EDGE board from the 2022 edition of the Beast, for reference.

As you can see, there are 7 players with first round grades (including Ebiketie and Hall), and 19 in total who Brugler has gone by the end of Friday night. Compare this to the 2021 iteration of the above list, which only featured 5 players with first round grades, and 15 players in total receiving Day One/Day Two projections.

Among these guys, Travon Walker out of Georgia is one of the more polarizing players at the top end of the draft. Diante Lee of the Athletic projects him to end up at pick 7 in his latest Mock, calling any reported interest from the Jacksonville Jaguars taking him first overall a “smokescreen,” which I very much agree with. Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus, on the other hand, projects him going third overall to the Houston Texans, but gives the pick a “B-” and goes on to say:

“Of the 12 primary physical and athletic measurables, Walker doesn’t rank lower than the 72nd percentile in any while ranking in the 94th percentile or better in at least half of them. He is an NFL edge rusher drawn up in a laboratory who hasn’t had the production of one at the college level.”

The game of football is played so differently at the collegiate level that I understand why teams have to project based more on traits than stats, especially at certain positions. However, there are some statistics that correlate heavily with success in the pros. And for Pass Rushers, one of those statistics is Pass Rush Win Rate. Look closely at the chart below and you will see Darrell Taylor near the top of this list, and you may even notice Alton Robinson climbing the ranks as well. Talk about outperforming your draft position.

And here is where we start to see the volatility of a player like Travon Walker.

Looking at all 2022 draft-hopefuls who had at least 100 pass rush snaps last season, the top ten edge rushers rank as follows, according to Pro Football Focus. *Note, this list accounts for Regular and Postseason games.

  1. Anthony Ekpe - Ball St - 30.7 % win rate, 27 pressures
  2. Nik Bonitto - Oklahoma - 29% win rate, 52 pressures
  3. Kingsley Enagbare - S. Carolina - 25.9% win rate, 45 pressures
  4. Taylor Riggins - Buffalo - 25.7% win rate, 20 pressures
  5. Aidan Hutchinson - Michigan - 25% win rate, 74 pressures
  6. Alex Wright - UAB - 23.8% win rate, 51 pressures
  7. George Karlaftis - Purdue - 23.6% win rate, 54 pressures
  8. Troy Hairston II - C. Michigan - 22.9% win rate, 61 pressures
  9. Arnold Ebiketie - Penn State - 22.9% win rate, 52 pressures
  10. Kayvon Thibodeaux - Oregon - 22.8% win rate, 47 pressures

And then a little bit further down the list we get to Travon Walker...

148. Travon Walker: 10.1% win rate, 34 pressures

However — as noted above — rushing the passer is a lot different in college. But we can alleviate at least some of the confounds by looking at PFF’s adjusted True Pass Set (TPS) win rate. This metric weights certain passing plays differently — such as screens, rollouts, and play action — to account for their impact on the game at large. For a better and more detailed explanation, PFF wrote an article looking at TPS win rate in the NFL during the 2019 season.

Below is a list of top ten best True Pass Set win rates according to Pro Football Focus (names in bold are players who appear on both lists).

  1. Anthony Ekpe - Ball St - 51.7 % win rate - 16 pressures
  2. Taylor Riggins - Buffalo - 46.9% win rate - 11 pressures
  3. Alex Wright - UAB - 39.5% win rate, 30 pressures
  4. Kingsley Enagbare - S. Carolina - 39.2% win rate, 24 pressures
  5. Tre Williams - Arkansas - 39.2% win rate, 13 pressures
  6. Aidan Hutchinson - Michigan - 37% win rate, 44 pressures
  7. Kayvon Thibodeaux - Oregon - 36.2% win rate, 28 pressures
  8. Kameron Toomer - Nevada - 34.8% win rate, 11 pressures
  9. Arnold Ebiketie - Penn State - 34.7% win rate, 33 pressures
  10. Tyreke Smith - Ohio St. - 34.2% win rate, 23 pressures

In case you were curious, this metric doesn’t particularly help out Walker, and in fact it is actually even a bit less kind to him.

155. Travon Walker: 13.8 % win rate, 22 pressures

Looking at the above two lists, there is a certain amount of discernment required, given that Anthony Ekpe posted an incredibly high rate on both of these metrics, but also had a significantly lower total number of pressures relative to nearly everybody above. You can see why teams covet players like Aidan Hutchinson, whose gaudy 74 pressures in 2021 put him way out in front of the others.

Of the other players who Dane Brugler projects as potential first round picks, only Jermaine Johnson II out of Florida State and Logan Hall from Houston join Walker in ranking outside of the top ten on both of the above metrics; the former of the two ranks 77th and 97th in win rate and TPS win rate, respectively. But he also posted 14 total sacks in 2021, so the production was there. Similarly, Logan Hall recorded a win rate of 16.5%, which would rank tied for 46th among Edge players, but more importantly for him, it is 3rd among interior d-line, which is really a more accurate description of where he will be spending his NFL career. Again, Travon Walker is a versatile guy who can line up inside and out too, but his 10.1% PWR would be tied at 52nd with Jerrod Clark from Coastal Carolina for iDL players. And he did this on the Georgia Bulldogs National Championship winning defense, where he was surrounded by talented players (including multiple projected high-round draft picks). In a class that is this deep, I see no reason to overdraft a player with so many question marks, when there are guys like Alex Wright from Alabama-Birmingham, Kingsley Enagbare of South Carolina, and Tyreke Smith from Ohio St. who will all likely be available well after day one wraps up.

I swear, this isn’t all a huge dig at Travon Walker; if he was around with the 9th pick in the draft, I wouldn’t be hugely disappointed to see the Seattle Seahawks take a chance with a guy who has this much talent and upside. He is not the defensive equivalent of DK Metcalf, but there is similarity simply in the sense that a team has to bank on the belief that his litany of physical tools indicate that his best days are ahead. However, I see way more Jadeveon Clowney than Myles Garrett; Walker is a better run defender than pass rusher at this point in his career, and while that may change, it also may not; and I think this should be the assumption for any team that considers adding him to their roster — that they are getting a talented, versatile run defender with pass rushing upside. Translation: High-ceiling, low-floor, because you don’t draft a top 10 guy in 2022 to be a talented run defender.