In our Scouting Reports, we will give you a quick debrief to get you the information you need to know. We’ll also take it a step further and provide an in-depth review showing off examples of what we like, and what we don’t. Included is a date from the initial scouting report, this is so new notes can be added as the year goes on. Those new notes will be dated as well. With that, welcome to the Kenneth Walker scouting report!
At this point in 2021, could anyone have predicted the massive success Kenneth Walker III has achieved since transferring from Wake Forest to Michigan State? Maybe only Walker himself. Let’s take a look how he did it.
Details: Kenneth Walker III | RB | Michigan State #9
DOB: 10.20.2000 | 21 years old
H/W: 5’10” | 210 lbs
NFL Draft Projection:
2nd Round Pick – Running backs just don’t go in the 1st round unless they truly excel in all phases. Walker, who is limited in the pass game and a liability protecting the quarterback, will be no exception. His incredible talent running the football will undoubtedly push him very high on many draft boards, however. As such, I expect him to go in the 2nd round.
Dynasty Rookie Draft Projection – 1QB:
Top 5 pick – There are few things more inevitable in dynasty drafts than running backs rising draft boards, especially at draft time. While Walker is certainly one of the top runners in this class, his unlikely usage in the pass game at the next level will put a cap on his production potential. As such, it’s possible – especially in PPR leagues – Walker may fall as low as 1.05.
Dynasty Rookie Draft Projection – Superflex/2QB:
Top 8 pick – About the only thing as inevitable as running backs rising up draft boards in 1QB leagues, is quarterbacks climbing SF/2QB leagues. With up-to three quarterbacks likely to be high-value targets, Walker falls as low as 1.08.
I’ll just come right out and say it. Kenneth Walker III is the most electric runner in this draft class. He’s a back with an excellent ability to read-and-react, shooting through lanes with great burst, showing outstanding speed and change of direction ability.
For as good as he is behind the line, Walker is even better at the second level or in space. Possessing phenomenally quick feet and excellent twitch, he’s not just solid, he’s outright dangerous in the open field.
In his time at Michigan State, Walker showed great proficiency in running gap plays like duo and counter trey, as well as both inside and split zone. His abilities – specifically his ability to quickly and decisively react to what’s in front of him – should allow him to be a successful runner regardless of system.
He’s also smart. Whether he’s being mindful of the clock, or consistently protecting the ball with two hands, Walker shows incredible intelligence as a runner.
Walker even shows solid hands when securing catches, which shows promise for the future.
Is this too good to be true? Yes. Yes it is.
When it comes to everything else relating to the passing game, Walker is just plain bad. He’s got quite a bit of learning to do, and will need plenty of time to work on it in order to get opportunities in the passing game.
Walker has basically only run flat and swing routes, as well as sneak routes off play action. Even in these routes he’s a liability, as he’s slow to get into his route, sometimes not even getting out of the line trash.
Worse than that, he’s a genuine liability as a blocker. When asked to block, he was mostly just kept in to chip, but when tasked to take on a defender, Walker would often whiff on his block. In four games I can only recall seeing him try to take on a defender head-up twice, he would typically cut, and was poor at it.
Put simply, whatever value Walker may provide on third downs is negligible compared to the lost opportunity of putting in another receiver or a solid blocking/receiving/short-yardage back. If I’m an NFL Offensive Coordinator, I’m pulling Walker off the field every third down. Every. Single. One.
His positives greatly outweigh his negatives, especially as a runner…but his limitations in the passing game will inevitably cap his potential. It’s possible he can turn it around, but it will take lots of learning, work, and time before that can be a legitimate aspect of his overall game.
Kenneth Walker is an outstanding, reactive runner. By that I mean he isn’t the most patient runner in this class, and he doesn’t consistently show an ability to set up his blocks, but his ability to read and immediately react to what’s in front of him is elite.
On our first clip, we see plain-old inside zone. Walker sees the line flowing hard playside, meanwhile the backside defender overruns the angle (with a little help from a blindside block). He’s able to cut against the grain and get to the outside for a huge play.
Before engaging with the safety, we’ll also see some other excellent traits that Walker brings to most runs: he lowers his pad level nicely, he presents a small target to the defender, and he covers the ball with two hands.
Michigan State had a fairly complex run scheme, often integrating some form of post-snap motion (or zone read when running zone concepts) to put pressure on the backside defender. This would often take that defender out of the play, without risking a blindside block to do it.
On our next play, we see a counter run with the boundary-side receiver pulling, acting as the lead blocker. The field-side receiver lined up as a wingback runs an end around off the snap. This motion both draws the backside contain defender further into the backfield, and holds him there as he diagnoses the play.
On this play, Walker is intending to go through a gap in the right-side of his line, following the lead blocker…though the Hurricanes’ nose tackle makes a great play to avoid the block and work into the backfield, disrupting the original play design.
Thankfully, the result of the end around motion is a wide open vacated lane on the backside. Walker starts out playside, sees the nose shut it down, resets himself and attacks the backside lane. Without a doubt, the play design help here. However, it’s Walker’s excellent vision and reaction time which makes the play.
Once past the line, we see how Walker is able to get the defender to step outside just enough to allow him to squeeze between two defenders, maintain his balance through contact, and continue on.
As if that wasn’t enough, Walker shows off phenomenal footwork as he jump cuts the next defender to the ground with his very next step. When it comes to open-field running, he’s top of this class.
Another run play with misdirection, this time coming from an inside zone read. On this play, Walker is able to feign a jump cut inside, get skinny, and show off his burst sneaking back inside the cutback defender. He has just enough juice to get out of arms reach.
Walker is once again able to stick his foot in the ground and – this time – hit a hard crossover to redirect outside. His ability to quickly shift his balance, reset his feet, and string together multiple different types of moves is some of the best I’ve seen. Certainly he’s the top in this class.
Already, Walker is seen as one of the top running backs in this class. His prospects could potentially get higher though. His speed, along with his precision footwork and agility, could have him shoot up draft boards with the return of the NFL Combine.
The very next play in that Northwestern game, we get to see another special run from Walker. Once more, he showcases his read-and-react ability here, escaping not just one, but two separate would-be tacklers on his way to a touchdown.
Watch Walker’s hips and footwork here. He takes the snap and immediately sees the defensive lineman breaking through. He power cuts hard left; driving his right foot into the ground, whipping his hips to the left, and points his left foot in the desired direction, allowing for a near-90° left turn immediately after handoff.
If that wasn’t enough, he gets one step heading outside before the cutback defender shuts that lane down too. We get to see Walker execute the exact same power cut, this time turning to his right. He plants his left foot, whip his hips to get north/south again, points his right foot and executes a hard 90° right-turn.
After escaping these two, still behind the line of scrimmage, he finds a slim lane in the second level cutting across the line completely, and shows just enough balance and strength to get through the ankle tackle and dive into the endzone.
There are very few backs at any level who can show such precision lower-body work to avoid getting tackled here, and fewer still with the vision and balance to turn it into a touchdown. This is an excellent run.
Next up we’ve got a quick clip which again showcases some of Walker’s strengths: read-and-react, vision, and change of direction. However, it also somewhat shows his first drawback for me, which is a lack of power.
To start, we see Michigan State runs a split zone, with a defensive lineman breaking through into the backfield. Walker bursts out of a speed cut, accelerating hard into a backside lane.
As Walker hits the second level, he squares up with the safety coming down to make a play. Seeing that he’s not going to get around him, Walker does a good job dropping his pads, presenting a small target, and covering the ball with both hands.
It’s great that Walker was able to fall forward for an extra two yards. However, with as low as he got, and with as much speed as he had built up, I hoped to see more. This leads me to Walker’s first imperfection; he doesn’t have a ton of power.
Don’t get me wrong, Walker’s got more than enough power and balance to drive through arm and leg tackles from most angles…however, when head-up against a defender, or trying to push a pile, or trying to grind through trash in the line, he’s fairly average.
One more look at Walker’s power. This time, Michigan State is on the 1 yard line, and though Walker ends up getting the touchdown, it’s a good shot showing him get stalemated pretty quick.
Right away the defensive tackle (#90) beats the left tackle (#79) off the snap and clogs the lane, getting his arms around Walker and stalling him immediately. We see Walker’s legs trying to churn forward, but he gets zero movement on his own; #79 gets the push needed to help bring Walker across the finish line.
Being realistic, every back should not be expected to drive a 285lb defensive tackle backwards…and if that’s not something Walker brings to the table, that’s fine, though it might mean a different back coming in during goal line and short yardage situations.
It’s definitely worth pointing out the positives: Walker again tries to present a small target and cover the ball. These are outstanding traits, and traits that he shows consistently.
We’ve seen a lot of runs where he’s able to take advantage of an overreaching defense. In fact, four of the first six clips we’ve seen show Walker taking a run backside, instead of playside. Often for a big gain.
With that, I did see a few plays where Walker looked off the initial read(s) too early, seemingly looking for a big, splash play. He’s repeatedly shown great immediate and reactionary vision, so these are either a poor decision, or he’s not reading second level defenders.
We see Walker first look at the playside hip of the left guard. He rightfully comes off that read quick given the defender gets thrown into the running lane. His second read should be the backside A-gap.
Looking at that backside A-gap, the right tackle hasn’t overtaken the defender. Because of that, there’s an argument to be made that he should move onto his third read, the backside C-gap. However based on alignment and movement I don’t believe that’s correct, and I’m not convinced that Walker even looked this way.
A back should take into consideration the pre-snap alignment and the movement of second level defenders. Knowing the play design, it’s easy to see pre-snap that the backside C-gap is not a realistic option. They have a tight end taking on a defensive end, and the will backer is stacked directly behind.
Walker should be punching this through the backside A-gap, between the two double-teams. Instead, Walker tries to force the backside C-gap, predictably runs into two defenders against one blocker, and gets trapped behind the line of scrimmage with nowhere to go.
While I feel it’s noteworthy to see this, I should also clarify that this wasn’t a common occurrence. More often than not, Walker starts his run at the intended gap then correctly reacts based on what goes on in front of him.
Switching gears, let’s look at Walker in the passing game. I found three plays from the Michigan game which nicely showcase what to expect, and I’ve condensed them all into one clip.
When it comes to routes, I tracked a few times he’d shoot to the flat, a few swing routes, and a number of slow-to-develop sneak routes, but that’s the extent of it. This doesn’t leave much room for hope as a significant receiving threat at the next level.
Further, if his delayed sneak releases are indicative of what to expect, it can only take more opportunities away. In the clip, you’ll see him just stutter his way to and through the line, taking a full 2.7s after the snap before actually turning to the quarterback.
When he does get out into a route, his hands are fine. I didn’t see any drops that were blatantly his fault. Typically he’ll basket the ball against his chest instead of catching it with outstretched hands. I did see a single nice one-handed catch on a ball thrown behind him. I’d classify his hands as “fine”, but nothing more.
Finally, his blocking is, well…terrible. I didn’t make note of any blown blocking assignments, which is good. The few times he’d go head-up against a rusher, he’d show poor form and get bowled over easily. His cut block attempts were typically pretty terrible. I had multiple notations saying “poor block”, including this gem.
Walker is a really, really good runner. On certain plays he really looks like classic LeSean McCoy; if he were to put his hand on the back of his lead blocker he’d be a dead ringer.
His use of a variety of jukes, and his rare ability to string them together, all shows strong and precise footwork and lower-body manipulation. This is further seen in Walker’s ability to maintain full speed while cutting.
While he isn’t the most patient back, or the most anticipatory, he is outstanding at reacting to what happens in front of him. As the target lane closes down, his vision to spot an open lane, stick his feet, and decisively burst through it are at the top of this class.
Walker is further able to get behind his pads and create a small target when bracing for contact. That small target, combined with his ability to create positive angles against would-be tacklers, allowed him to regularly slip out of arm tackles and even ankle tackles which trip up even the best.
What impressed me most, though, was his heady and intuitive process of consistently covering the ball before contact. It’s not common to see, and I expect that ball security will go a long way with coaches.
For both real-life and fantasy purposes, I fully expect his lack of involvement in the passing game to be a significant detriment to his overall potential. However, if he gets an opportunity to be a primary back in the NFL, he can rack up yardage pounding the rock.
Is Kenneth Walker III the best runner in this class? Drop a comment in the comment box below to let us know your thoughts!
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