RENTON, Wash. — For a team that often skips conventions in the NFL draft, the Seattle Seahawks were relatively easy this year. They attacked their most obvious needs early and often (apart from the quarterback, where the options let them down). They took just one trade (but tried to make more), the fewest since 2015. They took none of their nine picks sooner than analysts generally projected they would go.
But it wouldn’t have been a Seahawks draft without at least one moot decision. And when they took Michigan State running back Ken Walker III in the second round, the debate raged. Some fans liked it. Others reacted with a level of objection usually reserved for former offensive line coach Tom Cable and unlucky challenges from Pete Carroll.
Critics of the pick viewed a running back at No. 41 overall as a high-level misuse of resources for a rebuilding team, but the Seahawks had no qualms about addressing a needy position so early with a player at who rated high. And with Chris Carson’s future in doubt after neck surgery, not to mention Rashaad Penny’s long injury history, it was a dire need.
“We picked him because, on the board, he was there for us in a spot that we just couldn’t pass up,” Carroll said of Walker, who was the second running back taken behind Iowa State’s Breece Hall for New York. York Jets at No. 36. “But we don’t have any updates on Chris yet and we won’t know for some time… So there’s a little bit of uncertainty that we’re waiting for. With the commitment that we have we have to run, we want that group of guys really [ready] to make this work from the get-go.”
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ESPN’s Todd McShay called Walker his best running back in the draft. Walker was traded from a packed Wake Forest backfield in January 2021, exploding for more than 1,600 rushing yards in 12 games during his only season with the Spartans and finishing sixth in Heisman Trophy voting. Five of his 19 touchdowns last year came in an October win over Michigan, whose defense had three of the top 45 picks. And for a powerhouse downhill running back, the 5-foot-9, 211-pound Walker has plenty of speed, running a 4.38 40-yard dash on the scouting mix.
“He’s a rocket,” Carroll said Friday after the first practice of Seattle’s rookie minicamp. “Today he caught the ball really well too, so we’re really excited.”
Walker caught just 19 passes over three college seasons and, in Carroll’s words, has a long way to go in pass protection. But learning the playbook may not be as challenging as it is for other rookies given his experience in the Spartans’ pro-style offense.
“Our offense and the terminology, and the concepts that we’ve handled, he’s handled before, and he was well prepared at Michigan State to come to us,” Carroll said. “He even understood the terminology to some degree, so it will really make it easier for him to get comfortable with the transition. So we don’t expect any problems there. He will be able to go. It was very fast, very fast.” .»
The objection to the Walker pick could be scar tissue from the other two times the Seahawks’ current regimen drafted a running back in the first two rounds. Christine Michael (62nd overall in 2013) barely played for Seattle in large part because of maturity issues. Penny (27th overall in 2018) was the most productive running back in the NFL for the final five weeks of 2021, prompting Seattle to bring him back on a one-year deal, but his career has been a disappointment, with 30 of 69 possible races. games (including playoffs) missed due to injury.
Which was another reason the Seahawks felt they had to beef up their backfield. They’ve been one of the NFL’s highest-running offenses over the past decade, ranking fourth in designed-run percentage since 2012, and will likely lean on their running game without quarterback Russell Wilson in 2022. They need healthy backs. to do that.
As of now, their backfield has Carson, Penny, and Walker at the top. DeeJay Dallas and Travis Homer are next, but the Seahawks have preferred them in change-of-pace roles. Josh Johnson and Darwin Thompson round out the depth chart. Carson is scheduled to earn a non-guaranteed base salary of $4.5 million this season in the final year of his contract. Penny and Homer are also set to be free agents next offseason.
“It’s a volatile place,” Carroll said during the draft. “Guys hit each other, and with the way we ask our guys to run, we need rotations. We like to play with several guys and we have no problem with that. I’ve told you a million times, I’m okay with going with who’s hot, but we also have to find a way to keep our guys healthy. That’s why rotation is so important, so that we don’t overwork them, particularly early in the year, so it can keep up the good momentum.”
General manager John Schneider chimed in with a reminder of what happened at the end of the 2019 season. The Seahawks were poised to reclaim the No. 1 seed in the NFC until their backfield was suddenly decimated by injuries to Penny, Carson and CJ Prosise. . They brought Marshawn Lynch out of retirement from him, lost in week 17 to enter the playoffs as a wild card team, and were eliminated in the divisional round.
“We felt like that was the strongest part of our team,” Schneider said, “and we went from [three running backs] steel.”
Carson, the Seahawks’ leading running back from 2018 to 2020, underwent surgery late last year for a neck injury that ended his 2021 season after four games. Carroll initially expressed optimism that Carson would return this season. That has given way to uncertainty, perhaps even doubt, within Seahawks headquarters about whether he will be a part of Seattle’s backfield in 2022.
Hence the choice of Walker.
“We’re very excited about him,” Carroll told the NFL Network. What an explosive player to add, to agree with what Rashaad Penny did. We are really excited.”
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What The Pick Of Ken Walker III Means For Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks Backfield