Mark Walton is an incredibly talented back who isn’t showing that talent right now. Is he a lock to make the Bengals at this point?
Many of the Bengals’ rookies have been succeeding thus far in camp, but a couple are still lagging behind. None are struggling more than fourth-round pick Mark Walton, though. A running back out of Miami, Walton has had two disastrous preseason games so far this season. If he doesn’t improve over the next couple games, the Bengals may have a tough decision to make on Walton.
At the U, Walton had two incredible seasons his freshman and sophomore years. His junior year, he started five games before suffering a season-ending ankle injury. He still declared for the draft, although he wasn’t healthy enough to participate in pre-draft workouts. Still, some draft analysts believed he was a top five talent in the class (I did not), and the Bengals gambled on him in the fourth round.
With his injury, Walton was always viewed by the Bengals as a long-term prospect. At 5’9″, 205 pounds, he’s almost like a more powerful Giovani Bernard. While Bernard still has two more years with the Bengals, the team may be planning for life after Gio. Walton could be the complementary back to Joe Mixon once Bernard is a free agent.
The issue with this succession plan is that Walton is just not flashing NFL skill right now. Camp reports have been very quiet on Walton, as there isn’t much good or bad news coming out on him so far. In the preseason, Walton has been nothing short of atrocious. Against Chicago, the Bengals tried to feature him. He got the most carries of any back (7), but only picked up 13 yards.
Against Dallas, he was even worse. Walton only got 3 carries, but somehow went for -9 yards. That minus is not a typo – Walton lost 9 yards on 3 carries against the Dallas backups. He’s currently averaging 0.4 yards per rush in the preseason. The other disturbing part of his preseason is his lack of involvement in the passing game. Walton has yet to catch a pass in his two preseason appearances. If he is going to be the next Gio for the Bengals, he has to be effective in the passing game.
It’s probably too early to hit the panic button on Walton. Like I said, the Bengals knew he was coming off of injury, so it would be a slow process with him. Still, Walton’s performance to this point has been troubling. Tra Carson and Brian Hill have had strong performances in the preseason, so they could make a push for the final roster. If Walton doesn’t improve at all in the preseason, the Bengals may have to consider cutting him.