Michigan State star Kenneth Walker III to enter NFL Draft, skip Peach Bowl

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

It was a remarkable run, but Kenneth Walker III has decided his days at Michigan State have ended.

The consensus All-American announced on social media Thursday that he will not play in the Peach Bowl on Dec. 30 as he prepares for next spring’s NFL Draft.

“It has been a true honor to represent Michigan State University and wear the Green and White,” Walker wrote. “I am beyond grateful to Coach Tucker and the entire staff for believing in me and giving me the opportunity to shine under their leadership. As the regular season has come to a close, I would like to announce that I have decided to forgo playing in the Peach Bowl to begin preparation for the NFL Draft. … I will forever be a Spartan Dawg.”

After transferring last year from Wake Forest, Walker proved immediately the impact he would have for the Spartans in 2021, scoring on a 75-yard run on the first play from scrimmage as he gained 264 yards and added four touchdowns in the season-opening win over Northwestern.

Walker went on to rush for 1,636 yards, second in the nation, and score 18 rushing touchdowns in 12 games. He became the first Michigan State player to win the Walter Camp Player of the Year and the Doak Walker Award. He also finished sixth overall in the Heisman Trophy voting, the best showing for a Spartan since 1988.

“I want to congratulate Ken for all of his success and thank him for taking a chance on us,” Michigan State coach Mel Tucker said in a statement. “From the day he set foot on campus in January, he has done nothing but work extremely hard and represent Michigan State University with class. He quickly earned the respect of his teammates and coaches, and they were happy to share in his success and accolades. He is a special player and I’m proud of everything he was able to achieve this season. K9 will always be a Spartan Dawg.”

Walker, who averaged 136.3 rushing yards a game, was also one of three finalists for the Maxwell Award, and led the FBS in rushing yards after contact (1,168) and 20-plus yard carries (21). His 19 total touchdowns rank seventh in the nation while his 18 rushing touchdowns are good for eighth.

Named the Big Ten Running Back of the Year, Walker also became the first Spartan running back to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors since Le'Veon Bell in 2012. Walker is also the first Spartan back to garner first-team All-America accolades since Bell in 2012.

Walker ran for 100 yards or more in a game eight times this season, including twice going over the 200-yard mark. In a win over Rutgers, Walker scored on a 94-yard run, the longest play from scrimmage in program history, surpassing a 93-yard pass from Tony Banks to Nigea Carter against Indiana in 1994.

His season was highlighted in the 37-33 victory over Michigan when Walker ran for 197 yards and five touchdowns, the only player to ever score five times against the Wolverines.

Walker currently ranks as the No. 2 running back by ESPN heading into next spring’s NFL Draft and is listed as the fourth-best back at CBSsports.com.

No. 10 Michigan State (10-2) plays No. 12 Pittsburgh (11-2) in the Peach Bowl on Dec. 30 in Atlanta.

Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett, a Heisman Trophy finalist, opted out of the game Thursday as well.

Who gets the bulk of the carries in the Peach Bowl will be interesting. Sophomore Jordon Simmons was the primary backup most of the season and ran for 121 yards in Week 2 against Youngstown State. However, his usage dipped late in the season as fourth-year junior Elijah Collins was closer to 100% and junior Harold Joiner's role began to increase.

Heading into next season, Michigan State could have Simmons, Collins and Joiner back, as well as redshirt freshman Donovan Eaglin and freshman Davion Primm. The Spartans also signed Wisconsin transfer Jalen Berger on Wednesday.


Twitter: @mattcharboneau