Kenneth Walker bet on himself – figuratively, at least – in his final college season, and it paid off in a big way.
His draft stock improved for what he accomplished at Michigan State after transferring from Wake Forest.
Walker wanted a to have a bigger role in the running game, and he got it in the Spartans' pro-style offense.
Walker carried the ball 263 times for 1,636 yards and 18 TDs. In two seasons at Wake Forest he carried 209 times for 1,058 yards and 17 TDs.
"At Wake Forest, I felt like that wasn't the best fit," Walker said in an interview with CBS at the Combine. "That's why I signed the transfer and went to Michigan State.
"I felt like that was a great fit for me. Being in the pro offense, that helped me a lot in making my decision."
And he answered without hesitation when asked to name his highlight of the 2021 season. It was his performance in MSU's 37-33 win over Michigan – 197 yards rushing and five TDs.
Following is a look at the 2022 running back class draft strength, the Lions' depth and draft priority at the position, and five running backs who could fit the Lions.
Running back class draft strength: Solid prospects at the top, with the first back likely to be taken at the bottom of the first round or early in the second.
Lions' RB draft priority: Not high. Day 3 for depth likely.
View photos of the top running back prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Five running backs who could fit the Lions:
(40-yard dash times are from Combine and Pro Day workouts as available.)
1. Kenneth Walker, Michigan State:
5-9, 211. 4.38 40-yard dash.
His one big season should not overshadow the fact that Walker has produced with the ball in his hands at every opportunity.
He rushed for 3,115 yards and 41 TDs in high school in Texas. In his two seasons at Wake Forest he averaged 6.2 and 4.9 yards per carry. And he averaged 6.2 yards per carry at MSU. He has scant experience at receiver – six catches at Wake Forest, and 13 at MSU.
One significant asset: He can cut back and accelerate through a hole.
2. Breece Hall, Iowa State:
5-11, 217. 4.39 40-yard dash.
A powerful runner with speed and production. He delivered over a three-year period, with a modest start in 2019 – 186 carries, 897 yards and nine TDs.
Hall was a workhorse his final two seasons: 279 carries, 1,572 yards and 21 TDs in 2020; 253 carries, 1,472 yards and 20 TDs in 2021.
It's no surprise if he's the first back off the board.
3. Isaiah Spiller, Texas A&M:
6 feet, 217. 4.63 40-yard dash.
A three-year player, with 35 games played. Consistent player – and consistently good.
From 2019-21 had carries of 174, 188 and 179 yards and rushing totals of 946, 1,036 and 1,011 yards. Average carry per season was 5.4, 5.5 and 5.6 yards.
4. James Cook, Georgia:
5-11, 199. 4.42 40-yard dash.
It sometimes gets lost in the attention Georgia's defense gets, but there is an offense.
A four-year player with 50 games played, Cook did not compile huge stats – just 1,503 yards rushing. But he contributed to the 2022 national champs with 728 yards rushing and seven TDs and as a receiver with 27 catches, four TDs and 10.5 yards per catch.
View photos from offseason workouts on Wednesday, April 20, 2022.
5. Dameon Pierce, Florida (sleeper):
5-10, 218. 4.59 40-yard dash.
He has eight years of productive football on his resume, starting with four years and 6,799 yards rushing at Bainbridge High school.
Pierce didn't compile anything close to that in four seasons and 50 games at Florida, but he was a solid contributor with some power.
He rushed for 503 yards on 106 carries as a 2020 junior and 574 on 100 carries as a 2021 senior. He scored 13 of his 23 career rushing TDs in 2021.