Having ranked outside the top-2000 overall recruits in 2019, Kenneth Walker III started his college at Wake Forest, where – weirdly enough – he had exactly 579 rushing yards in each of his first two years of college, although the TD total rose from four to 13.
He transferred over to Michigan State ahead of the 2021 season and quickly made an impression, with a 268-yard and three-touchdown debut for the Spartans against Northwestern, including a 75-yard house call on the first play from scrimmage. He finished the year with 1646 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns over 12 games, averaging 6.2 yards per carry despite his high workload, earning himself first-team All-American honors and being among the Heisman front-runners for most of the year.
Kenneth Walker's strengths
Walker has excellent short-area quickness. He hesitates but then finds that cutback in the zone run game with high efficiency. Yet he can also drop those hips and make cuts at a large radius, often to bounce out to the edge. You see him jump-cut two gaps or get outside the tackle when the defense is caved in at times.
Walker uses his off-arm well to guide blockers and kind of sort through traffic. His ability to force defenders to commit and put them on the wrong side of blocks is outstanding. He didn’t benefit from Wake Forest’s weird option run game, where the quarterback rides the mesh point forever, but rather when he was able to hit holes that burst through the line of scrimmage started to shine.
Walker displays the hip mobility and short-area agility to execute any cut – pivot in space, jump-cuts to navigate through traffic and make some dramatic moves in the open field. The difference between him and many other backs is how quickly he can re-accelerate to get away from defenders. He can get opponents to stop on their feet with a shimmy on the fly and get to the sidelines even if it initially looked like they had guys out there in contain.
Walker has a natural feel for navigating around defenders with curvilinear movement, reducing his area to grab, turning his upper or lower body away from flailing arms, and using the pursuit of defenders against them. He doesn’t look enormous, but he can bring some thunder when he’s rolling and drops the shoulder on an awaiting defender to finish the run.
He could bounce off some tackles and keep his balance at Wake Forest, but he now runs through those and gains yardage after contact by shrugging off tackling attempts from the side. His 1168 yards after contract led the entire nation.
When he sees that open space in front of him, he has the extra gear to run away from the pursuit, where you often see safeties try to dive at him after getting too aggressive with their angles downhill. That led to an equally nation-leading 30 carries of 15+ yards this past season.
He was highly consistent with hitting big plays and producing numbers as he rushed for 126 yards or more in eight of twelve games. As a pass-protector, Walker does an excellent job securing the inside and at least pushing the blitzers off track a little bit. Along with that, he’s pretty effective on his cut-blocks, really working through the legs of charging linebackers to put them on the turf.
Kenneth Walker's weaknesses
The biggest question mark on Walker as a runner is his tendency to cut across the formation or bounce out wide as much as he tends to. He doesn’t yet understand how to freeze contain defenders to beat them to the corner when they have NFL quality athleticism, needing to incorporate dips to the inside to create that angle for himself.
He needs to understand when he’s out-leveraged by multiple defenders and should drive ahead in traffic to get what he can. Walker isn’t necessarily looking for work if he’s not directly assigned to a defender in pass protection, and his approach in that regard is not very proactive altogether. I’m not sure if I can remember a back being first off the board with just 19 career receptions – especially in the modern era. And on the few targets he did have, I saw him stop his momentum or go to the turf to haul in catches.
Kenneth Walker's Draft Projection
In terms of the quickness, ability to make whatever cut is necessary, power to break arm tackles, and speed to take it to the house, I think Walker ranks at the top of the class. Unfortunately, with him, we just haven’t seen him produce at all as a receiver, and the flashes we have seen, haven’t been great.
Walker will have to become more disciplined by not relying on his speed to the edge, but he has all the tools to bleed outruns and get the most out of them. The top two names are just more complete players at this point, but Walker has the chance to be the most dangerous big-play threat among this group, which was backed up by being just one-hundredth of a second off the best 40 times for a back at the combine (4.38).
Final projection: Late 1st/Early 2nd round
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