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One is Done: RB Mark Walton Declares for the 2018 NFL Draft

SOTU takes a first look at Mark Walton as a 2018 draft prospect

Florida State v Miami Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Height: five-foot-nine

Weight: 205 pounds

Class: Junior

High School: Booker T. Washington

Draft Comparison: Detroit Lions RB Ameer Abdullah (five foot eight, 198 pounds)

At the University of Miami, star running backs come and go. From Melvin Bratton to Edgerrin James, Willis McGahee to Frank Gore or all the way to Duke Johnson, the lineage of ’Canes runners taking the handoffs is a prestigious list. The next runner in the great Miami lineage of running backs is Mark Walton.

Tuesday afternoon Walton made what many already knew officially posting on social media his intention to enter the 2018 NFL Draft.

Playing in just four games during Miami’s 2017 season, Walton accounted for 428 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns. Walton’s season ended prematurely after suffering a right ankle injury against Florida State. Before undergoing surgery, Walton was ruled out for the remainder of the 2017 season. Had Walton been able to play the rest of the season, he likely would have been the second running back in school history to surpass 1,000 rushing yards twice as a Hurricane—a feat that has only been accomplished by RB Edgerrin James in 1997 and ‘98 seasons at the University of Miami.

UM awarded Walton with the 2016 Jack Harding Award, given to of the MVP football team, after Walton posted career-bests with six 100-rushing yard games, 5.34 yards per carry and 15 total touchdowns. Showing that he has great hands out of the backfield, the RB caught 27 passes for 240 receiving yards in ‘16.

Walton is a good blend of speed and power which he projects to be a part of a running back rotation in the NFL, with the opportunity down the road to be a feature back. During the early portion of Walton’s career, he split his game time with a plethora of running backs at Miami, yet it was evident that he shone the brightest among the group.

What sets him apart is obviously his agility with the ball under his arm. Watching Walton cut in any direction in less than a heartbeat is a thing of beauty. Before his injury, Pro Football Focus pegged Walton as one of the more elusive backs in the country. That escapability is most evident when Walton is in space, leaving defenders on an island.

As a South Florida native, speed comes second nature. While Walton is fast, he won’t put up track speed numbers in the 40-yard dash. He does, however, have great speed to outrun defenders and break long runs which—last time I checked—is still in style in the NFL. Of course, despite showcasing that talent throughout his collegiate career, there will be some NFL evaluators that place a heavy emphasis on his three-cone and 40 time at the NFL Combine and Miami’s Pro Day in the spring.

Walton can catch the ball out of the backfield. Sounds simple enough, but that is a luxury in the NFL. Former Hurricane RB Duke Johnson Jr. has become a savant at lining up at various spots on offense to make the reception. Walton has all the characteristics to be a part of that new wave of running back that is motioned out of the backfield into empty set formations. While RB Leonard Fournette is celebrated for his earth-rattling runs, the NFL is trending towards having RBs that are natural receivers to help further create mismatches in the offense’s favor. With one of the most popular highlights from Walton’s abbreviated ‘17 season being a 39-yard catch and dash against Duke, we’ll put a checkmark beside the box of receiving threat of the backfield.

While there are many positives to Walton’s game, there are a few negatives which will be nitpicked in the coming months—pass-blocking being one them. Walton does a good, not great, job in pass protection. However, this is an aspect that all rookies tend to have to be trained on when they get into the NFL. How quickly he can illustrate his knowledge and willingness to pass protect will be the deciding factor for when Walton sees the field.

The comparison of Detroit Lions’ RB Ameer Abdullah was used for Walton because they’re both of similar stature and because Walton, similar to Abdullah, served as the workhorse for a Miami offense that heavily relied on his legs to make big plays. Plus, both are really impressive when it comes to cutting in a blink of an eye.

Draft Projection

While the injury will hamper Walton’s availability to workout extensively for NFL clubs, he should be a full participant for training camp. Walton should start out as a change-of-pace running back that comes in on third down, working his way to getting more touches to be a fixture in the running back rotation. Walton has a skill set worthy of the first round, but because of injury and position, will be selected somewhere in the middle rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft.