Michigan State RB Kenneth Walker III has been the big 2022 NFL Draft riser. Can he make a play for RB1 in the class?
The Michigan State Spartans got a major win Saturday, defeating the Michigan Wolverines 37-33, scoring 23 of the last 26 points in the comeback. It was a big win for the program, and a monster game for running back Kenneth Walker III. He carried the ball 23 times, rushing for 197 yards along with scoring five touchdowns!
Walker is familiar with these big games, as he’s had a few already this season. This one could be his Heisman moment, and could further a 2022 NFL Draft rise that started at the beginning of the season in the opener against Northwestern.
Obviously, Walker’s performance will be one of note against a strong run defense like Michigan’s. Is it possible for Walker to become the top running back prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft?
Could Kenneth Walker II push for RB1 in the 2022 NFL Draft?
This isn’t a simple answer. After what he’s done in the box score this season, plenty would say yes. But, a definitive yes feels like a reactionary take. Yes, his explosion onto the scene has been extremely impressive, but there are other running backs who can be tops in the class.
Walker’s traits are impressive. He’s a patient runner when necessary, and hits the hole with authority when it’s there. His vision and processing flash at times, and we know how he can drop the pads through contact and leave defenders tackling air in space. There’s sufficient burst and stamina in his game to pick up big chunks of yardage and house a few runs like he did against Michigan. Overall, though, his ability to create on his own when things don’t go to plan is what’s most impressive.
So why not a consensus RB1 and a first round pick? Well, there’s no guarantee any of the top group of backs will be a first round pick in 2022: not many are elite, multi-faceted threats. Walker’s main issue is the passing game, where he doesn’t look as comfortable. He lost balance a couple times in this past game as a pass-catcher.
Breece Hall, Isaiah Spiller, and Kyren Williams are players who Walker has to compete with for the “RB1” title. Hall is very similar to Walker in how he creates, his impressive vision, and the short area burst. Spiller has improved as a pass-catcher this season, and has impressive contact balance. Williams is uber-dynamic and has very good receiving chops.
This isn’t to say that Kenneth Walker III won’t be one of the top running backs picked when the 2022 NFL Draft rolls around, and that he hasn’t had an incredible 2021 campaign highlighted by a big rise. But, there’s plenty of football left to be played and a process to go through in the winter and spring. Walker can do it, but showing improvement in the passing game will be an important step. If he doesn’t, he’s still an impressive early-down back teams will want on day two.