With the 52nd pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Seattle Seahawks select... ANOTHER RUNNING BACK? Welcome to Seattle, Zach Charbonnet! You're going to love it (probably), but your fantasy managers (and those of your new teammate Kenneth Walker) probably will not.
Looking for more bad news? The Seahawks didn't stop there! They closed out the 2023 NFL Draft by selecting Georgia RB Kenny McIntosh — just to make things all the more confusing for us fantasy managers.
Despite the optics, I'm not out on Kenneth Walker in 2023. Neither should you. Let's discuss why.
Position: Running back
School: UCLA (Class)
Measurables: 6'0, 213 pounds
TLDR; I absolutely LOVE Zach Charbonnet — one of my favorite running backs in this draft class. He's got an incredibly balanced skill set as both a runner and a receiver, totaling a whopping 3,014 scrimmage yards and 27 touchdowns in his two seasons with UCLA. Charbonnet runs with power. He breaks tackles. He's got solid hands (and big! almost 10"), having carved out a role with UCLA as a more than capable receiver.
It's honestly difficult to find things you don't like about this kid, but if you had to pick something, it'd be that he's not necessarily a top-tier athlete. (Counter: he's still a pretty good one, honestly. He's just no Jahmyr Gibbs.) He ran a 4.53 40-yard dash (60th percentile for RBs) at the NFL Combine, while posting a 37" vertical (80th) and a 122" broad jump (75th). But yeah... that's about it. He's pretty darn good.
There are going to be a LOT of questions about why Seattle has chosen to draft second-round running backs in back-to-back years. However, I do think his skillset complements that of Kenneth Walker, so from Seattle's point of view, it makes sense. They're clearly loading up on offense, and Head Coach Pete Carroll came out himself to point out in a post-draft presser that Charbonnet is "great in the screen game." For what it's worth, Charbonnet actually had just 61 receiving yards on screens this year (18th in the 2023 draft class), but the point is one well taken — Charbonnet is a great receiver, ranking fifth in receiving yards (320), third in missed tackles forced on receptions (15) with the 5th highest PFF receiving grade in the bunch.
Over the last three seasons, the Seahawks have had the third-lowest running back target rate in the league at 16%, with not a single running back having more than 408 receiving yards in that three-year span. For comparison, there were seven running backs to exceed that mark just this season alone. It's an element they just haven't had in their game, and Charbonnet can be a solution.
Let's be real — this is going to be a very difficult offense, in general, to predict for fantasy football in 2023. No longer do you only have to worry about these two running backs splitting carries. You've also got to worry about the plethora of receivers they're deploying (D.K. Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, rookie Jaxon Smith-Njigba) and a sneakily mobile quarterback with his own rushing potential to boot (10th among QBs in designed rush attempts last season)!
How in the world do you project an offense that is that flush with talent on a week-to-week basis? Well, the good news is that the Seahawks should continue to score lots of points — having just ranked top-10 in points scored in 2022 (407) and top-12 in offensive yards! That translates to fantasy points scored, my friends. Even better news, I do think Carroll told us enough about Walker's role in 2022 that we can reasonably predict that a drop-off in production might not be as significant as we fear.
Let's consider the following:
Kenneth Walker led the team with 228 rush attempts. That accounted for 66% of the team's rush attempts by a running back — a nice chunk in today's era of running back by committee. With those 228 attempts (and despite a limited role as a receiver), Walker finished as the RB18 in full-PPR scoring formats.
Walker saw a whopping 84% of the team's run attempts in the red zone and 100% of the team's run attempts inside the five. Those carries matter more for fantasy than most. After all, one carry inside the five has the opportunity to yield six points for scoring a touchdown! We really, really like that.
In fact, it's what made Jamaal Williams such a valuable asset for fantasy in 2023, seeing a league-high 33 rush attempts inside the five, converting 14 of them for touchdowns. Those 14 touchdowns accounted for 37% of his total fantasy points on the year... meaning 37% of his fantasy points came on just 33 of his 262 opportunities. These. Touches. Matter.
Despite a lack of usage in the receiving game, Walker was the primary running back on the field in almost every scenario on the field. The exception was plays on 3rd and mid (3-6 yards from a first down) and 3rd & long (7 or more yards from a first down). In those scenarios, we saw running backs DeeJay Dallas and Travis Homer out-snap Walker, both of whom are better in the receiving game.
That lack of top-tier speed and athleticism I mentioned for Charbonnet? Yeah — Walker has all of that, and then some. In fact, he notched a 4.38 40-yard dash in the 2023 NFL Combine, ranking in the 95th percentile among running backs despite his bulky frame at 5'9, 211 pounds!
The breakaway speed showed in his rookie season, too, ranking fifth among all running backs in rush attempts of 15 or more yards (17). In fact, a whopping 43% of his yards came on those breakaway runs — the second-highest percentage in the NFL.
For all of these reasons (and the fact that Kenneth Walker is still one of the best running backs in 2023), I'm still willing to draft him in the late-second-to-third round of redraft leagues. Walker and Charbonnet represent two totally different skillsets, and I think that fact will be enough to preserve the value of this backfield.
Of course, there are still 128 days until our season opener, and plenty could change. But for now, I'll stan Kenneth Walker in peace.