Seahawks returning to ground-and-pound offense with Ken Walker III

By Eric D. Williams
FOX Sports NFL Writer

Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll offered an initial evaluation of this year’s draft haul after seeing the players work out for the first time. He provided a glowing, matter-of-fact critique of second-round selection Ken Walker III.

"Ken can do everything we need him to do, there’s no question," Carroll said. "We’ve seen him on film. We’ve seen him play the game. We needed to see how he learned and how he picked things up, and he’s going to just roll right through it."

Walker also let Seattle-based reporters know that he now prefers Ken, not his given name of Kenneth.

"My family members have a different name for me, but I’m not going to speak on my nickname," Walker said with a smile.

The Seahawks selected the Michigan State product at No. 41 overall, yet another sign of Carroll’s return to his roots of creating a ground-and-pound offense like that of the Marshawn Lynch-led Super Bowl teams.

At 5-foot-9 and 211 pounds, Walker was one of the most productive runners in college last season. He rushed for 1,636 yards on 263 carries, averaging a hefty 6.2 yards per carry, and scored 19 total touchdowns. Walker played his best in the biggest moments, including a 197-yard, five-touchdown performance in a win at home over Michigan. Loading Video…

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Joel Klatt recaps the Michigan State win over Michigan last October and highlights Walker's incredible, five-touchdown performance.

After his breakout season, Walker won the Walter Camp Player of the Year and Doak Walker Award — given to the nation’s top running back. The Associated Press named Walker a first-team All-American, and he was selected as the Big Ten running back of the year. He finished sixth in the Heisman voting. 

Walker said he transferred from Wake Forest to Michigan State last year because the offense the Spartans ran better suited his skill set. It's difficult to argue with his decision after the gaudy numbers he put up in his final college season for the Spartans.

"That was a big thing for me when I went to Michigan State. I wanted to get into that pro-style offense," Walker told reporters. "When I was at Michigan State, it made a difference because we were able to watch film on NFL teams, and it was just like our offense but with different terminology."

His year playing in Michigan State’s offense has made the transition to the Seahawks smoother because he's familiar with Seattle's run scheme. Carroll noted that Walker played fast and decisive during his team’s rookie minicamp. Loading Video…

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Tom Rinaldi tells the story of Michigan State running back Ken Walker III, who transferred from Wake Forest. "I had a dream, and I knew coming here would help me achieve it," he said.

"He’s a rocket," Carroll said. "He caught the ball really well, too, which we are really excited about. Our offense, the terminology and the concepts that we have run, he’s run before. He was well-prepared at Michigan State coming to us.

"He understood the terminology to some extent, too, so it’s really going to facilitate him being comfortable with the transition. We will expect no issues there at all. He will be able to go. He was very bursty, very quick."

Rob Rang, FOX Sports' NFL Draft analyst, listed Walker among his top candidates for Offensive Rookie of the Year this season.

"He could be used as a complement to Rashaad Penny, but given Penny’s durability issues, Walker is in a sneaky position to be a true bell-cow for the Seahawks as a rookie," Rang said. "If that is the case, 1,000-plus rushing yards and 10-plus touchdowns are quite possible, which would make Walker a strong candidate for Rookie of the Year honors even if the club struggles in the win column."

With questions still looming about running back Chris Carson’s eventual return from neck surgery, Walker and Penny could provide a nice one-two punch in the backfield for the Seahawks.

A first-round selection in the 2018 draft by Seattle, Penny finally flashed his true potential last season. At 5-foot-11 and 220 pounds, the San Diego State product is a one-cut runner who showed that he can run through tackles at the second level of the defense and run away from defenders in the secondary.

Over the last five weeks of the 2021 regular season, Penny led the league in rushing, totaling 671 yards on the ground and six touchdowns. He signed a one-year, $5.75 million deal this offseason to return to Seattle.

Like Penny, Walker has shown the ability to be an elusive runner. According to Pro Football Focus, Walker led college football in 2021 with 1,168 yards after contact and 21 carries of 20-plus yards, and he was second in forcing missed tackles (89).

Walker also takes care of the football, with just one fumble in 276 touches last season.

With Russell Wilson now with the Denver Broncos and a new starting QB in either Drew Lock or Geno Smith, Carroll wants to get back to running the football. From 2012 to '15, the Seahawks finished in the top five in the NFL in rushing yards, averaging 153 per game during that time.

Over that same period, the Seahawks won two NFC West titles and reached back-to-back Super Bowls.

Seattle’s opponents saw a steady diet of a hard-charging Lynch on game days, along with a sprinkling of Justin Forsett, Robert Turbin, Christine Michael and Leon Washington. This season, Carroll will call on Walker, Penny, DeeJay Dallas, Travis Homer and perhaps Carson to drive Seattle’s running game.

"We like playing multiple guys, and we don’t have any problem with that at all," Carroll said after drafting Walker. "I’ve said it to you a million times. I’m fine going with who is hot. 

"But also, we have to find a way to keep our guys healthy. That’s why the rotation is so important, so we don’t overwork them, particularly early in the year, so we can keep the good momentum building."

Sounds like a plan for Ken Walker III.

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.