The 2018 NFL Combine kicks off from Indianapolis on February 27th. Ahead of that event, I wanted to profile a few prospects that we haven’t touched on yet at RotoViz. Whether that’s due to injury, small school status, or a deep position group, it’s time to learn more about these prospects and their potential impact for NFL teams moving forward. Next up is Miami junior running back Mark Walton.
Walton was rated a four-star prospect by 247sports, the 10th-ranked running back in the country and Florida’s 14th overall player. At Booker T. Washington High School in Miami, Walton earned three varsity letters in football and broke out his senior year. Walton turned 203 attempts into 1,472 yards and 22 touchdowns and led Booker T. Washington to the state championship. He closed out his career with 2,769 rushing yards and 45 rushing TDs. Walton was also a weapon in the receiving game, catching 36 passes for 462 yards and an additional seven scores.
As a top prospect, Walton had scholarship offers from all the major schools in Florida. Auburn, Tennessee, and Louisville also recruited Walton but to no avail. He took three official visits; to Georgia, Miami, and West Virginia in January. On national signing day in February, Walton chose to remain home and attend the University of Miami.
Walton played right away for Miami, appearing in all 13 games as a true freshman. He led the team with nine rushing TDs while finishing second in rushing yards to Joseph Yearby and serving as the primary kick returner with 17.6 yards per return. In 2016, Walton eclipsed Yearby to become the primary RB but did give up kick return duties. He once again played every game and converted 209 carries into 1,117 yards and 14 scores. He caught five more passes in Year 2, increasing his total to 27 but with fewer receiving yards. He had six 100-yard games and was named to the All-ACC Third Team.
Walton entered 2017 as a preseason All-ACC pick. He had 44 carries, 403 rushing yards, and three rushing TDs in Miami’s first three games. However, half of that production came on an 11-carry, 204-yard day against Toledo. Against rival Florida State in the fourth game, Walton could only manage 25 rushing yards on 12 carries before suffering a season-ending injury to his right ankle that required surgery.
For his career, Walton produced one season as the complementary back, one season as the lead RB, and one season on the sidelines due to injury. To put his production into context, I calculated his dominator rating for each season below. I removed games he left early due to injury, games decided by 28 points or more, and removed quarterback rushing. A reminder that since receiving yards and touchdowns are part of the equation for RB dominator rating, a score of 40 percent is very good and above 50 leads to the Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Foournette range.
As a true freshman, touchdown variance was on his side as he scored eight rushing TDs on just 104 attempts in the 10-game sample while his backfield-mate Yearby only scored six the entire season. His 26 percent dominator as a true freshman in the ACC is very promising, and he improved on that mark as a sophomore. We again have a 10-game sample for 2016 with 57 more rushing attempts, more than double the yards from 2015, and one less score. He increased his receptions by six and his dominator rating rose to 35 percent. Due to injury, we have but a two-game sample for 2017, and as I noted above, the majority of that production came in a single game.
So, what do we make of Walton’s production? If we use his best season, 35 percent dominator, and compare it to the 2017 rookie RB class, Walton would fall between Marlon Mack, Corey Clement, and D’Onta Foreman. That’s a mixed bag in terms of draft capital and rookie year success. However, dominator rating is just one piece of the puzzle for RB evaluation and while he fell short of the 40 percent range, his best season will still very good.
Despite his injury, Walton received the all-important NFL Combine invite. While there has been some speculation as to whether he will participate in Indianapolis or not – largely due to the specifics of his ankle injury not making it to the public domain – Walton cleared that issue up on his own earlier this month on Twitter.
I will be participating in all the Combine drills. I am feeling great, what ankle injury let's go to work— Mark Walton (@_Hungry_1) February 6, 2018
NFL Draft Scout currently ranks Walton as the No. 13 RB in the class with a fourth- or fifth-round projection. For comparison, Walton comes in seventh in Anthony Amico’s early RB prospect projection and Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller gave Walton to the San Francisco 49ers at pick 74 in his post-Super Bowl mock draft. His estimated 40 time of 4.49 seconds is just barely good enough to land in the 27 percent success rate node of Kevin Cole’s regression tree for RB combine drills.
Walton was listed at 5-foot-9 and 205 pounds coming into 2017. If his measurements next week are in the neighborhood, his build resembles that of former Hurricane RB Duke Johnson. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein comps him to James White, who does share the same physical profile. White parlayed 39 receptions his senior year into a pass-catching role with the Patriots.
Walton has a chance to alleviate injury concerns starting on Tuesday, the 27th, with X-rays followed by medical examinations on Wednesday. On-field workouts for RBs are Friday. Even if he tests well, Walton likely needs help to move into the top-five RBs in both the NFL and dynasty rookie drafts. His production as a runner and receiver is solid and can be used on special teams. With a good draft season, Walton could be a nice value in the early second round of rookie drafts.