Sherman Gets His Man


Javon Walker

He had promised two things going into his first NFL Draft as general manager, that he'd keep an open mind to possible opportunities to move forward or backward and that he'd come away from the first round saying he'd taken the guy he wanted all along.

Which is how it came to be that Mike Sherman and the Green Bay Packers moved up from 28th to select Florida State wide receiver Javon Walker with the 20th overall selection of the 2002 NFL Draft. To move up, the Packers swapped first-round picks with the Seattle Seahawks while also tossing in their second-round pick (the 60th overall pick in the draft) and receiving Seattle's fifth-round pick (156th overall).

"I wanted to make sure that we got a pick that I was really going to be excited about," Sherman said after the selection. "The second round is a valuable pick and that took a lot of forethought to be able to give that away . . . (but) I thought the options for the Green Bay Packers were better to be able to move up and get a player that I really feel confident in than to wait around and see what we could get in the second (round)."

In Walker, the Packers inherit a player who led FSU's high-powered offense with 45 catches for 944 yards and seven touchdowns last season, averaging 21 yards per catch. Standing 6-foot-2 and expected to bulk up to around 215 pounds by the start of his rookie season, Walker possesses a combination of size and speed that suggests he has the pedigree to be an impact player.

"He is a prototype receiver in this offense," Sherman said. "There were other players we thought may fall to us (at 28th), but not of this dimension. We think he brings a new dimension to us in regard to his ability to stretch the field, to be a size player."

There is also reason to believe that much of Walker's potential has gone untapped. A former minor league baseball player in the Florida Marlins organization, Walker played just two seasons at FSU after transferring from Jones Junior College in Mississippi.

"There's a huge upside to this kid," raved Brian Gutekunst, the Packers' southeast scout. "This guy has all the potential in the world to do whatever he wants."

Gutekunst saw that first hand at Walker's workout at Florida State. Originally planning to pass on the bench press portion, which is optional to receivers, Walker's attitude changed when he heard about his competition.

Remembered Gutenkunst, "We kind of ribbed him a little and said, well (Tennessee wide receiver) Donte' Stallworth did 17 (reps). And he said, 'Really?' And he did 18."

That was the demonstration that sold Gutekunst on Walker's work ethic, a competitive drive for which he credits his upbringing.

"It had a lot to do with my parents," Walker said via telephone from his home in Lafayette, La. "They were always people who told me never to hang around with people who say the word 'can't,' because 'can't' shouldn't be in the vocabulary. And they always told me to strive for the best and I believe in doing that."

Walker's character did not go unnoticed by Sherman, who cited the 23-year-old's character as a major factor in his decision to trade forward.

"This is not a 22-year-old kid coming out of college, he has a lot more maturity," Sherman said. "He's been on the bus going on Double-A trips around the country and he knows what the big game is all about, what it's going to take to be a champion, to be a professional."

For the record, Walker played only one game at the Double-A level, spending most of his career playing right field for Single-A Utica, N.Y. His baseball rights are now owned by the Anaheim Angels, but Walker said that his baseball career is on hold for now.

As for his upcoming season in the NFL, history dictates that Walker - forced to learn the intricacies of a new system - will go through growing pains, but Sherman is hoping that some added wisdom will help bridge the gap.

"I'd be crazy to say that he's going to be the exception," Sherman said. "I will say this, that he has a higher maturity level and doesn't seem to be taken back by things as much as most rookies coming out because of the life he's led in regard to professional baseball."

Gutekunst was equally optimistic, especially considering Walker's track record for dealing with physical bump-and-run coverage, a nuance of the NFL game employed sparingly in college.

"He's handled press, I don't think that's a problem," Gutekunst said. "I think he has the quickness to do it. He's also a big guy and he can reach out and get you as well. If you reach out and press him he might throw you on the ground . . . I think he can contribute right away."

Where he'll factor in the Packers' formations remains to be seen. Sherman suggested that Walker is also a candidate to return punts, something with which he has only limited experience, but refused to commit to the idea that he'll be the Packers' special teams solution.

Sherman believes he is the solution however to the Packers' previous worries of getting first-round value out of their first-round selection, something that made trading a second-round pick rather easy.

"Our first-round board as it was evolving was getting pretty slim," Sherman said. "There were not going to be a lot of first-round options available to the Green Bay Packers that would fit our football team . . . There were good players there, but not to the degree that I think this man can be.

"And this man will have to prove it himself on the field. I mean, I can say all I want, but he's going to go out and play and if we've done a good job evaluating him, he will, and if we didn't, he won't.

"So hopefully we're right, but this was the one player that we had an overall consensus about that this guy could be something special in our system with our quarterback on Lambeau Field."

And like he did with his bench press exhibition, Walker is eager to prove himself.

"I know when I come in and perform they're going to be getting what they're expecting," he said. "They're going to get a great player who is willing to work and who doesn't stop working. That's all I can do."

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content