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Dynasty Rookie Prospect Profile: Kenneth Walker (2022 Fantasy Football)

by Derek Brown | @dbro_ffb | Featured Writer
May 4, 2022
Kenneth Walker

Kenneth Walker is arguably the best pure rusher in this year’s draft class.

Kenneth Walker burst onto the NFL Draft landscape in his final (and only) season at Michigan State. The Wake Forest transfer rolled up 1,636 rushing yards and 18 scores on the ground, handling a workhorse-level 263 carries. That workload was a first for Walker, who had only carried 217 times over his previous two seasons at Wake Forest. Walker wasn’t a highly recruited player coming out of high school. He was a three-star prospect and the 99th-ranked player in Tennessee (per despite averaging 165.8 rushing yards per game in his senior year of high school. After his breakout season at MSU in 2021, Walker continued making noise at the combine, blazing a 4.38 40-yard dash (98th percentile), which gave him a 96th percentile speed score (per PlayerProfiler). With a short resume of top-shelf counting stats, is Walker a one-hit-wonder or the next big thing in the NFL?

Kenneth Walker Draft Profile

Position RB
School Michigan State
Height 5’9″
Weight 211
40-yard dash 4.38
2021 Age 21
Class Jr.
Recruit stars* 3

* Recruit Stars via 247Sports

2022 NFL Draft Prediction: 2nd Round

Kenneth Walker College Statistics

Year Games Rushing attempts Rushing yards Targets Receptions Receiving yards Total touchdowns
2019* 13 98 579 7 3 17 4
2020* 7 119 579 2 2 23 13
2021** 12 263 1,636 16 13 89 19

*Collegiate seasons at Wake Forest **Collegiate season at Michigan State

Kenneth Walker Dynasty Fantasy Analysis

Let’s clear up any confusion about Walker’s talent right out of the gate. He is arguably the best pure rusher in this year’s draft class. While he was only the engine for a collegiate offense for one season, that can’t erase the fact that Walker was stellar from the first time he laced up his cleats at Wake Forest. On a per-carry basis, he’s been outstanding since 2019, ranking 21st or higher (minimum 100 carries) in yards after contact per attempt in each season. My declaration that Walker is the best runner in this class isn’t a slight to draft darling Breece Hall, a talented player in his own right, but the case is easy to make when looking at their collegiate numbers. Walker bests Hall in career yards after contact per attempt (although there is a disparity in workload size — Hall with 715 rushing attempts, Walker with 479 rushing attempts) and the percentage of runs for 10 or more yards. They are equal in breakaway run rate.

Player Collegiate yards after contact per attempt % of carries for 10 or more yards Collegiate breakaway run rate
Breece Hall 3.22 14.2% 46.3%
Kenneth Walker 4.27 16.7% 46.3%

*Statistics via PFF

Walker’s metrics and vision took a massive leap from 2020 to 2021. After his numbers dipped with Wake Forest in 2020, his transition to Michigan State’s zone scheme was the elixir to rekindle the spark he showed in 2019. At Wake Forest, he had a near-even split of gap and zone (51.6%) runs. That changed in 2021 when Walker saw 67.5% of his carries on zone plays (per PFF). His variable hesitancy at the line in 2020 was gone in 2021, as he was decisive, quick, and violent when hitting the hole. I’m attributing it to scheme change based on his numbers, but it’s also possible this was his continued growth as a player with more consistent reps in practice and games.

Among running backs with 100 or more rushing attempts (statistics via PFF)

Year Yards after contact per attempt (rank) Breakaway run percentage (rank)
2019* 4.32 (10th of 176) 46.3% (33rd)
2020 3.83 (21st of 95) 24.9% (77th)
2021 4.46 (6th of 170) 53.9% (4th)

*Only 98 carries in this season.

Walker’s not just a straight-line-speed player. He displays the ability to create yards on his own behind the line of scrimmage and finishing power to grind out extra yards at the end of a play or near the goal line. On film, there are multiple instances of linebackers penetrating the line as soon as Walker gets the ball, only for them to be left in the dust by a well-timed and explosive jump cut. Unlike some backs, Walker loses little speed during these changes of direction. The blend of speed and power he possesses is exceptional.

Since I’ve doted plenty on his abilities on handoffs, we must also discuss the first (and most significant) question that everyone has after staring at Walker’s stat lines: Can he function as a pass-catcher at the NFL level? Walker’s passing-game usage in college was minuscule (25 targets), and the results weren’t jaw-dropping (0.45 yards per route run, per PFF), as he only drew a 5.4% target share (32nd percentile) over three years. On film, he does display a soft set of hands when targeted, and he secured 83.3% of his targets during his final two years. That is a glass-half-full view of his metrics. The reality is that Walker will likely never be a player who commands a robust target share in the NFL, but are the traits present to make him serviceable? Yes. Looking back at his high school career, he averaged 35.3 receiving yards per game and had 1,058 total receiving yards. Plays like the one below at Michigan State (a one-handed catch on a poorly placed ball) offer hope.

The other issue when discussing Walker’s passing-game chops is pass protection. His PFF pass-blocking grades decreased every year (78.2, 64.1, 41.3), while his technique was inconsistent at best. He was dropping his head or throwing a poorly timed cut block on many of these reps. There are also plays intermittently scattered throughout where he stands up to oncoming rushers. As with his receiving skills, there’s hope for improvement with better coaching and progress in his technique or approach.

Player Comp

Imagine if DeAngelo Williams and Michael Bennett (former Vikings’ first-round pick) had a baby. Walker has the long speed of Bennett mixed with the measured power of Williams.

Landing Spot and Dynasty Outlook

Pete Carroll sidesteps the quarterback position for his establish the run fetish and selects the best pure runner in this draft class. For 2022 this is a nightmare scenario for Kenneth Walker to get the full workload with last season’s stretch run darling and efficiency king Rashaad Penny still in town. This move does show Seattle’s hand that Chris Carson is likely not healthy, so he’s not factoring into how I’m evaluating this backfield. Walker will have to deal with the headache of Penny this year, but it could be wheels up in 2023. Walker plummets from a top ten perch among dynasty running backs to RB20 in my current rankings.

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Derek Brown is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Derek, check out his Archive and connect with him on Twitter @dbro_ffb.

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