STACY ROST

Seahawks Q&A: Will rookie RB Ken Walker III make an instant impact?

Jun 3, 2022, 11:08 AM | Updated: 11:12 am
Seahawks Kenneth Walker III...
Michigan State RB Kenneth Walker III looks for yards against Michigan in an Oct. 30, 2021 game. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

This week’s Seahawks Q&A features questions about specific position groups and one of Seattle’s early-round draft picks.

Seahawks Q&A: Who are breakout star candidates on offense and defense?

With so many great questions submitted on Twitter, this will be part one of a few installments as we examine the Seahawks’ offseason so far. (So, stay tuned if you don’t see your question listed here yet.)

@skookumdon: Which position group appears the strongest/weakest heading into the season?

It’s hard not to look at the safety and the top of the receiver corps as the obvious strengths. Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf are exceptional talents, and while they may see fewer targets without Russell Wilson under center, they’ll remain a commanding and efficient presence on offense. On defense, safety Quandre Diggs has been one of this team’s most consistent players for two seasons. He led the team in interceptions in both 2020 and 2021, made a second consecutive Pro Bowl, and led all Seahawks defenders in opponent passer rating (56.9). Jamal Adams is a little trickier – the Seahawks still seem to be ironing out how best to use the former Jets All-Pro, who himself is working his way back from a second shoulder surgery – but his talent alone makes him a player who has the potential to take over a game, and that kind of player makes for a strong position group.

It may not be the strongest position group, but the pass rush saw a boost this offseason. They’ll be without last year’s sack leader Carlos Dunlap, but some intriguing new additions (Uchenna Nwosu, Boye Mafe), returning contributors (Darrell Taylor), and a new defensive staff make this a promising facet of the defense. Quite honestly, rushing their best pass rushers and straying away from dropping defensive linemen into coverage too often may be enough help alone.

I’ll list corner as the weakest group here but do want to stress that it’s because it’s a position group with a lot of question marks, not one devoid of talent. Second-year pro Tre Brown played well last year in limited time, and they have some veteran help with Sidney Jones (who returns this year) and former Steelers first-round pick Artie Burns. Rookies Coby Bryant and Tariq Woolen have also been added to the mix; the former a four-year starter at Cincinatti, and the latter a less experienced contributor possessing a rare combination of size and speed. Is there plenty of potential there? Yes. But there’s also no returning full-time starter from last year on a team that desperately needs to improve from 31st overall against the pass.

@bretland22: Do you think (running back Ken) Walker will have an immediate impact?

There’s certainly room for him to take advantage of an opportunity early. It doesn’t truly answer your question about impact other than to say: he’ll get plenty of chances to be impactful.

Right now, Chris Carson isn’t practicing. Worse still, his future with the Seahawks is uncertain. At one point early in Carson’s recovery from neck surgery, head coach Pete Carroll sounded optimistic about a return, telling reporters in November that Seattle’s starter could return by late spring.

But here the Seahawks are in late spring with no Carson on the field. On the first day of OTAs on May 23, Carroll could only offer that he’d know more later that week. Carroll hasn’t had a scheduled press conference since then, so there’s been no further update.

After missing Day 1 of OTAs with a hamstring issue, Rashaad Penny returned to practice this week. Assuming Penny can stay healthy and tap into some of the success he had in his electric finish to 2021, he’ll be looking at the primary starting job (this, of course, assumes Carson remains out).

But that’s a big ask on both fronts. Three-and-a-half years of Penny’s career saw him in and out of the huddle with injuries and generally underperforming compared to his counterpart, Carson. The final month of last season, though, saw him looking like the best running back in football. So, what do you do to improve a talented but oft-injured running back room on a team that wants to be able to run the ball? The answer for the Seahawks was to bring Penny back on a new deal. It was also to add to that group by selecting a running back in the second round. With that kind of capital, Walker isn’t just insurance – he’s a potential solution.

Offensive coordinator Shane Waldron spoke highly of Walker at OTAs this week.

“Ken’s done a nice job of picking up the offense,” Waldron said. “Especially, you always look at that, how’s that transition going in pass protection, the understanding of the different pass protection scenarios that present themselves in the NFL, and he’s done a really good job. And (running backs coach) Chad Morton’s done an excellent job coaching him up there. So, he’s a rookie that’s been able to go in there, whether it’s with the first group, second group or any of the situations, and you don’t feel like you have to do anything different, because he’s already been able to pick up the system and has that good understanding, with still a long way to go, and those reps and time on task, but just being able to function at a high level right away has been impressive.”

If Penny is healthy, I’d expect him to be running out with the starters on the first possession of Week 1. But given Walker’s potential (and the investment the Seahawks made with that pick) his share of snaps may soon follow.

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