Kenneth Walker III - RB - Michigan State
Welcome to the rookie profile for Kenneth Walker. Walker III flew under the radar during the first two years of his collegiate career at Wake Forest. But that completely changed in 2021 when he transferred to Michigan State and put on a performance that would make him a legitimate Heisman candidate. He lit up the box score and, at times, carried Michigan State to victories throughout the season. Following the 2021 season, he is on everyone’s radar as a top-end running back prospect in this class.
Height: 5′ 9″
Weight: 211 lbs
40-yard dash: 4.38
3-cone drill: DNP
20-yard shuttle: DNP
Vertical Jump: 34″
Broad Jump: 122″
Bench Press: DNP
Walker was only a three-star recruit coming out of high school with limited collegiate offers. He decided to take his talents to Wake Forest where he split careers with running back Cade Carney, Christian Beal, and dual-threat quarterback Jamie Newman. It was an average true freshman season with 579 yards on the ground and 4 touchdowns, adding 3 receptions for 17 yards through the air. Going into his sophomore season, Walker was once again splitting carries. Cade Carney and Jamie Newman went on their ways, but Walker and Christian Beal split carries fairly evenly throughout the season. Walker then showed his nose for the endzone with 13 touchdowns on the year.
Following his sophomore season, Walker decided to take his talents to Michigan State. The 2021 season brought plenty of success as Walker won the starting job during his first year with the Spartans. He was a workhorse for the team, rushing 264 times for 1646 yards and 18 touchdowns. That’s over 1000 yards more than he rushed during any one season with the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. He added a small role in the receiving game, hauling in 13 targets for 89 yards and another touchdown. The 2021 season’s performance was enough to earn Walker the Doak Walker Award, Walter Camp Player of the Year Award, and Heisman Trophy consideration.
Kenneth Walker is a very shifty runner with nimble feet. He possesses great change of direction, turning on a dime behind the line of scrimmage or in congested areas of the field. Additionally, he is almost naturally elusive. He makes subtle changes of direction with nice footwork, allowing him to elude head-on tackles. He also has an explosive jump cut that can leave defenders tackling air. Generally, defenders can only get arm tackles on Walker, which he will easily run through. But if a defender does happen to get a clean tackle on him, he’s not afraid to lower his shoulder and bounce off said defender.
Behind the line of scrimmage, Walker has good instincts to find the open lane in the offensive line. Once the running lane is identified, Walker cuts upfield with an exciting burst of speed. Additionally, he does a good job at seeing the second level of the defense and manipulating those defenders. When he makes it out of the second level and into the open field, he has the ability to create explosive plays. He may not be a complete home run threat, but he can pick up solid chunks of 30+ yards.
One of the largest negatives of Walker’s game is his lack of involvement in the passing game. He had less than a 45% market share of receptions between the running back room and a sub 6% total market share of targets. There isn’t a very long list of successful NFL running backs under that threshold. All that to say, when given the opportunity, he looked competent in catching the ball and creating yards after the catch. It’s a question of, did he not get the opportunity because of the scheme or because of talent.
A smaller concern is that he didn’t separate himself from the other running backs during his tenure at Wake Forest. That concern is alleviated though with his consistently great 2021 season with the Spartans.
One concern with his game is his vision. While he generally shows good vision and decision-making, there were some times that he missed some clear cutback lanes or open running lanes. He needs to be more consistent in this area. Additionally, he can be a physical runner and will initiate contact. But when he initiates contact, he doesn’t always finish at the point of contact.
Pre Draft Analysis
Expected Draft Capital- Round 2
Walker’s lack of involvement in the passing game might keep him from being one of the top one or two running backs off the board, he has a good chance to go on Day 2 of the 2022 NFL Draft. He would be a great fit for any running back needy team. Teams that come to mind where he would fit include the Atlanta Falcons, Arizona Cardinals, and the Miami Dolphins. The Falcons have been missing a true workhorse running back since Devonta Freeman’s glory days. The Cardinals have both James Conner and Chase Edmonds hitting free agency this offseason. If they let one or both walk, Walker could come right in and be either the bell cow or 1a to either Conner or Edmonds’ 1b in the Cardinal’s backfield. And finally, the Dolphins have been lacking the consistent presence of a talented backfield for a few years now. They’re in a position, that if Walker falls to the third round, they could spend a luxury pick on a young and talented running back.
Post Draft Analysis
Draft Capital- Round 2, Pick 9
The Seahawks came into the NFL Draft with a plethora of needs across the team. After shipping out Russell Wilson in return for draft capital and notably Drew Lock, the Seahawks have put themselves a few years out at least from being a competitive playoff team. It does seem like the organization believes in Drew Lock as a somewhat long-term answer for the team, at least enough to give him a shot in 2022. The offensive skill positions that Lock is surrounded with are a lot better than most could ask for with both DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett on the outside, Noah Fant at tight end, and the new addition of presumed lead running back Kenneth Walker. The biggest question mark surrounding the team’s offensive success will be whether or not the offensive line can take a step forward. That will be integral to the Seahawks presenting a multidimensional offense both in the passing game and in the running game.
Kenneth Walker joins a backfield that is filled with running backs that have struggled to stay healthy in recent years. Chris Carson was their lead back for some time but is getting older and struggling to stay on the field. Rashaad Penny looked amazing towards the end of 2021 but has also been riddled with injuries throughout his young career. Walker looks to step into the presumed running back by committee from day one but has a very good shot at being the lead back by the start of the season. And the Seahawks have loved to lean on a workhorse back in past years, but they have lacked the talent to really do so since the Marshawn Lynch era. With Walker as part of that backfield, they may finally have the workhorse if they choose to use him as such. Again, the question is if the line can support a heavy run game.
Walker’s consensus ranking is solidly the RB2 in this draft class behind Breece Hall, many also believing Walker could have a strong case for RB1. He lands in a great spot in terms of perceived usage and a weak backfield to compete for touches against. But the offensive line is still a huge question mark that may or may not improve. Regardless, volume speaks louder than offensive line talent, see Najee Harris. So, Walker has the talent, the opportunity for workhorse-like volume, and lands on a rebuilding team that will want to lean on his talents. In Dynasty he is easily a top half of the draft type of prospect. He should land somewhere between Breece Hall and the top tier of wide receivers in Treylon Burks, Drake London, and Garrett Wilson. In redraft, he’s a great target in the middle rounds to secure what should be a weekly RB2 with RB1 upside if he shows improved pass-catching abilities.