Running back Chris Carson is one of the most valuable players on Seattle Seahawks’ roster. He will be a key player in their efforts to repeat as Super Bowl champs, but they might not have him this season because he has been suspended for violating NFL policy on performance enhancing drugs. His suspension has left many wondering who will emerge from the talented backfield to take his place?
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Henderson, Brady ESPN
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Seattle Seahawks, who are known for defying tradition in the NFL draft, were quite basic this year. They went for their most evident requirements first and foremost (aside from quarterback, where the options underwhelmed them). They only made one deal (though they attempted more), the fewest since 2015. They did not select any of their nine choices sooner than pundits predicted.
However, it wouldn’t be a Seahawks draft without at least one contentious selection. The argument erupted after they selected Michigan State running back Ken Walker III in the second round. It was well-received by several fans. Others objected with the kind of venom reserved for former offensive line coach Tom Cable and the doomed Pete Carroll challenge.
The selection of a running back at No. 41 overall was criticized by some as a waste of high-end resources for a rebuilding club, but the Seahawks had no qualms about filling a need early with a player they regarded highly. With Chris Carson’s future uncertain after neck surgery, as well as Rashaad Penny’s lengthy injury history, there was an urgent necessity.
“We took him because he was up there for us on the board at a location that we simply couldn’t pass him up,” Carroll said of Walker, who was the second running back taken by the New York Jets at No. 36, following Iowa State’s Breece Hall. “But we haven’t heard anything about Chris yet, and we won’t for a while. As a result, we’re waiting on a little bit of uncertainty. We want that group of players to be really [ready] to get this thing going right away, given our commitment to the run game.”
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Todd McShay of ESPN ranked Walker as the best running back in the draft. Walker moved out of a congested Wake Forest backfield in January 2021, running for over 1,600 yards in 12 games and finishing sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting during his lone season with the Spartans. Last season, he scored five of his 19 touchdowns in an October triumph against Michigan, whose defense had three of the top 45 choices. Walker, who stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 211 pounds and ran a 4.38 40-yard sprint at the scouting combine, has plenty of speed for a big downhill runner.
“He’s a rocket,” Carroll remarked following Seattle’s rookie minicamp’s first session on Friday. “He also caught the ball really well today, which we are quite pleased with.”
Walker only caught 19 passes in three college seasons and, according to Carroll, has a long way to go in pass protection. Given his familiarity in the Spartans’ pro-style system, mastering the playbook may not be as difficult for him as it is for other rookies.
“Our offense, vocabulary, and principles that we’ve run, he’s ran previously, and he was well prepared coming to us at Michigan State,” Carroll said. “He even comprehended the vocabulary to some level, which will make the transfer much easier for him. So we won’t have any problems there. He will be able to travel. He had a lot of energy and moved quickly.”
The opposition to Walker’s selection might stem from the fact that the Seahawks’ current management has picked a running back twice in the first two rounds. Due to maturity concerns, Christine Michael (62nd overall in 2013) did not play much for Seattle. Penny (27th overall in 2018) was the NFL’s most prolific runner in the last five weeks of 2021, motivating Seattle to re-sign him on a one-year contract, but his career has been a failure overall, missing 30 of a potential 69 games (including playoffs) due to injury.
Another reason the Seahawks thought they needed to strengthen their backfield was because of this. They’ve been one of the most run-heavy teams in the NFL over the last decade, ranking fourth in designed run % since 2012, and they’ll likely rely on the ground game in 2022 without QB Russell Wilson. To accomplish so, they’ll need strong backs.
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Schneider said, “We felt that it was the strongest element of our squad, and we went from [three running backs] to zero.”
Carson, the Seahawks’ top rusher from 2018 to 2020, had surgery late last year for a neck condition that forced him to miss the first four games of his 2021 season. Carroll was originally optimistic about Carson’s comeback this season. Inside Seahawks headquarters, this has led to concern, if not outright doubt, over whether he’ll be in the backfield in 2022.
As a result, Walker was chosen.
Carroll told NFL Network, “We’re pretty thrilled about him.” “What an exciting player to complement Rashaad Penny’s performance. We’re quite enthusiastic.”