Michigan State RB Kenneth Walker III aims to be 'home run' threat for Seahawks

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

When Kenneth Walker III heard his name called on Friday night, the former Michigan State running back was admittedly a bit surprised.

Not by the fact he was being selected early in the second round of the NFL Draft, but more so because it was the Seattle Seahawks that tabbed the Walter Camp Award winner as the 41st pick overall and ninth selection of the second round.

Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III was selected No. 41 overall by the Seattle Seahawks.

“Yes, actually I am very surprised,” Walker said, adding he had a brief meeting with the Seahawks at the NFL Scouting Combine, but only limited contact beyond that before Friday. “At the end of the day, it’s a blessing to be on this team. I’m grateful for them giving me that phone call and it means a lot.”

Walker became the highest Spartan running back drafted since T.J. Duckett was chosen in the first round — No. 18 overall — in the 2002 NFL Draft by Atlanta. His selection is also the first for head coach Mel Tucker and is Michigan State’s first overall selection after an 80-year streak of at least one selection ended last year.

The Doak Walker Award-winner turned out to be the second running back taken in the draft, five slots after Iowa State’s Breece Hall. There was a tightly contested debate entering the draft as to which back would go first, but in the end, they were both early second-round picks.

More: Live updates: Day 2 of the NFL Draft, Lions with picks 46 and 97

No matter when his name was called, however, Walker was grateful.

“It was amazing,” said Walker, who was home in Memphis with his family. “I always say it’s like when I’m growing up, you see guys on TV that go to this and you dream of this moment. And this day is actually here so it’s surreal and it’s a blessing to be in this position.”

Walker enjoyed a breakout season at Michigan State in 2021, when the transfer from Wake Forest ran for 1,636 yards and 18 touchdowns in 12 games, while earning consensus All-America honors.

Walker was also named the Big Ten Running Back of the Year and was the conference’s co-Offensive Player of the Year, according to the Associated Press. One of three finalists for the Maxwell Award, Walker averaged 136.3 rushing yards a game, ranking first in the Big Ten and second in the FBS.

“When I was at Wake Forest, I felt like I wasn’t a great fit for that offense,” Walker said. “That’s when I ended up making my decision. Going to coach Tucker, I had a great group of guys around me, my teammates and a great coaching staff. They put me in a pro-style offense that best suits my skills. I believe that’s what helped me have the season that I had and our team.”

Tucker ranks among Michigan State’s single-season leaders in rushing yards per game (third with 136.3 ypg), rushing yards (fourth with 1,636), points (fourth with 114), total touchdowns (fourth with 19), rushing touchdowns (tied for fifth with 18) and all-purpose yards (10th with 1,725).

Walker ran for 100 yards or more eight times last season, including going over the 200-yard mark twice. In the season opener against Northwestern, Walker took the opening handoff 75 yards for a touchdown, finishing with 264 yards and four scores. Against Rutgers, Walker ran for 233 yards and set an MSU record for longest rushing play with a 94-yard touchdown, bettering a 90-yard by Lynn Chandnois vs. Arizona in 1949. It was also the longest offensive play from scrimmage in school history, topping the 93-yard pass from Tony Banks to Nigea Carter vs. Indiana in 1994.

“I believe I bring an explosive and physical running style to this offense,” Walker said. “Great vision, in and out of my cuts. Also, I believe I can hit the home run and catch out of the backfield.”

The highlight of Walker’s season, however, was his five rushing touchdowns in the win over Michigan, the most ever scored against the Wolverines

“We wanted to put him in New York (for the Heisman Trophy) and we didn't quite get him there for what he did against Michigan,” analyst Joel Klatt said on the NFL Network. “He has got some acceleration now and he's got good balance. He transferred to Michigan State and was absolutely sensational there for Mel Tucker.

“I was always shocked at his home run speed. Once he would find that seam, he was gone. He did it in the very first game, very first quarter, very first carry of his career at Michigan State against Northwestern in their first game. Walker is a heck of a player.”

In Seattle, Walker joins a crowded running back room that includes Rashaad Penny, Chris Carson, Travis Homer, DeeJay Dallas and Josh Johnson. Of that group, only Dallas is under contract beyond the 2022 season.

Walker intends to stake his claim, regardless of who else is on the roster.

“I believe I’m versatile,” Walker said. “I’m a physical runner, explosive. I’m able to run routes out of the backfield. I just play hard and with a chip on my shoulder.”

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @mattcharboneau