Impressing fans since his arrival to the University of Miami’s Coral Gables campus, it did not take long for Mark Walton to win ’Canes fans over. With explosive runs, shift elusiveness and the willingness to initiate contact, Walton worked his way up the depth chart to become the next in a great line of feature backs at UM. Walton earned the right to get the lion’s share of carries in his junior season.
Hardships fall on all of us. A fact that Walton can testify to, both on the field and away from it, forcing a kid to grow into a man much quicker than one could imagine. Despite the personal losses, the injuries and the hurdles placed ahead of him, Walton has endured, bouncing up to his feet after being tackled to the ground by a Georgia Tech defender or life itself. We’ll get into his game speed, toughness and elusiveness—among other intangibles—that make this running back a gem in the 2018 NFL Draft, but suffice it to say, the resilience and heart of Mark Walton the person should never be understated.
Path to the Draft and Measurables
Weight: 202 pounds
High School: Booker T. Washington High School
Hometown: Miami Florida
Walton has speed to burn when it comes to the straight line variety, as well as possessing magical qualities when it comes to eluding defenders at the point of attack. Walton is great at redirecting. He accelerates and decelerates in a heartbeat when there’s no hole to run through at the point of attack. Some coaches are not fans of running backs who tend to dance before hitting the hole at the line of scrimmage,but if you’ve watched film on Walton, he does manage to pick up as much yardage as possible—without putting the ball on the turf or taking significant lost yardage on a the play.
Excellent Receiver Out of the Backfield
With NFL clubs putting a premium on RBs who can do more than take the handoff or run a route from the backfield, the next evolution of the position is finding backs who can run routes in the same manner as a wide receiver. NFL clubs are now splitting them out wide to help further exploit matchups, and Walton’s reliability in the passing game is among the best of any RB in the draft. Even with a small sample size of four games in 2017, there is not a single drop attributed to the junior RB, which according to Pro Football Focus places him atop his position group with the best drop rate percentage entering the league. At Miami, Walton primarily caught the ball coming out of the backfield, amassing 60 targets in his final two seasons as a ’Cane. At the next level, he will need to work on his route-running if a team deems it critical to his production at the next level.
There are different methods to avoiding a tackle. From twisting, spinning and juking one’s way past a defender to breaking out of tackles of the opponent. PFF has Walton breaking out of tackles on 71 of his 394 college carries, with an elusive rating of 51.5% for his career carries as well. When you factor in that Walton avoids being tackled on first contact on 41.1% of his carries, it’s evident in the numbers that Walton is a tough man to bring down with the rock in his hands. What doesn’t show up in the analytics is the wow plays’, where Walton hurdles over defenders, leaps into the endzone, or, to borrow the basketball phrase, breaks the ankles of defenders with a hesitation and stutter from one direction to the next.
Poised for a breakout junior season, Walton wound up missing all but four games in 2017 after suffering an ankle injury that forced him to undergo surgery, missing the rest of the season. Walton started every game in 2016 and played in every game in 2015, so the concern of whether he will be able to handle a full NFL workload is a nitpick. His small stature in comparison to other RBs in the draft class should not overshadow his production and potential to contribute to help his team improve in both run and pass.
One player who’s been mentioned a bunch in my talks with NFL evaluators is Miami’s Mark Walton. He missed a lot of time last season due to injury, but his skill set is very intriguing to NFL scouts. He’s drawing comparisons to Devonta Freeman.
Daniel Jeremiah NFL Media Analyst
Lightning bug scatback with dynamic change-of-direction skills and explosion in the open field. Often hides behind offensive linemen before bursting through a running lane. Small, light frame. Foot quickness is among best in this class.
CBS Sports Staff
Walton is the type of back the NFL wants on the field for third-down situations and has the tools to be used as more than that in a scheme that favors outside runners with hands. His lack of size and recent injury could push him down boards, but we see an immediate NFL contributor.
Matt Miller, Bleacher Report
Lewis is outstandingly balanced and has elite agility, a dangerous combination that’s been the catalyst for his emergence over the past few seasons as one of the most difficult-to-tackle backs in all of football. Both Walton and Lewis are shorter and have smaller frames, which actually helps them hide behind large offensive linemen and when they get to the second level. Walton is super-quick, yet is a touch less twitchy than Lewis but has better long speed.
Chris Trapasso CBS Sports.com
Walton’s 2017 tape was phenomenal, but he lasted just four games before going down injured with an ankle problem that ultimately shut him down for the year. He is short and stocky, and has an incredible ability to cut and break runs outside if defenders don’t respect their contain responsibilities. May be limited to a third-down role in the NFL, but could prove teams otherwise if he weighs at the top-end of his listed weight and is able to replicate the skills of a player like Dion Lewis in New England.
Sam Monson, Pro Football Focus
The Final Wave
Among some Hurricanes fans, there is concern that Walton’s decision to go pro will end with him having a similar career arc as former UM RB Joseph Yearby. Another portion of the fanbase feels that Walton is the next the line of great runners who will have a successful NFL career, contributing to the offense’s good fortune along with racking up personal accolades. Improving his yards-per-carry average with each season he played at UM, Walton was not just a difference maker on the field and in the locker room, he exemplified the grind that’s necessary for his fellow Hurricane teammates to steer UM football back to prominence. For the team that selects Walton, that faith in improving the team around him should continue moving forward. After all that Mark Walton has overcome in life and sport, there’s no doubt that Walton will embrace his next challenge of achieving his NFL dreams.
Draft Projection: Second-Fourth round selection
Good Luck in the NFL Uno!