RB – Michigan St.
5’10” 210 lbs
Kenneth Walker is a very good runner who is still largely unproven as a pass catcher. He has a nice combination of strength, speed, and vision that should allow him to serve as a feature back on early downs right away in the NFL. Whether he can develop into a true three down workhorse remains to be seen. Given his lack of experience in the passing game it is unlikely he will earn a significant receiving role in his rookie season which may cap his ceiling for 2022. Walker is currently the second rookie RB off the board with an Underdog ADP of 95.1 (as of 2/26) which seems slightly expensive, but not unreasonable given his talent and projected draft capital.
Walker was perhaps the biggest breakout of the 2021 college football season. He played his first two seasons at Wake Forest before transferring to Michigan State where he exploded onto the scene and ultimately finished the year sixth in Heisman voting. More interestingly, he won the Walter Camp Award as college football’s Player of the Year. The Walter Camp Award is voted on by head coaches and sports information directors (whereas the Heisman is voted on by journalists) which speaks to the level of respect he earned across the college football landscape.
The traits that really stand out on Walker’s tape are his contact balance, strength, and lateral agility. He showed the ability to run through contact as well as make defenders miss with sharp cuts. He can also stack cuts in the open field without losing much speed, a skill which is critical to creating big plays at the next level. Walker doesn’t appear to be a true burner but he has enough speed to be a home run threat when he has an open lane. He shows good vision, patience, and an understanding of where gaps are supposed to emerge in different blocking schemes. There is a lot to like about Walker as a ball carrier, but there are a few issues in his game to be aware of as well.
Walker’s ball security is a complex evaluation. He only lost one fumble across three seasons (he also fumbled once as a freshman but it was recovered by the offense) which is a great track record to have. However, he regularly fails to switch the ball into his outside arm when running in space. Not only does this make a running back more fumble prone as defenders are generally pursuing from the middle of the field, it also takes away his ability to use a stiff arm to hold off those defenders. This is the kind of fundamental mistake that drives scouts and coaches crazy, even if it didn’t end up costing him much in college. It should be an easy fix in theory, but the fact that it wasn’t already fixed during his three seasons in college is definitely a concern.
The other potential weakness in Walker’s game is what he brings to the table on passing downs. I actually think his hands are decent, but he had essentially no route tree in college and was painfully bad on some pass protection reps. Unless he improves tremendously in these areas during the offseason, it seems unlikely he will be on the field for obvious passing downs as a rookie. This limits his upside for fantasy and creates the potential for him to be game scripted out of production in certain weeks should his team fall behind early.
Landing spot is always important for running backs but I believe Walker is the most landing spot dependent of the top tier rookie RBs. I expect him to split work with a third down back wherever he goes, but should he end up with a team that has a veteran back who will command early down work (or even worse the goal line carries) it will be difficult to project a valuable role for him. On the other hand, if he ends up somewhere he will clearly be the feature back on early downs and at the goal line, he could easily outperform his current ADP.