My heart breaks for Rashaad Penny. The sheer misfortune of his recent season-ending injury is awful for so many reasons, and I wish him a full and swift recovery. Of course, injuries are a sad reality of football, and the league continues to move forward, regardless of who gets left behind. As such, the Seattle Seahawks don’t have much time to find their heir apparent to Penny’s role in the backfield; for this reason, it is particularly fortunate that they drafted a running back who is as talented and loaded with potential as Kenneth Walker III.
When the team selected the former Michigan State Spartan in the 2nd round of the draft, there was a mixture of hand-wringing and rejoicing, with the former group pointing to the relative lack of value of a running back in a passing league, and the latter crowd simply pointing to Walker’s game-breaking ability. I will admit — I was firmly in the former group, but I am very much begging to see the latter’s point of view, especially with the advent of Penny’s season-ending injury coupled with the fact that the Seahawks have one of the league’s most potent offenses currently.
Now, I don’t want to sound like a huge downer, but nearly 50% of Walker’s total rushing yards on the season came on his 69-yard run in the 4th quarter of Sunday’s matchup. In fact, up until that rush, Walker had 69 total yards on the season (this is including his carries in the game preceding the long touchdown scamper). He had 20 carries on the year up to the TD run and was averaging 3.5 yards per tote. This isn’t awful, as many offensive players see their averages inflated by chunk plays, but it also isn’t amazing. Following the game, however, Walker sits at 146 yards with a touchdown on 23 carries (6.3 ypc). This is great to see, and there is still a lot of room for improvement.
According to Pro Football Focus, the former Spartan ranks 31st in Yards after contact per attempt (YCO/A) among running backs who have at least 20 carries on the season; his average of 2.83 isn’t exactly stunning, especially considering that Penny ranks 4th by that same metric with 4.23 YCO/A. However, in college, Walker averaged 4.46 YCO/A during his final season at Michigan State. This ranked 6th among running backs with at least 100 attempts in 2021. Interestingly enough, Rashaad Penny averaged 4.47 during his final season. In fact, Penny and Walker have many similarities that go beyond statistics; their athletic profiles and physicality share some striking resemblance;
Rashaad Penny's injury is heartbreaking; Kenneth Walker III has some big cleats to fill in his absence. He is certainly capable, and his athletic profile is strikingly similar to Rashaad Penny, for whatever that is worth. Below are the pre-draft measurables for both. pic.twitter.com/ypwH0YzmcT— Stan "the Soy Boy" Taylor ️⚧️ (@GoodGuyAtSports) October 12, 2022
This, of course, only tells a small part of the story. So let’s get to the part that everybody showed up for: the game film! Below is a compilation of all 8 of Walker’s carries from Sunday. It is broken up into two clips, so make sure to check both out (the second one features the TD run).
Part one of two -- the all-22 for every Kenneth Walker III carry from the Seahawks/Saints game. pic.twitter.com/I6louUv2WY— Stan "the Soy Boy" Taylor ️⚧️ (@GoodGuyAtSports) October 12, 2022
In the first clip, we start off with a cutback run out of the more or less the same 3TE formation that Penny busted some big runs out of earlier in the season. It doesn’t get much, as Will Dissly’s man gets a strong push and forces the bounce out, but you can still see how dynamic Walker looks with the ball in his hands. In the second run, Damien Lewis executes an excellent pulling block on Cam Jordan, and Noah Fant gets to the second level quickly and seals off Pete Werner. Corner Paulson Adebo makes a solid tackle, otherwise this could have easily been a huge breakaway run, as the Hawks do a great job on their assignments in this one and there is a lot of green behind Adebo.
In the third play, Noah Fant motions across the formation, and then he, Dissly, and a pulling Gabe Jackson lead the way on a toss play. Again, the Saints defense does a good job of blowing this up, as Noah Fant nearly gets obliterated and Cam Jordan sticks with Jackson and helps string the play out. In the final run, Walker tries to cut back against the zone blocking and meets a small but formidable wall of Saints defenders. At this point in the game, I remember thinking that Walker still looked like a rookie figuring out how to translate his skills to a league here everybody is mega-talented. But as we all know, the 1st year Seahawk got the last word in this one.
Part two pic.twitter.com/gmQL3Cos6z— Stan "the Soy Boy" Taylor ️⚧️ (@GoodGuyAtSports) October 12, 2022
Sorry for the repeat on the first play, just ignore that. Walker again gets a carry out of the 3TE big formation that the team seems to enjoy so much this year. This one doesn’t get much, but on the next play we get to see the touchdown. From the looks of it, Geno Smith checks to this play at the line, and then Dissly, Lockett, and Eskridge all do their part to seal off a defender and clear a huge lane for Ken.
The linebackers try to penetrate the backfield but the line in general does an excellent job; this is what the team looks like with a high-functioning offensive line and a talented group of playmakers. Pretty cool. Following this, Walker had two more carries; a 6-yard run off right tackle, and a draw to the left side that only gained a couple (that one you will have to see on twitter, as I had to add a third tweet due to an all-22 snafu that I care not to elaborate on).
Conclusions and final thoughts
- Kenneth Walker III looks to be every bit the playmaker that Seattle envisioned when they drafted him; he hasn’t put it all together yet, but what I see in the above clips is that he looks like a homerun threat every time he touches the ball, and he just needs more carries, which he will likely now receive. His combination of speed and change-of-direction ability (not to mention his acceleration out of cuts) is phenomenal.
- This offensive line very well may be legit. They have their struggles, and it isn’t like they worked the Saints front seven by any means, but they had some moments of looking like a truly formidable position group. Apparently, Pro Football Focus disagrees.
- In some ways, Walker reminds me of peak Thomas Rawls — he seems to run with a reckless abandon and doesn’t hesitate to charge into contact. However, he still seems to be figuring out how to translate this power into extra yards, as mentioned above in his yards after contact stats. I think we will see this improve.
- Again, I feel terrible for Penny, and I even feel a little bit guilty celebrating the emergence of another running back following his injury. Still, I think that it is worth trying to see some optimism here, not in the injury obviously, but simply in the fact that Walker looks like a player who can excel in this offense, much like Penny was prior to going down. I wish the best for Penny, and hope that Walker will continue on his upward trajectory and have a rookie season for the ages.
- Up next: the Arizona Cardinals. A divisional win may be just what the team needs right now to get back on track... so let’s see it Hawks!!!