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Second-Year Scouting Report: Kenneth Walker

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Every year, a few hundred new players enter the NFL, either through the draft or as a free agent afterward. And understandably, the new crop of players get the big attention from NFL and fantasy football fans alike. That means there is a whole group of rookies from the year before who are now technically “veterans,” but whose careers have been just about as short as they could be.

Enter: Second-Year Scouting Reports.

 

All summer, we’ll be looking at the NFL sophomore class heading into 2023 to make sure they don’t fall by the wayside. These players often take huge strides during their second NFL season, building on their full season of NFL experience and development. 

Today, we’re talking Seattle Seahawks running back Kenneth Walker.

Kenneth Walker, RB, Seattle Seahawks 

The Seahawks used the 41st pick in the 2022 NFL Draft on Kenneth Walker, adding to what was an already-robust backfield that had Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny, DeeJay Dallas and Travis Homer (Carson was forced into retirement by injury not long afterward). The RB room had plenty of talent, but the whole group had struggles staying on the field, opening a path for Walker early on. Walker was a late breakout player in college — he struggled to emerge at Wake Forest, only producing 1,205 scrimmage yards and 17 touchdowns over two seasons. After a transfer to Michigan State in his junior year, he exploded and outproduced his career totals in one season, with 1,725 scrimmage yards and 19 touchdowns in 2021 for the Spartans, even earning some Heisman murmurs. His 0.33 missed tackles forced per attempt for his college career was top 10 over the last few classes. Walker was touted as one of the best runners in his class but really lacked a receiving profile, which is where many people had concerns. 

Kenneth Walker Seattle Seahawks Fantasy Football Second-Year Scouting Report

This did not steer people away when it came to fantasy drafts in dynasty. Walker was the clear RB2 in the class and was a top-five pick in most rookie drafts. In redraft, it was a different story, as he carried an ADP of the 88th overall player in most redraft leagues (Sleeper, via the FTN ADP tool). This depreciated value was in large part due to the robust room and a murky path to touches in Year 1. 

What Went Right 

After a slow start (23 carries through Week 5, including a healthy scratch in Week 1), Walker broke out once an injury ended Rashaad Penny’s season. After Week 5, Walker was the team’s RB1, only scoring single-digit fantasy points in one game en route to an RB18 finish with 202.5 PPR points. In Week 7 and 9, Walker finished as a top-three fantasy running back, with two performances of over 27 PPR points. Outside of the fantasy numbers, we see he posted an impressive 1,050 rushing yards, including a strong 720 after contact per the FTN stats hub. His 17 runs of over 15 yards were fourth most in the league, and he averaged 28.2 yards on those runs. Walker was the definition of a home run hitter, as he also scored 3 rushing touchdowns of 15 or more yards, tied for second among running backs. 

 

What Went Wrong 

It was an impressive rookie season from Walker, so to pinpoint what went wrong, we have to look past the surface. Walker produced over 45% of his yards on his 17 breakaway runs (runs of over 15 yards), meaning he averaged a mere 2.7 yards per attempt on his other 211 rushes (league average was 3.2). His saving grace was a real lack of competition allowing him to maintain a significant role despite struggling as an every-down back. We also saw him offer very little in the passing game, averaging a dreadful 1.8 receptions and 11 receiving yards per game, and he failed to find the end zone as a receiver. 

Prognosis for 2023

Walker May be one of the hardest running backs/players to forecast for 2023. He flashed a huge upside and explosiveness last season, which makes you think he is set up to handle a larger role, with Rashaad Penny now gone. On the flip side, the Seahawks spent the 52nd pick in this year’s draft on Zach Charbonnet, who is coming off back-to-back 1,100-yard rushing seasons at UCLA and a year where he caught 37 balls for 321 yards. This is the most significant competition Walker has had to face in his young career, so there is a very real chance Charbonnet’s arrival hurts Walker’s touch total. 

Charbonnet excels at getting those down-and-dirty 5- to 10-yard runs, and this is where Walker struggles. On the other hand, Walker is more explosive than Charbonnet, so even if he sees limited touches there is a path to some fantasy relevance. For now, it seems like this will be a fairly split committee, which will limit Walker’s upside, but there will be boom weeks when he rips off a long touchdown run or few big plays. That makes it a real possibility Walker struggles to crack the top-24 running backs in 2023. There is also a path that Charbonnet falls flat and Walker commands the majority role and recreates his stellar rookie year. This is why he is one of the toughest players to predict, making him one of the riskiest picks in drafts this year. 

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