One of the more intriguing and borderline peculiar picks in the 2022 NFL Draft occurred when the Seattle Seahawks selected former Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III with the No. 41 overall selection in the second round. It was particularly surprising given that Seattle already rosters a proven starter in Chris Carson and also decided to re-sign 2021 breakout ball-carrier Rashaad Penny to a one-year contract earlier this offseason. A diver deep into the situation reveals some potential answers as to why Seattle has traveled in this direction.
It’s possible that Seahawks General Manager John Schneider views Walker as much-needed insurance for the typically reliable Carson, who suffered a serious neck injury in a Week 4 victory over the San Francisco 49ers. Carson was eventually placed on injured reserve in mid-October and later underwent season-ending neck surgery in November. The drafting of Walker with a premium draft selection may suggest Carson’s neck injury is more serious than we were originally intended to believe.
Carson will turn 28 in September and his status remains rather unknown going forward. Head coach Pete Carroll has refused to offer a tangible update on Carson in recent media-related appearances, only adding to the mystery surrounding his health. It’s potentially leading up to a scenario where Walker receives a heavy workload as Seattle’s main ball carrier throughout his rookie campaign.
The Seahawks have long preferred to establish the run as a large part of their offensive identity, and that philosophical approach is expected to continue given their current less-than-ideal situation under center. Expect the Seahawks to run the ball in bunches following a trade that sent long-term franchise quarterback Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos.
The Seahawks surprisingly didn’t draft a future franchise signal-caller, and appear to be moving forward with Drew Lock or veteran journeymen Geno Smith under center. The first-round selection of offensive tackle Charles Cross also indicates the Seahawks were excited to bolster their roster in the trenches as they prepare to become a tougher, hard-nosed team up front.
The decision to re-sign Penny could potentially serve as a roadblock to Walker’s path to receiving starting duties, but further examination suggests that’s unlikely. A former first-round selection of San Diego State, Penny enjoyed by far the most fruitful stretch of his professional career in 2021 by accounting for a staggering 671 rushing yards and six touchdowns across his final five regular-season appearances. It’s also worth noting Penny has routinely struggled with injury throughout his career and it’s difficult to imagine him being capable of handling a heavy workload for 17 consecutive regular-season contests.
DeeJay Dallas also remains on the roster and may be Seattle’s most capable third-down running back. Carson and Penny have rarely been utilized in Seattle’s passing attack, and Walker only caught 19 career balls in three seasons at Wake Forest and Michigan State. For Walker to earn a three-down role as a rookie, he’ll have to prove he’s a more adequate pass-catcher than his collegiate numbers suggest.
Walker is however an explosive and pro-ready ball carrier that exploded in his lone season as a Spartan in 2021 by totaling more than 1,700 total yards of offense and 19 touchdowns. On film, Walker routinely showcased the type of bellcow tendencies Carroll has clearly held an appreciation and affinity for throughout his illustrious coaching career. Walker’s anticipatory vision at the point of attack could help him quickly carve out a role for himself as an early-down ball-carrier in Seattle’s run-heavy offense.
This backfield situation is rather muddy and has some sorting out to do over the next few months, but there’s certainly a realistic pathway for Walker to start multiple games for the Seahawks in 2022.
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