Analytics Expert: Seahawks’ Walker not a ‘stud,’ a surprising comp for Smith

Jan 24, 2023, 10:06 AM
Seahawks Geno Smith Kenneth Walker...
Geno Smith of the Seattle Seahawks hands off to Kenneth Walker III against the New York Giants at Lumen Field on October 30, 2022. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Football analytics expert Aaron Schatz, who created DVOA and Football Outsiders, has plenty of great things to say about the Seahawks’ 2022 draft class.

And maybe one thing you won’t like.

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But his insight offers an interesting look at the value Seattle was able to accrue with their most successful draft in nearly a decade. Don’t just take our word for it. In fact, Schatz and Sports Info Solutions’ Alex Vigderman ranked Seattle’s rookie class best in the league in terms of production for the 2022 season.

“What stands out is the value that they got out of the lower picks,” Schatz told Stacy Rost and Curtis Rogers Friday. “You expect to get value out of a first rounder. You expect a first rounder to start, honestly. You expect to get value out of second round picks. But to have a third-rounder be a starter and a fifth-rounder be a starter and effectively a fourth-rounder be a starter – because nickelback really is a starter in the modern NFL with Coby Bryant – that is a really good draft class. And the players played, for the most part, very well, especially Tariq Woolen but also (Charles) Cross and (Abraham) Lucas.”

And get production they did. Seattle had five regular rookie starters: Woolen, tackles Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas, running back Kenneth Walker III, and Bryant. Just one other team this year (Houston) had more offensive and defensive snaps go to rookies. Cross and Lucas became the first rookie tackles to start in at least the first 15 games for any team since 1970, and Woolen set a new franchise record with six interceptions as a rookie and became just one of two first-year players to be named to the Pro Bowl.

Walker, who was the second running back off the board, finished the year with over 1,000 rushing yards but didn’t impress Schatz quite as much as he did Seahawks fans.

“The question about running backs is not what are their totals, but what do they get compared to what another running back would get if they had the same opportunities with the same blocking in the same scheme,” Schatz said. “And the fact is that Walker was not very good at success rate. He had a few highlight runs and then a lot of runs where he got stuffed for minimal gains. And the yardage and the touchdowns is mostly just a factor of the fact that he got so much play and so much play near the goal line. So I’m still not a fan of taking running backs early in the draft. I think Walker is a nice player and all but I don’t think he’s a stud or anything like that. He had a nice rookie year mostly because he had the opportunity to have a nice rookie year. As opposed to someone like Tariq Woolen, who really stood out as far as their performance and stats as how much better they were than what you’d consider a replacement level player at the position.”

A surprising comp for Geno Smith

It’s already hard enough to negotiate a new contract with any free agent, much less a free agent quarterback, and much less a free agent quarterback who had a pro bowl season after being a backup for years. Is this version of Geno Smith the one Seattle would see if they brought him back for $30 million or more per year? Is this a one-off performance, or was Smith always talented and only needed another opportunity to show he could hold down the starting job?

Schatz believes the Seahawks found in Smith an average NFL starter – which is great news, for a price.

“It was interesting early on trying to figure out whether this was for real or not,” Schatz said. “And the best sort of equivalent that I came up with historically, and this is not going to sound impressive to Seahawks fans, is Tyrod Taylor. Tyrod Taylor when he went from Baltimore to Buffalo and became the starter had a couple of years where he was a top-10 quarterback by advanced stats. I realize nobody was ever a big Tyrod Taylor fan, but he had a couple of really good years. And that’s what Geno sort of reminded me of. Geno kind of calmed down a bit after the first five games, the deep ball wasn’t quite hitting as much after that… (but) I think what you ended up with was Geno Smith looking at the end of the year like he was probably an average NFL starter, which is a lot better than what you thought you had before the season. You just don’t want to overpay for that if you bring him back.”

Taylor became a first-time Pro Bowler in his first year as a starter for the Bills in 2015. While he didn’t see another Pro Bowl after that, he went on to play the best football of his career through the 2017 season. Schatz’s point isn’t strictly about touchdown totals; it’s about the role each quarterback played in his respective offense. That said, the differences in those basic stats are at least worth noting, if only because Smith’s career high totals in 2022 exceeded those of Taylor. Taylor’s best year saw 20 touchdowns and 3,035 passing yards; meanwhile, Smith had 30 touchdowns and 4,282 yards this season.

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