Mark Walton, just six games into his Dolphins, already seems like a keeper.
And he seems to just keep getting better.
The former Booker T. Washington, University of Miami and Cincinnati Bengals running back quietly had a career game Sunday.
What’s even more encouraging: He did it against one of the league’s better run defenses.
Walton had career highs in carries (14), yards (66) and longest carry from scrimmage (19) Sunday against the Bills.
And so if anything, his grip on the Dolphins’ RB1 job — he started each of the last two weeks — is stronger than it’s ever been.
He’s moved past not only Kalen Ballage, but also Kenyan Drake on the depth chart. Walton had 38 snaps Sunday; Drake had only 30. All of this has made it easier for the Dolphins to trade Drake before next week’s deadline, if they find an offer that they find acceptable.
“I think it’s clear to anyone who watches that if you’re a Dolphins fan, you want to see Mark Walton get the football a little bit more,” Dolphins coach Brian Flores said. “I like all of our backs. Drake has gone in there and made plays, Ballage has gone in there and made plays. But Mark has definitely been playing well the last couple of weeks.”
Walton’s emergence is exactly the kind of thing the Dolphins need in this strangest of seasons.
All along, the idea of a playoff push was a pipe dream. But it’s now a near-impossibility just seven weeks into the season (the Dolphins are an absurd six games back of the New England Patriots in the AFC East).
So the real priority should be identifying, developing and playing guys who will be part of the hoped-for good times in 2020 and beyond.
Walton — whose 4.6 yards-per-carry average leads the team — seems to be one of those guys.
“I have to do my job each and every day,” Walton said. “I can’t get too high on myself or too low on myself. I just have to do my job. Hey anything could switch any time of the week. I’m just trying to do my job.”
Walton has a ton to play for this season, beyond helping the Dolphins win.
He is still rehabbing a reputation badly damaged this offseason, when he was cut by the Bengals after three arrests in less than three months. That all seems behind him at this point. The NFL surprisingly never suspended Walton, and his attorney cut a deal with prosecutors that got him little more than a slap on the wrist.
But the damage to his bank account was done. No team claimed him off the waiver wire, so he signed a one-year, minimum contract with the Dolphins.
That’s given the Dolphins great value. Walton and fellow reclamation project Preston Williams combine to earn just a little over $1 million this year — and yet they together accounted for 37 percent of Miami’s yards from scrimmage Sunday.
Walton’s play-making ability got him on the field. Doing the little things right will keep him on it. His work in pass protection was a big reason why the Bills did not sack Ryan Fitzpatrick all Sunday.
“I think one of his greatest strengths is his toughness,” Dolphins offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea said. “I think both physically and mentally I see a very tough player and person. That’s something we really have seen in him. It’s been a great trait.”
Added Walton: “I think as the game goes on and knowing the situation, my energy and intensity rises. It gets intense. So I try to do anything I can to help this team win. As the game goes on I don’t get stronger but I think my mentality in the game picks up.”