DAVIE, Fla. -- Mark Walton, just two months ago, was fighting to make the Miami Dolphins' roster as a third-string running back. He wanted a second shot after throwing away his first one with the Cincinnati Bengals. Sunday, he got his first career NFL start for the Dolphins and he's pushing for more.
Dolphins fans and fantasy football owners have struggled to figure Miami's backfield for multiple years. For much of this offseason and regular season, Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage went back-and-forth hoisting the lead role with varying success. Walton's recent play could elevate him to that top role in coming weeks.
"If the ball is in my hand, I'm going to try to spark this offense -- that's my goal," Walton said. "That's something that's always been in my mindset since I was at Miami, since I was at Booker T. Washington [High School], I'm trying to spark an offense."
Walton, 22, helped ignite the Dolphins' offense in a 17-16 loss to Washington. He led all Dolphins players with 75 total yards on 11 touches, and was a handful for Washington as both a runner and a receiver.
After playing sparingly over the season's first month, Walton took advantage of some Ballage struggles and Drake ball security issues to slide from a distant third running back role to the middle of the action on Sunday.
"He's really done a good job. He's a guy who does a lot. [Walton can] play in the kicking game, he's good out of the backfield catching the football, he's a good runner inside and outside," Dolphins coach Brian Flores said. "He's got a really good skill set -- a three-down skill set. He made some plays last week. He really did. If he continues to do that and he's productive, then we'll leave him in there. We've got some other backs who have been productive as well. I like them all.”
Walton leads all Dolphins running backs with a 4.4 yards per carry average (Drake's at 3.7 and Ballage 1.6).
Flores said he feels good about his backfield, noting Drake's steady production and Ballage's goal-line touchdown Sunday at Washington. But Flores and the Dolphins staff speak with a different tone of excitement when they talk about Walton's potential.
"Mark, leading up to the decision to start him, has really impressed us with both his work ethic at practice [and] his production on the field when he has been in there," offensive coordinator Chad O'Shea said. "He's a great example of a player who has taken great advantage of his opportunities... He was very deserving to go out there and start for us. I'm glad he's on our football team. I think he can make some very positive contributions moving forward."
Walton, on the fantasy football side of things, would be an ideal waiver-wire pickup. The Dolphins have typically been a stay-away fantasy team, but Walton lurks as a strong sleeper option. He was rostered on only 3.2% of ESPN fantasy teams as of Thursday afternoon.
It's likely Miami will stick to a running back committee approach for the coming weeks, but Walton seems like a lock to receive a significant chunk of that share.
"I had a bigger role Sunday. I'm grateful for the opportunity the coaches gave me. I'm going to try to keep doing my job, so I can keep getting them," Walton said. "It's been a lot of hard work, and I know there's more I can do."
Walton's chance to do more could come sooner than later as the NFL trade deadline is Oct. 29. One Miami player who could be dealt is Drake, and there already have been some conversations with other teams about a potential deal.
Drake is an explosive playmaker who is in the final year of his contract. He said he hasn't had notable talks with the Dolphins about a new deal yet. Miami could look to get a draft selection (maybe a fifth-round pick) for him at the trade deadline before Drake leaves in free agency.
A Drake trade could also provide Miami a look at a potential long-term backfield with a pair of 2018 fourth-round picks -- Walton and Ballage -- at the center of it.