Running back wasn’t considered a need for the team entering the weekend, but head coach Marvin Lewis, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and running backs coach Kyle Caskey seem to be enamored by what the Miami back brings to the Bengals’ offense.
“Mark Walton missed half of last season with an ankle injury. Before the injury, he did a great job being a fine open-field runner,” Lewis said following the selection. “He’s a real complete player, running and catching. He’s been a big contributor for them on special teams. The coaches (at Miami) spoke very highly of him — his character as a person and how he fit on their football team, along with what he meant to their team, day-in and day-out. We feel blessed, as he was our target in this round. We were able to pick him, so we feel really good about that.”
Despite “feeling blessed” that the Bengals were able to draft Walton, he’ll start out as no better than the team’s No. 3 back.
“When you think about your third running back, there are a bunch of different ways to do it. The first thing we have to evaluate is the fact that this is the NFL. There are times when your first back or second back has to miss a game, so you want the very best next runner to be available to play,” Lazor said.
Walton played 13 game seasons in both 2015 and 2016 before suffering a right ankle injury that limited him to five games in 2017. The injury required season-ending surgery. He leaves Miami with 2,006 rushing yards, 26 rushing touchdowns, 624 receiving yards and 2 receiving touchdowns. He also contributed 304 kick return yards on 18 returns (16.9 yards per return).
The Bengals feel Walton could start if needed, though ideally Joe Mixon will stay healthy and be the team’s starter in 2018. Cincinnati also has Giovani Bernard who is a do-it-all back for the team.
“He may have been the best player on their team,” Lazor said of Walton. “Coach (Darrin) Simmons can watch him. There aren’t a lot of really good running backs in college football who you can watch cover a kickoff, cover a punt, make tackles and show off their versatility by changing directions. He’s a guy that makes a ton of plays with the ball in his hands. We’re excited to have him.”
As the Bengals entered Day 3 of the draft, they felt Walton “popped out” and he was a target heading into Saturday’s draft action.
So, why do the Bengals like him?
“He’s very elusive in space and has enough speed to make breakaway runs happen,” Caskey said. “Like we’ve said, he’s a tough kid. He plays a lot bigger than what he weighs in at. He will come in immediately and add to the current room we have.”
As for Walton, the newest Bengals running back says the film speaks for itself when it comes to his special teams ability.
“I don’t really care about just running the football. I’m a team player ... Any coach on that sideline at Miami that talks about my special teams game, they’ll tell you I don’t quit and I’m going to do whatever (I can) to make the team win ... I just went all-out, and the same way I go out and the run the ball, it’s the same thing with special teams,” Walton said after being drafted by the Bengals. “Teams talked to me about that, and they know what I can do on special teams.”
Walton says he’s fully healthy now and ready to go for rookie minicamp. The Bengals’ expectation is the same.
“I know they’ve already got great backs over there from last year,” Walton said of the Bengals. “I’m just going to be there in the room with those guys, learn from them and just go on. We’re family now — I’m just going to be ready to go to work.”