Going into the 2018 NFL Draft, running back was viewed as a position the Bengals may go seven rounds without addressing.
With Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard, Brian Hill, Tra Carson and Jarveon Williams on the roster, this was an area that didn’t need another guy, unless it was someone the Bengals really liked.
That was the case with the 112th pick, as the Bengals took Miami running back Mark Walton, who at one point looked poised to go much higher in the draft.
Walton was having a standout year in 2017 before a season-ending ankle injury cut it short. He rushed for 428 yards and three touchdowns through the Hurricanes’ first four games before suffering the injury. That was good for a ridiculous 7.6 yards per carry average.
2016 was when Walton had his best season, as he led all returning ACC running backs with 36 missed tackles and a 3.4 yards after contact per attempt (minimum 60 carries), according to Pro Football Focus. He’s a shifty runner that will prove to be a hard tackle, even in the NFL.
Walton finished his college career with 2,006 yards and 26 touchdowns on the ground, while also hauling in 56 catches for 624 yards and two touchdowns.
While the numbers look great, several NFL scouts were far from being sold on what he brings to the pro ranks.
Every year, Bob McGinn speaks with scouts, personnel directors, NFL executives and coaches about the top crop of talent in the draft. That allows him to get great insight on various prospects, including Walton.
However, not all of it was good.
10. MARK WALTON, Miami (5-9 ½, 202, 4.59, Round 4): Third-year junior declared early even though ankle surgery ended his final season after four games. “He should have stayed in school,” one scout said. “He’s not very good. Just kind of a one-speed guy and gets tackled easily. No elusiveness.” Had a big season in 2016 (1,117). Finished with just 395 carries for 1,995 (5.1) and 26 TDs along with 56 receptions for 624. “He’s got a PhD of football,” said another scout. “Poor, hungry and determined.” From Miami. “He’s explosive as heck,” a third scout said. “Just little. Big-play ability. Effective out of the backfield. He can cut and slide at full speed and can outrun the angles.”
For now, Walton will compete for the third running back spot behind Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard. Brian Hill will prove to be a serious challenger for that spot after shining in his brief playing time as a rookie in 2017.
We also can’t count out Tra Carson, who had a very good 2017 preseason and was likely to make the roster before suffering a season-ending injury in the third preseason game.
But, more than anything, Walton will likely be a key part of the Bengals’ special teams equation this year, and his abilities there are a big reason why the Bengals drafted him. The team supposedly had him as their top target entering Day 3 of the draft.
Walton should make the final roster, but he’s not quite a lock with Carson and Hill proving to be serious threats to also make it. It will be interesting to see how the running back competition plays out in training camp and the preseason.