2022 NFL Draft Rookie Profile: Kenneth Walker (Fantasy Football)
It’s been awhile since Michigan State produced a top tier talent at the RB position, with most recent superstar being Le’Veon Bell. Kenneth Walker will look to make a name for himself at the next level and has the tools to potentially turn into a workhorse back that we so highly covet in fantasy football circles.
Let’s dive into Walker’s path to the NFL Draft, his collegiate production profile, NFL Combine measurables and finally, review what’s on his film before taking a stab at what his 2022 fantasy season might look like.
Editors Note: This article is part of our Rookie Profile series going on until the 2022 NFL Draft. For more on each rookie, check out Andy, Mike, and Jason’s exclusive rookie rankings and production profiles found only in the Dynasty Pass, part of the UDK+ for 2022.
|Year||School||Games||Attempts||Rush Yards||Yards/Att||Rush TD||Rececptions||Receiving Yards|
A three-year college player, Kenneth Walker started his career at Wake Forest, where he played two seasons for the Demon Deacons. Coming out of high school, Walker was labeled as a 3-star recruit according to 247Sports and was offered primarily Division II scholarships. In fact, Wake was the only Power 5 school to offer a scholarship.
Like most first-year college backs, Walker was involved primarily as a backup/committee back, but what’s encouraging about his first two years in the ACC is that he flashed efficiency (5.4 YPC) in a limited workload. Furthermore, Walker’s 579 rush yards and 13 TD in a Covid-shortened 2020 season extrapolates to 992 yards and 22 TD in a 12-game season. That TD rate may be a bit unsustainable, but when you look at his 18 rushing TDs from 2021…it’s not that unrealistic.
After 2020, Walker transferred to Michigan State to play in the Big Ten, where he broke out to the tune of over 1,700 scrimmage yards and 19 total TD. His 2021 season put him in consideration for the Heisman Trophy, but while he didn’t take home that honor, Walker was named the Doak Walker Award winner and the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award winner. His impressive 2021 campaign also earned him All-American honors.
No doubt about it, Walker was one of college football’s top runners of the football in 2021. His 1,636 rushing yards were the second-most in college football, and his 18 rushing TD was tied for 8th most in the FBS. Walker’s 1,600+ rushing yards accounted for a 2022 class best 78% (!!) of Michigan State’s rushing production, helping him earn a 37% dominator rating according to our Rookie Production Profiles in the Dynasty Pass.
However, one glaring issue with Walker’s profile is his lack of production in the receiving game. He totaled just 19 receptions in his college career. Good friend of the Fantasy Footballers, JJ Zachariason, expressed some concerns over Walker’s lack of receiving production in this Twitter thread. This lack of production doesn’t guarantee that Walker can’t catch the football, but of course, it’d really strengthen his profile if we knew we could hang our hats on him as a true three-down back given today’s PPR style of fantasy scoring.
|Height||Weight||40-Yard Dash||Broad Jump||Vertical|
At 5’9″ and 1/4″ and 211 lbs., Walker’s 31.2 BMI is well within the range we’re looking for when trying to identify backs who have the prototypical build to be an early-down back at the next level. Where Walker really shined in Indianapolis is in the 40-yard dash, posting an impressive official 4.38-second 40, which ranked tied for 2nd among all backs at the Combine, with the fastest coming in at 4.37. While historical data confirms 40-yard dash time in and of itself does not actually translate to success in fantasy football, it at least points to the athleticism that Walker brings to the table. His speed score, which is a composite of height, weight, and 40-yard dash time ranked 3rd among all backs in Indianapolis.
One additional takeaway from most at the Combine was how fluid Walker looked in the receiving drills for RBs. While we talked about Walker’s lack of production in the receiving game in college being a yellow flag, it is worth noting logged over 1,000 receiving yards in his high school career.
Ok folks we got to see Kenneth Walker run routes and catch passes. He skipped the last two drills though. How do we feel at this point with Walker and his pass-catching? I know people who love him love him. pic.twitter.com/hB4ybdNSiP
— ThomasTipple (@ThomasTippleFF) March 5, 2022
In general, Walker checked all the boxes in Indianapolis. He’s got the size we’re looking for and tested well compared to his peers. Most would consider Walker’s Combine a ‘Win’ in his NFL Draft outlook.
What’s on Tape
Games Viewed: Penn State (2021), Michigan (2021), Maryland (2021), Miami (2021), Northwestern (2021)
1. If you like running backs who can break a tackle and pick up extra yards that aren’t blocked for him, Kenneth Walker is your guy.
Walker’s ability to pick up extra yards after contact is the first thing that sticks out when you watch him play. He’s got excellent vision and changes direction extremely well in small spaces to help setup his defenders for missed tackles and extra yards. In addition, Walker has some power to his game as well. He’s not afraid to pick up some “tough” yards by lowering his shoulder either. Per PFF, Walker ranked 1st in 2021 in yards after contact, 1st in missed tackles forced, and 6th in yards after contact per attempt. It pops on tape, for sure.
2. Walker knows how to identify the right hole at the line of scrimmage and use his burst and acceleration to get to the second level.
I love Kenneth Walker’s vision. He seems to be one step ahead of his competition in terms of processing what’s coming at him, contorting his body angle to be able to change direction quickly. Once he’s made up his mind he’s changing direction, he gets up the field quickly and into the second level quickly thanks to his acceleration. Walker led college football in number of 15+ yard runs with 30 last year.
3. Goal line attempts = Cash Money.
As mentioned above, Walker found the end zone 18 times on the ground a season ago. Some of those runs came from several yards away from the painted box, but most of them came inside the red zone. Specifically, when Walker was given an opportunity to convert around the goal line, he cashed in on his opportunities more often than not. Obviously, in fantasy football, we care most about backs who are going to get the high-value touches. Walker profiles as a back who can earn touches around the goal line.
What’s Not on Tape
1. Top tier pass protection
Simply put, if Walker wants to earn a three-down role at the NFL level, he’ll likely need to clean up his pass protection. There are inconsistencies in his reps. At times, he looks pretty decent in pass pro but there are reps that definitely don’t give you a lot of confidence. We’ll have to see how he transitions in that
2. Receiving Volume
Not to beat a dead horse, as we’ve clearly already established this, but Walker didn’t catch many passes in college. There’s a limited sample size in his tape. In those limited opportunities, Walker was running basic routes like swing routes out of the backfield. Still, he didn’t have a drop that I saw on tape and after watching the games listed above, I decided to dive into the stats. Walker didn’t have a single drop this year (albeit in a limited sample), per PFF.
I know Kenneth Walker didn't catch a lot of passes in college but I'm not so sure that means he can't. Looked fluid in the Combine drills in Indy as well #NFLDraft2022 pic.twitter.com/kqfr6AjeAq
— Matthew Betz (@TheFantasyPT) March 10, 2022
2022 Fantasy Outlook
Based on GrindingTheMocks and NFL Mock Draft Database, two resources that pull mock drafts from around the industry to create an ADP, Kenneth Walker looks likely to go in the 2nd round of the NFL Draft in April. Certainly, that would give him a strong chance to be a contributor in year one right away for an NFL franchise and for our fantasy rosters. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to comment on specifics without knowing the landing spot as we know opportunity and volume are king when it comes to fantasy points at the RB position.
That said, Walker’s strong performance at the Combine combined with his strong projected NFL Draft capital solidifies him as a name we should be eager to add to our fantasy rosters via dynasty rookie drafts, likely in the middle of the 1st Round, depending on your preference among the top WRs and other top backs such as Breece Hall and Isaiah Spiller. While the consensus out there right now is that Breece Hall is the top back in the class, Walker has a chance to be just as valuable, if not more valuable, for fantasy depending on landing spot and opportunity. Plus, if he can improve his pass protection and prove to an NFL team he can contribute on third downs, Walker’s ceiling would be much higher than his collegiate profile suggests. Unfortunately, that’s the unknown with Walker, making it difficult to project at the next level.