RENTON — It wouldn’t be a Seahawks draft without a surprise thrown in.
And so it was that Seattle took a running back with its third pick in the 2022 draft Friday, selecting Kenneth Walker III of Michigan State with its 41st overall pick.
That was the second of two straight picks Seattle had in the second round with Walker following another Big Ten player, Minnesota end/edge rusher Boye Mafe, whom Seattle took at No. 40.
In selecting Mafe and Walker, the Seahawks bypassed taking a quarterback. Only one had been selected at that point, Kenny Pickett of Pitt, who went to Pittsburgh in the first round Thursday. That left Liberty’s Malik Willis, Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder, Ole Miss’ Matt Corral and North Carolina’s Sam Howell — all perceived as possible first but at least second-round picks — still available.
But Seattle coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider have spoken strongly of their belief that Drew Lock — acquired in the Russell Wilson trade — can be a viable NFL starting quarterback. Seattle also re-signed Geno Smith, who started three games last year in place of Wilson.
And maybe Seattle thinks it can still acquire a quarterback either later in the draft or a veteran after the draft.
That only one QB had been taken at that point, though, also served as further confirmation that NFL teams are skeptical about the ability of the QBs available this year.
Seattle has one more pick left on Friday, No. 72 in the third round.
Running back wasn’t necessarily perceived as a big need for Seattle after re-signing Rashaad Penny last month.
But Seattle has concerns about the health of Chris Carson, who had neck surgery last season. The Seahawks have said it is unclear if Carson will be able to play this season and that they likely won’t know until training camp.
With coach Pete Carroll wanting to get back to a strong running game in the post-Russell Wilson era of Seahawks football the team decided to add to its depth.
Also, Penny is on just a one-year contract and has had durability issues of his own, and Seattle’s running back situation after those two is unproven with Travis Homer and DeeJay Dallas having so far appeared best fits as third-down/two-minute backs and special teamers.
Durability is not a question with Walker, who had 1,636 yards on 263 carries in 12 games last year for the Spartans to win the Doak Walker Award as college football’s best running back.
That included a 264-yard game against Northwestern.
And if the choice of Walker might have caught fans and draft observers by surprise, it also took Walker aback a little.
Walker said he had a meeting with the Seahawks at the combine and a later Zoom call with Seattle running back coach Chad Morton. But otherwise, he said he had little contact with the Seahawks and did not have much of an idea they would take him on Friday.
“I am very surprised,” he said. “But at the end of the day, it’s a blessing to be on this team.”
Walker, listed at 5-9, 211, ran a 4.38 40 at the combine which he said felt improved his stock with NFL teams.
“Yeah, I felt like it helped me a lot because I felt like a lot of people thought I was kind of slower, you know, like on film there’s like, people questioning my speed,” he said. “But being able to run that 3.48, it was great and I feel like that helped a lot during the process.”
He began his career at Wake Forest and played there for two seasons before transferring to Michigan State, saying that MSU’s pro-style offense was a better fit for his skills.
Walker was the second running back taken after Breece Hall of Iowa State was selected by the Jets at 36.
Pro Football Focus rated Walker as the best running back available in the draft, writing: “RB1 checking in. Walker went from relative unknown to the best back in the country. He led all of college football with 89 broken tackles this past season, including 20 against Miami alone. …Walker isn’t a one-year wonder. He’s the real deal and has an all-around NFL skill set.”
This story will be updated.