Kenneth Walker the third (receiver?)
Seaside Joe 1173: Will versatility be the key to unlock Seattle's second round pick during his rookie season?
Is versatility always a good quality to have and to inject in a project or on a team?
On Saturday night, I re-visited a childhood classic on the IMDb TV app. Imagine a comic book movie that was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actor, and four Golden Globes, including Best Picture. A movie that at the time of its release, had the biggest opening weekend box office in the history of Disney. A film based on comic strips for kids that Roger Ebert called “one of the most original and visionary fantasies I’ve seen on a screen” and attracted the acting chops of Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Mandy Patinkin, Kathy Bates, James Caan, William Forsythe, Paul Sorvino, Glenne Headly, Dick Van Dyke… and Madonna.
All of this centered around the production of the highest-grossing movie in Warren Beatty’s entire catalog as an actor or a director.
Given all of that talent and all of those accolades, it’s hard to believe that Dick Tracy has long been considered a failure by Disney, and if anything, served as a megaphone announcement to the world that Beatty is notoriously difficult to work for and is historically untrustworthy as a producer/director in charge of a budget.
As I was watching the movie last night, I was first struck by the cast list (I had forgotten about every actor in it, other than Beatty), but was appropriately drawn in by the set design, costumes, colors, make-up, visual effects, sound effects, and Danny Elfman’s score. Even Stephen Sondheim received his only Academy Award nomination (and won) for a song produced for this movie.
But I do have to admit that on every scale that measures Hollywood success, Dick Tracy is a failure.
Released in 1990, Dick Tracy’s direct comparison for success would be Tim Burton’s Batman, a comic book movie that made $251 million domestically and $160 million internationally in the previous summer. Disney, reportedly reluctant to hire Beatty as director because of his poor reputation for time management and wasting resources after his previous directing assignment nine years earlier on Reds, gave Beatty a strict budget of $25 million… that he obliterated by the time costs reached $50 million and counting.
Because production companies often spend as much on advertising as they do on making the film, that means that Dick Tracy cost over $100 million to produce and promote. And though it is Beatty’s only career movie to reach $100 million at the box office with $162.7 million worldwide, the end result was underwhelming once everyone was paid.
Hence why Batman, with a $400 million gross and a greater consensus that it’s a fantastic superhero movie, spawned a sequel in 1992… as well as 1995 and 1997… plus the Dark Knight trilogy, the DC Extended Universe, the The Batman movie, cartoons, animated movies, and everything you fucking know about this goddamn caped crusader who has infested every corner of our lives over the last 30 years. (Now I feel like the origin story of The Joker.)
The surface level differences between Batman and Dick Tracy are easier to find than the specific reasons why one is good and became this massive franchise, while one is fine and is still a single movie that came out over three decades ago. There are so many things to like about Dick Tracy, but it does fall flat enough to see why there was never a Dick Tracy 2 and that has to be partially attributed to the fact that Beatty was not the right person to tab as the director.
And potentially also not the right person to cast as Dick Tracy.
This isn’t to say that versatility is a bad thing in Hollywood. From Charlie Chaplin to Clint Eastwood (who was nearly cast as Dick Tracy), we’ve long admired those who can work on either side of the camera and give us the closest thing possible to a single vision and point of view for a movie. But Beatty, who reportedly said that the only reason he directed Dick Tracy was because it would be easier than “what I’d have to go through to get somebody else to do it,” was not the right person to serve multiple roles. He was only the easiest person.
The film looks amazing. It is successful on multiple levels, and yet it is not successful. Dick Tracy was not a winner.
But could the virtue for versatility be a good thing for the Seahawks’ rookie second round running back?
There has been much consternation made of the fact that Pete Carroll and John Schneider drafted Kenneth Walker III with the 41st overall pick in the draft, because Walker is a running back.
Not only is he a running back, but Walker was rarely used in the passing game as a receiver at either Wake Forest or Michigan State: over 32 career appearances, Walker had 480 rushing attempts vs. only 19 receptions.
It wasn’t that anyone had anything negative to say about Walker’s receiving abilities. Much like Charles Cross and run blocking, it was simply a lack of reps due to the offensive schemes they were playing under in college.
In a podcast interview with Birds of a Feather prior to the draft, analyst Matt Waldman gave a positive analysis of Walker’s college resume as a receiver:
“I gave a number of backs (Leonard Fournette, Melvin Gordon) like (Walker), good marks as receivers even though there wasn’t a ton of volume there. Most running backs aren’t going to run dig routes like Austin Ekeler, and you’re not going to ask them to match that way. What you’re looking for is good hand-eye coordination and not screwing up the routes that they’re asked to run. You look at those players and you see enough of the hand-eye coordination moments and put the pen down and say, he’s not going to get the high-end score because I don’t get to see everything, but most backs don’t at this stage. I saw the same thing with Walker. He can catch. He uses the correct techniques with his hands. He tracks the ball just fine, doesn’t leave his feet trying to jump for the ball. He can take some contact. That’s enough!”
Waldman has been higher on Walker as a versatile dual threat weapon out of the backfield than most of what you may hear, adding that he’s similar in build and style to Ray Rice and JK Dobbins.
Some of Waldman’s running backs mentioned:
Melvin Gordon has averaged 41 catches per season in the NFL after totaling 22 receptions over three college campaigns at Wisconsin
Leonard Fournette has averaged 48 catches per season in the NFL. He had 41 catches total in three seasons at LSU.
Ray Rice caught 25 passes in his final season at Rutgers, but had only 12 over his first two campaigns in college. Rice averaged 61 catches per year with the Ravens.
There is a major difference between quality and quantity and Walker was only lacking the latter at Wake and Michigan State, not the former. This tweet by Alfredo Brown notes that the biggest issue for Walker’s development as a pass catcher at Michigan State had little to do with his skills and a lot to do with poor play designs and a lack of quarterback talent in sophomore Payton Thorne.
This should help ease some concerns that fans may have about Walker’s lack of receiving production in college. His probable ceiling as a pass catcher out of the backfield in the NFL is high, depending on how Carroll and Shane Waldron choose to use him over the next three to five years. For as long as Geno Smith and/or Drew Lock are starting, having a checkdown option as a high-percentage target could lead to many dozens of catches by Walker the early going, similar to how Christian McCaffrey temporarily revived the career of Cam Newton in 2017-2018.
But then there is also the possibility that Seattle could not only use Walker as a receiving threat out of the backfield—some teams are already toying with the idea of using their running backs as receivers split out wide and at least one of those coaches with a premier running back has a direct tie to Waldron.
With Deebo Samuel being converted from receiver to running back midseason in 2021 (a move that has been universally PRAISED despite how contrary a move like that is to “conventional wisdom” regarding positional value), a focus on versatility among your three primary offensive weapons—running backs, receivers, tight ends—is at an all-time high.
We’ve seen the name “Deebo” thrown around a ridiculous amount over the last five months, as every draft analyst and social media scout has given into the desire to follow trends and compare players at ALL positions to Deebo Samuel in some way. Rather than calling Khalil Shakir something more like what he is, instead he’s “diet Deebo.” Also being referred to as the next Deebo: Treylon Burks, Romeo Doubs, Erik Ezukanma, Dareke Young… and Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill.
And plenty more, not all of whom play receiver.
However, Deebo Samuel is only a trendy topic that may only last for one year, with the NFL moving onto the next “next” by 2023. It is the cycle we’ve been subject to for as long as I’ve been following football and I’m sure you can say the same.
Is it possible that the next next is a player who converts the other way around?
Over in Minnesota, new Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell is expected to use three-time Pro Bowl running back Dalvin Cook as a wide receiver in 2022. At least, sometimes.
Running back Dalvin Cook might end up seeing more opportunities in the passing game, lining up in bunch sets as a receiver during OTAs, per The Athletic's Chad Graff.
It's fairly common to see bell cow backs catch passes and occasionally receive reps out wide during OTAs, when coaches have the luxury to test some things out before the summer break. And in today's pass-first NFL, getting a playmaking back increasingly involved in the passing game makes him that much more of a threat to opposing defenses.
Cook will enter 2022 with a new jersey number -- he's switching from No. 33 to his old Florida State No. 4 -- and potentially a new portion of O'Connell's and coordinator Wes Phillips' playbook to digest beyond his typical workload. He just won't reveal any details yet.
"We'll see. I don't want to sit up here and just tell y'all everything," Cook said. "We gotta wait and see. We got Green Bay Week 1, so we're gonna wait and see."
When pressed for more details on his new assignments with O'Connell and Phillips, both branches off the Sean McVay tree, Cook kept it hush hush but finished with “Expect the unexpected.”
Except that it wouldn’t be that unexpected at this point to see a 5’10, 210 receiver making play after play in the NFL. Not compared to previous eras, where the “prototype” at the position was thought to be more like Calvin Johnson and less like Chris Johnson.
That’s not the case anymore when DeVonta Smith (170 lbs) can be a top-10 pick and Tyreek Hill (5’10, 185) is one of the most valuable players in the league.
This past March, Christian Kirk (5’11, 200 lbs) became the highest-paid free agent wide receiver of 2022 when he signed a $70 million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Overpay or not, Kirk will be heavily fed in Doug Pederson’s offense and he’s not built much different than Kenneth Walker III and Dalvin Cook.
In fact, Walker is considerably faster than Kirk even though he is 10 lbs heavier. Walker is not as fast as Hill, but lining up as a receiver in bunch sets, would the two look much different pre-snap? If the Vikings would like to use Cook as a wideout in O’Connell’s offense (Cook is 5’10, 210 lbs, ran a 4.49 with a 30.5” vertical), would Waldron, also a McVay disciple, want to use Walker (5’10, 211 lbs, 4.38, 34”) in a similar manner right out of the gate?
Especially given that the Seahawks would probably like to use Rashaad Penny as a runner as much as possible during his one-year, $5 million deal, as they attempt to recoup some of the value that they hoped to receive from Penny when they made him a first round pick in 2018.
With or without Chris Carson, Seattle may want to give Walker a year to serve as an understudy, similar to how the Tennessee Titans slowly brought along Derrick Henry behind a workhorse running back in DeMarco Murray. But in Walker’s case, instead of getting 100 rushing attempts as he learns the ropes, maybe he could see 30 or 40 targets as a receiver, gaining valuable reps as Waldron takes advantage of the hand-eye coordination, the route running, and the yards after contact/catch ability that the rookie second round pick appears to possess.
The potential downside to such a transition is that you don’t want to stunt Walker’s growth as a running back and you hope to not screw him up by putting too much on his plate. Instead of getting a great actor and a great director, two individuals, would you instead wind up with a so-so director and a performance that fails to deliver the punch that would’ve landed you a franchise worth many billions of dollars?
Versatility can either be a great asset or a destructive distraction.
Which kind of hero will the Seahawks be hoping to see out of Kenneth Walker III?
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Yes, great angle. As I was reading, Deebo came to mind so that direction, and Cook's new usage, sparks interest.
An underrated aspect to one of our top backs ever was Lynch's catching ability. When Marshawn caught passes it was absolutely backbreaking for the other team because it took so much to slow him in the run. Then, when he caught passes, it added to his arsenal and the opponent didn't have answers. He made some nice catch-n-runs off that wheel route he ran.
Screens are obviously just long hand offs, and the more developed play they ran for Lynch where he'd go to the middle of the zone, sit, and catch there left him just dealing with linebackers and defensive backs that were very mismatched in the open field with him.
The Hawks can run two back sets with Walker in the receiver's slot and taking the jet sweep (that are generally handled by receivers), and misdirection hand offs.
Notice in the video Walker had some nice chips before going into coverage. Another aspect of his pass game knock is he can't block. That's another area he'll be able to clean up being a pro.
Walker's a football player so, yes, find any ways to get him the ball, or have him on the field.
I was so sucked in to the discussion about Dick Tracy that it was jarring to read about Pete Carroll. Where's your movie recommendation blog?