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Q&A with State of the U: Mark Walton offers Bengals a lot to be excited about

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The former Miami running back sounds like a stand-up guy, a willing special teams ace and someone Bengals fans should be excited to have in Cincinnati.

NCAA Football: Miami at Florida State Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

Today we’re joined by State of the U’s managing editor, Cam Underwood to discuss the Bengals’ fourth round draft pick, Miami running back Mark Walton.

Who better to learn about Walton’s college career from than someone who covered him during his time at Miami?

Walton spent three years at the U, the first two of which saw him play full 13-game seasons and the final of which ended with ankle surgery after just five games. In 31 games played in college, Walton racked up an impressive 2,006 rushing yards (5.1 yards per carry), 26 rushing touchdowns, 624 receiving yards and 2 receiving touchdowns. He also was a key special teams player, which is an area in which he’ll help the Bengals.

So, let’s get to know Walton!

Rebecca Toback: What do you think about the Bengals’ addition of Mark Walton in Round 4 of the draft?

Cam Underwood: I think it’s a great pickup, obviously! Walton brings a lot to the table, and his production should exceed the value for a 4th round pick. I would have liked it if Walton were drafted a bit higher, but I think Cincinnati is a good landing spot for him.

RT: What was Walton known for during his time at Miami? Other than being the team’s RB, of course. Anything off-the-field?

CU: Walton was known for his versatility. He ran the ball, caught the ball, and played on all four areas of special teams (punt return, punt coverage, kick return, kick coverage). Walton was a good and consistent player, and did anything the coaches asked of him during his time here.

There were two off-the-field things that come to mind:

First off, Walton’s mother unexpectedly passed away in March 2017 when Walton was 19. One of six children, Walton and his siblings were raised by their single mother for much of his life. He and his family had already dealt with tragedy as his father (of the same name) was murdered in Miami when Walton Jr. was a young child.

Before I get to the second thing, let me say that it looks bad, but Walton was cleared in this incident. Remember that as you read forward.

There was an incident where Walton was arrested for DUI and impersonating an officer. The details of the accusation were bad, to be sure — it was alleged that Walton impersonated an officer to pull over an attractive young lady, and while doing so inappropriately groped her sexually — but the charges were dropped and Walton was cleared of any wrongdoing. Walton shared his side of the story, and it was very different from the arresting info. It was revealed that Walton was set up by a police officer who was jealous of the star player, used the young lady to lure Walton to her home then arrest him once he arrived. The accusations supporting the arrest were erroneous. That, among other details, is what led to the dismissal of the charges. It’s a lot, I know, but Walton was cleared by the legal system and university, and was not suspended for even a game, because it was proven that he didn’t do what he was accused of doing.

I know that last paragraph may have some people questioning the kind of person Walton is, but let me assure you, he’s a model citizen and it took one of the more outrageous situations in a city known for outrageous situations to even come close to impugning Walton’s integrity. He’s a stand up guy who has been through a lot, but he’s a great person, teammate, and leader, and you’ll see that from him in Cincy.

RT: What do you see as some of his strengths?

CU:

  • Vision
  • Versatility
  • Pass catching (could have been 4-star wide receiver recruit if he wanted to play there full-time in high school)
  • Elusiveness (one of the top players in forcing missed tackles per Pro Football Focus)

RT: How about any weaknesses?

CU:

  • Durability (Walton missed most of 2017 season after breaking an ankle)
  • Size (5’9”, 202 pounds is fine, but he’s not the biggest back in the world)
  • Limited straight-line speed (but you have Mixon for that so you’re good)

RT: His back story is a mix of heart breaking and amazing. Did that come across at all during his time in Miami? I know it’s part of why he left early, in order to provide for his family.

CU: Like I mentioned before, Walton’s father was murdered when he was a child, and his mother, who by herself raised Walton and his five siblings, unexpected passed away 14 months ago. So yeah, Walton has dealt with a fair amount of personal tragedy.

But, Walton is a resilient person and player and he’s been able to overcome those things. I’m sure that the decision to leave early was due, in part, to wanting/needing to provide for his family, but he didn’t just blindly jump to the league before he was ready. Walton was very productive in his time at Miami (2006 yards and 26 TDs rushing, 624 yards and 2 TDs receiving, AND played on special teams, AND was part of The Return, the legendary game-winning kickoff return for a TD to beat Duke in 2015) and was one of the Canes’ best players for the last three years. He took the smart route and left for the NFL (especially considering the limited shelf-life for RBs in today’s game) but he’s ready for this.

RT: Walton’s 2017 injury obviously derailed his final season of college. Did you expect him to be drafted earlier prior to the injury? What did you see in him prior to the injury to make you think he had NFL potential?

CU: Before his ankle injury — sustained against Florida State in October — I thought Walton could have been drafted as high as the second round. So yeah, I thought he could have gone a bit higher, but the 2-4 Round window would probably have been my projection in the end, even if I would have leaned toward the earlier side of that window at the time.

While Walton was at Miami, I saw what many have seen: a tough back with good vision, better quickness than speed, outstanding hands, good pass protection, and the willingness and versatility to use his athletic talents in any way the coaches asked in order to help the team. I saw Walton play since his sophomore year of high school and never once did I waver on the thought that I was watching a future NFL player. Over the course of three college seasons, Walton’s performance only strengthened my belief on that point.

RT: Was the ankle injury this year his only injury at Miami or were there other injuries, too?

CU: Apart from the normal dings players get from playing football, this injury was the first of Walton’s career. He had played in 31 consecutive games -- every game that he was on the roster for in college -- before the injury, so that’s good. But, I listed durability as a concern because he’s a running back and has already sustained this one season-ending injury, and that could continue to happen. OR, he could go back to being the player who never missed a game before this year. Who knows.

RT: The Bengals coaches can’t stop gushing over him, including for his special teams work. Was special teams a big part of his role in college?

CU: I’ve mentioned it a couple of times already, but that’s 100% true. Walton played on all four special teams (punt return, punt coverage, kick return, kick coverage) and was glad to do it. Even when he was the starting running back for a team with limited depth at the position in 2017, Walton still contributed on special teams every game he was out there.

So yes, special teams was a big part of his role for this program over the last three years. So much so that fellow running back Travis Homer (who took over as Miami’s starting back when Walton went down with his injury) followed in his footsteps joined him on STs for the last two years. Yeah, special teams is maybe a quicker path to the field for freshmen than a huge contributing or starting role, but it wasn’t just something that Walton did passively; he was a standout player in special teams, and could easily have added value in that area as he transitions to the NFL as well.

Big thanks to Cam for his well thought out answers on the Bengals’ newest drafted running back!