At some point, you’ve just got to tip your cap, right? Despite a host of other needs — most notably at quarterback — the Seahawks remained relentlessly committed to their brand on Friday night and chose Michigan State RB Kenneth Walker in Round 2 of the NFL Draft. Seattle has been the subject of league-wide scrutiny for their dedication to establishing the ground game, and the decision to choose Walker signals they have no plans to change their philosophy in the immediate future.
Unfortunately, this could also be a reflection of where Chris Carson is at in his recovery from a neck injury. There have been murmurs that Carson’s injury could threaten his career, and the arrival of Walker will only add smoke to the fire. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, normally as optimistic about injuries as anyone in the league, admitted that Carson’s future is uncertain:
Pete Carroll said Seattle picked RB Kenneth Walker III because of how highly they had him rated, but he acknowledged there's uncertainty with Chris Carson coming off neck surgery. "We don’t have updates yet on Chris and we won’t know for some time here that we can’t predict yet."
— Brady Henderson (@BradyHenderson) April 30, 2022
We’re expecting Walker and Rashaad Penny to spearhead this backfield in 2022, as Carson currently carries too much risk to comfortably draft. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how we’re projecting the Seahawks’ backfield.
Projection: 191.4 carries for 842.0 yards and 5.2 touchdowns, 14.7 catches on 20.0 targets for 117.4 yards and 0.5 touchdowns. RB38 on Underdog (118th overall).
- Walker had only 19 receptions across three college seasons, indicating he’s unlikely to provide much as a pass catcher in the NFL, at least early in his career. The Seahawks will likely rely on their other running backs — in addition to Penny and Carson, they also have DeeJay Dallas and Travis Homer on the roster — on passing downs. Walker may see a target here and there, but it’s not something we should expect out of him in Year 1.
- However, he flashed immense talent as a rusher throughout his college career, most notably in his final college season after he transferred to Michigan State. It was in East Lansing that he truly emerged as a high-end prospect, posting 1,636 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns on 6.2 yards per attempt en route to a Heisman finalist campaign. Analysts raved about his rushing ability throughout the pre-draft process. The Athletic’s Dane Brugler even said Walker could be the best running back in the class:
“There is no consensus RB1 in this draft class, but if there is a running back who might be considered in the first round, it should be Walker. With his vision and contact balance, he generates impressive burst off his plant foot to dart away from trouble and break tackles (led the FBS with 89 forced missed tackles in 2021).”
- Walker was also the best running back in the 2022 class in Graham Barfield’s Yards Created metric:
Kenneth Walker is the epitome of a Yards Created standout.
Walker's YC per carry (5.86) is 91st percentile and puts him among some amazing prospects (Zeke – 94th, Fournette – 89th, Kamara – 85th).
Think he was a fluid pass catcher on limited reps, too.
He's RB1 over Hall.
— Graham Barfield (@GrahamBarfield) March 29, 2022
- He should be the favorite to lead the Seahawks in rushing attempts as a rookie — and our projections reflect as much. His lack of receiving volume and the overall state of the Seahawks’ offense could hold him back, but Walker can still have a productive Year 1. Our projection may seem low, and that’s mostly because Walker could be in for a lot of low-value touches considering he isn’t expected to catch many passes and the Seahawks aren’t expected to score a lot of points.
Old projection: 201.2 carries for 973.9 yards and 6.6 touchdowns, 15.0 catches on 20.5 targets for 122.3 yards and 0.5 touchdowns. RB29 on Underdog (85th overall).
New projection: 127.6 carries for 617.5 yards and 4.2 touchdowns, 18.3 catches on 25.0 targets for 149.3 yards and 0.6 touchdowns. RB41 on Underdog (137th overall).
- Penny’s stock crumbles with Walker in town, as he no longer projects as the lead runner in this committee and the Seahawks often relied on other running backs to catch passes down the stretch last season. Still, Penny ran for 671 yards in five games to end 2021 and signed a $5.8 million contract (although it is just one year) this offseason, so he won’t go away completely. Perhaps he’ll see an increase in passing-down work next fall in addition to operating in a change-of-pace rushing role alongside Walker.
- Regardless, Penny falls into RB4 territory as a result of the Walker pick. If the rookie stays healthy, Penny will likely struggle to be fantasy-relevant on a weekly basis.