The scouting report of Michigan State RB Kenneth Walker III has been one of the most prevalent topics in the 2022 NFL Draft. Breece Hall looks like the favorite to be RB1, but Walker is the wild card in that conversation. A breakout star in 2021, the Spartans running back has worthy tape and testing numbers. Where does Walker have Hall beat, where does he have room to prove himself further, and can he challenge Hall for the RB1 mantle?
Kenneth Walker III NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Running Back
- School: Michigan State
- Current Year: Junior
- Height: 5’9 1/4″
- Weight: 211 pounds
Walker’s Combine/pro day results
- 40-Yard Dash: 4.38
- Broad Jump: 10’2″
- Vertical Jump: 34″
Kenneth Walker III Scouting Report
In 2021, Walker eclipsed his career bests in just three games, reached a new career mark in terms of rushing efficiency, and came away with the Doak Walker Award, given to the nation’s best running back. He was not only the best ball carrier in the nation but one of the most valuable offensive weapons. Without Walker, the Michigan State offense simply wasn’t the same.
Running backs are growing more and more replaceable as time wears on, but the sheer impact that Walker had on the Spartans can’t be ignored. Some running backs transcend their positional value and become vital pieces for their respective teams. Walker did exactly that in college, but can the Michigan State RB carry over that effect to the pros? Let’s take a closer look.
Walker’s athletic profile
Walker isn’t an overwhelming size threat to the level that other running backs are, but he still passes the required threshold for density. Walker is 5’9 1/4″, 211 pounds, and has a frame that’s put together well. Within that frame, Walker has a lot of valuable traits, but his athleticism is what stands out both in space and in congestion.
As his 4.38 speed shows, Walker has dynamic ability that he can channel early in reps. The Michigan State RB is spry and explosive with his initial cuts in the backfield. He can divert course with suddenness. He gears up quickly after cuts and attacks open space with decisiveness.
Going further, Walker has loose hips, and they enable him to stack cuts and evasive maneuvers. He also has great lateral agility, which he’s shown more than once when evading surging defenders in the backfield. Furthermore, Walker has excellent speed in open space. He stretches the boundary and capitalizes on open lanes when he has them.
Execution beyond the physical traits
Walker’s athleticism checks the box, but the Michigan State RB goes above and beyond with his execution. Walker’s most exciting executional trait might be his contact and overall balance and how he uses that balance.
Walker has great contact balance and density as a runner. He can shed leg tackles and contort to extend runs through congestion. When Walker is faced with immediate contact, however, he can lower his shoulder into impact and bounce off defenders. He often finishes his runs with physicality and actively seeks to maximize big gains, always churning his legs.
Walker’s physicality plays a hand in emboldening his contact balance, but the Michigan State RB has great overall balance as well. He adjusts his rushing angles with ease while keeping speed and inspires confidence with how low he is as a runner. He has a great center of gravity and can lean into direction changes without sacrificing his movement freedom. With this balance, Walker is instinctive with how he combats and negates tackling angles.
Among other things, Walker is decisive and urgent when choosing initial lanes. He also flashes great full-field vision and can manipulate second-level defenders with his elusiveness and elite creative instincts. Walker has shown he can employ a stiff arm to negate defenders who encroach on his space. He’s also flashed as a receiver. The Michigan State RB shows glimpses of body control, and he has the lateral agility to make the first defender miss on designed catches.
Areas for improvement
Going down the RB checklist, there isn’t a lot that Walker lacks. Having said this, the Michigan State RB isn’t a perfect prospect. He can improve both as a runner and in other phases of his game.
Starting with his rushing ability, Walker sometimes falls into contact when his first cut doesn’t create space. He’ll sometimes defer to congested lanes when he has avenues to bounce outside. Additionally, Walker sometimes over-complicates his footwork in the backfield and lets defenders close in. He also occasionally works himself into a corner when moving to the outside. His high-level creative capacity can be a double-edged sword at times.
Going further, Walker’s vision — while solid — can be spotty at times. It doesn’t seem to be an issue of what he’s seeing, but rather what he’s doing. He can go on auto-pilot with his cuts at times, but he’s shown he can play controlled and composed, nonetheless.
Physically, Walker’s size — while also solid — is not overwhelming for larger defenders. Furthermore, he doesn’t always play to his 4.38 speed.
Last but not least, Walker needs to improve his pass blocking. He’s not good there, and that will impact how NFL teams view his three-down viability. Walker doesn’t always square up and engage his opponents. He too often drops down when blocking, taking himself out of protection.
Walker III’s NFL Draft scouting report overview
Walker will need to keep improving his pass blocking and receiving ability. Although blocking is not often viewed as a primary function for running backs, it’s important for runners who wish to see the field on all three downs. Right now, Walker isn’t adequately protecting his quarterback, and he also isn’t a proven receiving threat. But those are things he can improve.
Although he doesn’t have a heavy sample size catching the ball, Walker has flashed coveted traits like body control and escapability after the catch — suggesting he can produce as a receiver with increased volume in the NFL. And as a runner, Walker’s tape speaks for itself. He is the best pure runner in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Walker is a dense, explosive RB with great burst, vision, instincts, and creation ability. He ties that skill set together with elite balance, both against contact and amidst direction changes. Walker already looks like a complete running back, and he has potential on passing downs. There’s little to suggest he can’t be a scheme-versatile starting RB in the NFL.
If you’re comfortable with Walker’s receiving upside and his projection on passing downs, then there’s no reason he can’t be RB1. For more on Walker’s rushing ability, check out this film breakdown of the Michigan State RB’s performance against Michigan.
Walker III’s Player Profile
It’s been a winding journey for Walker, but when he’s had opportunities, he’s never had a problem producing. In high school, Walker amassed 493 carries, 3,485 yards, and 41 total touchdowns. He also broke the 1,000-yard mark as a receiver, logging 1,058 yards and 15 touchdowns on 64 catches.
That production helped earn Walker a three-star billing, and he eventually signed with the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. He immediately entered the RB rotation at Wake Forest, but he never quite broke out as a starter. In his true-freshman season, Walker put up 579 yards and 4 touchdowns on 99 carries. He matched that yardage output a year later and logged 13 scores on 21 more attempts.
His career at Michigan State and NFL Draft ascension
In January, Walker entered the transfer portal. Not long after that, he announced his decision to attend Michigan State and play for head coach Mel Tucker. As it turns out, Walker would earn the starting role with the Spartans, and he’d become one of the brightest stars of the 2021 season.
Walker dominated in his lone season as a Spartan. In 12 games, Walker amassed 264 carries for 1,646 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground — averaging 6.2 yards per carry. He also tacked on 13 receptions for 89 yards and an additional score. His success earned him the Doak Walker Award — given to the best running back in college football.
Walker produced at a high level in 2021, but in an appealing twist for NFL evaluators, he doesn’t have much wear on his tires. The Michigan State RB is still young. And in his most recent starting action, he’s proven himself to be a tier above the usual running back.
Having officially declared for the 2022 NFL Draft, Walker has the traits to be an early-round running back. However, the Michigan State RB’s ambiguous passing-down upside may impede his efforts to supersede the other backs on the board. But all it takes is one team to fall in love with Walker’s elite rushing ability, and he can be RB1. And either way, he’s likely one of the first three backs off the board.
Tony Pauline’s Scouting Report on Kenneth Walker III
Positives: Instinctive, explosive ball carrier coming off a record-breaking campaign. Patient and displays outstanding vision. Quickly finds running lanes and shows a burst through the hole. Consistently turns it upfield working runs and carries the ball with authority and explosiveness.
Fast enough to beat defenders into the open field, quick enough to make defenders miss, and strings multiple moves together over the course of a single run. Runs with balance as well as body control, squeezes through the small creases of the defense, and at times looks like he squirted out of nowhere. Effective catching the ball down the flanks.
Negatives: Not a big-bodied back and lacks strength as a ball carrier. Rarely used as a receiver out of the backfield. Marginally productive prior to his arrival at Michigan State.
Analysis: Walker is a hard-charging ball carrier who was a touchdown machine in college and displays a variety of skills carrying the ball. He possesses enough ability to be a feature ball carrier in a zone-blocking system, but Walker must be more productive as a pass catcher to have a long career in the NFL.
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