The Bengals clearly went best player available in the fourth round Saturday when they opted for a scatback at running back in Miami’s Mark Walton. For the second straight year the Bengals got their top-rated player heading into the last four rounds of the draft.
The 5-9, 202-pound Walton is a junior who was limited to 63 touches last season with an ankle injury that required surgery, but he proved hard to tackle in all three seasons and his coaches and the Bengals say he's more than a scatback. He bolted for 7.6 yards per carry in 2017 while averaging 13 yards per his seven catches with what Ourlads Scouting Services call “wide receiver caliber,” hands. He comes in as a backup for Giovani Bernard and a potential returner but certainly as some kind of special teams staple.
Walton currently projects to playing behind Bernard and starter Joe Mixon and being active on game day because of those special teams qualities. Not only did he chip in on returns, he was also a gunner and the Miami coaches considered him their special teams MVP the last two seasons.
"He's a guy we know could take over the reins if something were to happen," said running backs coach Kyle Caskey of spots in a game. 'I think the special teams stuff he can do can really help us and it's just not as a returner."
With the injury to Cedric Peerman and Rex Burkhead's departure, special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons had virtually no help from the running back room and they think Walton will change that.
"My special teams play (speaks) for itself," Walton said. "I don't really care about just running the football ...you can talk to any coach on that staff in Miami and they'll talk about my special teams game and that I'll do what I can for us to win."
With their first of three picks in the fifth round the Bengals went with a speedy press cornerback in Davontae Harris of Illinois State. The 5-11, 205-pound Harris started for three years and last year offered 12 pass breakups with two interceptions and, like Walton, looks to be another addition to special teams. He’s a 4.4-second 40-yard dasher and Ourlads Scouting Services he shows “good cover skills and toughness and could move inside.” He figures to be grinding for a roster spot behind Dre Kirkpatrick, Darqueze Dennard. William Jackson and KeiVarae Russelll.
With their second pick in the fifth they went for Virginia defensive tackle Andrew Brown. Brown is a 6-3, 296-pounder said to have a lot of potential with first-round talent. The Bengals see him as a three technique who can move to end at times. Scouting outlets have questioned his lack of discipline after getting ejected in the fourth quarter against Virginia Tech when NFLDraftScout.com said he hit an official following a scuffle.
But Bengals defensive line coach Jacob Burney has no probem with the character and gave him a big endorsement.
"He's not a character problem," Burney said. "As a matter of fact, he's an example of what you want in the room, on the team. Work ethic. Play ethic. An exemplary example."
Then they came back with that final pick in the fifth with another corner, Western Michigan's Darius Phillips, a returm man in waiting with five punt return TDs and one kick TD among his FBS-record 12 return TDs.
That gave the Bengals six defenders in the first eight picks as head coach Marvin Lewis zeroed in on his record of seven set in the 2004 draft. But he leaned to Ole Miss guard-tackle Rod Taylor in a seventh round the offense swept with three picks. The 6-2, 320-pound Taylor's versatility attracted them, as did Toledo quarterback Logan Woodside's Bruce Gradkowski-breaking production and Florida State wide receiver Auden Tate's monstrous 6-4, 235-pound clip of a TD once every 4.1 catches.