Running back Kenneth Walker III of Michigan State was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks with the 41st overall pick in the NFL draft. The well-rounded running back dominated on the ground in college, leading him to rank first overall on PFF's big board. He was the second running back picked in the draft.
Walker can do everything a team asks of him in the run game. He’s able to make big plays with power, speed and elusiveness, with his vision and agility being his strongest qualities. The former Spartan ran counters, inside zones, outside zones, power players and man plays at least 40 times each throughout his college career, and he averaged over five yards per carry in each concept. That diverse background will help him even if he changes offensive systems during his NFL career.
His 46 explosive runs, 1,168 yards after contact and 89 avoided tackles on the ground were all the most among Power Five running backs last season. Michigan State gave Walker 262 carries throughout the 2021 season, so volume isn’t an issue. He is capable of handling 20-plus carries per game over multiple games in a season.
Walker made 18 catches in his college career, making his work in the pass game a big red flag. He could be a great receiving back, but that’s not how Michigan State used him. While the 21-year-old can learn to be a better receiver over time, a team won’t give him that chance regularly until he can pass protect. Walker either allowed a pressure or was beaten by a defender on over 20% of his pass-blocking snaps en route to a lowly 41.3 PFF pass-blocking grade.
If he can learn to be a better pass-blocker as well as a receiver, he could be a first-round fantasy pick one day. Some of his closest comparisons include Dalvin Cook and Ezekiel Elliott, neither of whom became great receivers but at least became capable. Both players rank in the top 10 in receptions over the past four years. Other players like Ronald Jones, D’Onta Foreman and Rashaad Penny have remained two-down backs throughout their NFL careers.
He joins the Seahawks, where he will have direct competition from Penny and potentially Chris Carson. Penny achieved a 90.1 PFF rushing grade over the second half of 2021, leading all running backs. His strong play to end the season landed him a one-year, $5 million deal, with almost all of the money guaranteed. Carson suffered a potential career-ending neck injury in November. Even if Carson is able to resume his career, it might not be in Seattle.
All three of those backs typically plays only on first or second down, so there will still be a role for either Travis Homer or DeeJay Dallas on third downs. This was not the ideal landing spot for Walker due to the Seahawks' crowded backfield. Seattle will likely be playing from behind, which could leave both Walker and Penny on the bench in fourth quarters.
Chances are Penny and Walker will compete for early-down work, and whoever gets the hot hand in a given week will get more carries. Total carries might be limited if Seattle is playing from behind.
Bottom Line: Walker is an immensely talented runner but landed on a team with a lot of competition, and game scripts might not let him run much his first year.