They say when you become rich and/or famous (and I’m leaning heavily on “they,” as I am neither) that you don’t change. The people around you change. This is often the case in fantasy football and especially dynasty. If the market value of a player moves, but your opinion of them doesn’t, it provides an opportunity. You can leverage that value delta in draft position or trade value. Kenneth Walker is currently the poster child of this value delta for me, and I’ll explain why I think the fantasy market has overcorrected on him.
Kenneth Walker 2023 Fantasy Football Outlook
How We Got Here
Walker was the Seahawks’ 2nd-round pick in the 2022 NFL draft, taken 41st overall following a breakout transfer season at Michigan State. Seattle had re-signed Rashaad Penny to a one-year extension, but the impending end of Chris Carson’s career due to a neck injury left open a spot in the RB rotation. Walker was viewed as a high-end running back prospect going into the draft, though his lack of passing game involvement was viewed as a potential hole in his game that could prevent him from reaching superstar status. That assessment would prove to be prescient.
Walker took over as Seattle’s lead back after Penny’s (not unexpected) Week 5 injury. He delivered on his promise as a runner, turning 228 carries into 1050 yards (4.61 YPC) and nine touchdowns. He missed one week with an injury but finished strong, with 20+ carries for over 100 yards in each of Seattle’s final three games in their push for the playoffs.
Walker’s lack of passing game prowess was evident, as well. Averaging fewer than two receptions per game and five yards per target won’t get you mentioned in the same breath as Christian McCaffery or Austin Ekeler. Analytically, he was the same player his prospect profile suggested he would be. Pro Football Focus gave Walker the 11th-best rushing grade in the league but only an average grade as a receiver and literally bottom-of-the-barrel grades as both a pass protector and run blocker.
Rashaad Penny’s signing with Philadelphia seemed to confer upon Walker the bell-cow status fantasy drafters so crave from their running backs. For a few weeks. Then came the “Draftpocalypse.” Seattle, flush with draft capital from the Russell Wilson trade, drafted *another* 2nd round running back. This time it was UCLA product and draft community darling Zach Charbonnet. If you were in a quiet room, you could hear the bottom fall out of both of their draft markets.
Also, is Pete Carroll softening in his advanced (yet still extremely young-looking) age? After being the run-heaviest team in the league in 2018 and close to it (6th) in 2019 per Sharp Football Analysis, Seattle has trended toward a more typical pass/run mix and was, in fact, the 11th most pass-happy team in the league last year (The Football Database). Does the drafting of Jaxon Smith-Njigba mean Seattle will run more three wide receiver sets? What in the wide, wide world of sports is going on here?
An Exciting Comp
Every calamity is an opportunity. As a proxy for redraft ADP (since there aren’t many of them yet), let’s look at Walker’s dynasty startup ADP. It’s not a perfect correlation, but Walker has no age concerns that would affect his status. It’s also better than using Best Ball ADPs which have their own quirks due to the nature of the format (stacking, Zero-RB truthers, etc.). According to Dynasty League Football, Walker’s ADP in February and March was 13 overall and RB5. In April (Draft month), it skidded to overall 16 and RB5. In May, it fell to 23 overall and RB7, and in June dipped all the way to 37 overall and RB13.
That’s a precipitous drop for a player who’s not injured. So, is the fall warranted by external factors? Going back to pre-draft times (which feels like forever ago, I know), I comp’ed Walker to Nick Chubb. Chubb is another back whose fantasy value will always be primarily derived from his rushing. Despite all his success, he has frustrated fantasy managers for years because he was never heavily involved in the passing game. He’s always been a great player and a great asset, but it always felt like there was some meat on the bone that Kevin Stefanski and the Browns were keeping from him.
Despite that slight frustration, Chubb has been, to quote Larry David, “Pretty, pretty good.” A career stat line of 7300 yards from scrimmage and 52 touchdowns over five years? Yes, please! I’ll take that from any RB and not think twice about it. It is a compliment of the highest order to be described as a similar player.
Returning to our original question, has the market overcorrected on Kenneth Walker? I think yes. Walker is still the incumbent and favorite to lead the team in carries. We shouldn’t have been at all surprised that Seattle drafted *a* running back. This is a team that gave snaps to Travis Homer and Tony Jones out of necessity last year.
With Penny out of the picture, they absolutely needed depth. Despite being a draft community darling, Charbonnet was not a prospect without concerns. We have no idea how or if his game will translate at the next level. Even if he’s the Kareem Hunt to Walker’s Nick Chubb going forward, that’s no reason to drop Walker in your rankings, assuming he was appropriately ranked in the first place.
This, in fact, is the essence of the argument. If you understood the kind of player Walker was and understood the context of his situation, nothing that happened this offseason should be a surprise, let alone shocking. If your leaguemates overreact to the noise of the situation surrounding him, the player that Kenneth Walker IS can provide significant value.
A Look Inside the Seattle Seahawks
Editor’s Note: We don’t want to leave you hanging on the rest of the team. While Joel’s article focused on Kenneth Walker in fantasy football, he also gave us a quick look at the other fantasy-relevant Seahawks.
The QB5 last year that you rarely felt comfortable starting. His contract and the lack of investment in anything to threaten his status provide comfort the job is entirely his. That’s something he didn’t have at this time last year.
I was not one of those fawning over Charbonnet in the pre-draft process. He should be the passing-down complement to Walker, though, which has value.
A 9.3% increase in targets to 141 has him knocking at the door of the elites of the position. Even if this is his ceiling, it’s really good. He’s poised to do it for the foreseeable future, as he doesn’t turn 26 until December.
Are we sure JSN is his replacement and not a complementary piece? Four straight 1000-yard, 8+ touchdown seasons suggest Lockett’s not going anywhere, even though he’ll turn 31 as Week 4 begins.
It’s a struggle to see where the snaps and touches will come from right now. However, he’s talented enough to make those who fade him look foolish at the end of the season.
More like Hell No!-ah Fant, am I right?
We will be covering every team this offseason. So check back here often for all of our A Look Inside articles.