One of the most intriguing prospects in the 2018 running back draft class is Kalen Ballage out of Arizona State University (ASU). Many have compared his ceiling to David Johnson and others see his floor as David Cobb. While watching his clips and jotting down my thoughts, I think it’s more likely the latter.
Body Mass Index: 29.3 (28TH -percentile)
Arms: 32 ¾
Hands: 9 ½
One of the biggest attributes that has people losing their minds over Ballage is his believed athletic upside. Post combine, a lot of the air has been let out of this balloon. Thanks to Marcus Johnson and his work at MockDraftable.com, we have the great spider-graph data and the percentiles that Ballage falls under for his Combine drills and measurements. Ballage underperformed in the Vertical Jump and flopped in the 20 Yard Shuttle. That said, the Bench Press isn’t much, but at his weight and for an NFL athlete, I was woefully unimpressed by his minuscule 15 reps.
Here at DynastyFootballFactory, we are lucky enough to partner with PlayerProfiler.com and the amazing work that Matt Kelley has put in over there. Ballage posted a great 4.46 40 Yard Dash (88TH-percentile) which at 6’1” and 228-pounds gives him a stellar 115.2 (96TH-percentile) Speed Score. Speed Score factors a player’s weight into their 40 Yard Dash and gives a premium to larger players. Ballage’s poor vertical tanked his Burst Score which measures Vertical Jump and Broad Jump to obtain zero-inertia explosiveness. This is a look at the leg muscle fast twitch and a player’s short area speed and power. For all those saying that Ballage is like David Johnson, Johnson posted a 41 ½ Vertical Jump (97TH-percentile) and 127-inch (93RD-percentile) Broad Jump for a spectacular 134.1 (96TH-percentile) Burst Score. Johnson also had a 6.82s (86TH-percentile) 3-Cone Drill and 20-Yard Shuttle of 4.27s (42ND-percentile). Ballage’s overall athletic metrics scream average NFL athlete.
Kalen Ballage is probably one of the best route-running backs in this class. He adjusts extremely well to poorly thrown balls, something he dealt with often during his time on the Sun Devils. He also has phenomenal hands as a pass catcher, whether the ball is underthrown or high, he uses great form and catches with his hands, not his body. Ballage’s 4.46-second 40-Yard Dash speed shows up on film as he can easily outrun defenders when he hits the second level and opens his stride. He is a very smooth runner in the open field. On tape, you see a sudden first step and a strong jump cut that Ballage utilizes to set up defenders. Ballage slips his shoulder and knocks back defenders, but this is a bit of an inconsistent trait. At ASU it was reported that he “could power clean 343 pounds, bench press 360 and squat 513”. That indicates huge potential in his lower body and physical ability.
One thing I did not see on film was Kalen Ballage putting the ball on the turf. However, a search of the web and some work by Dane Brugler dug up that Ballage fumbled once every 66.5 offensive touches. That is a HUGE red flag, from a guy who was a big Joe Mixon fan and saw Mixon continue to have issues in the NFL. In 2016, the Sun Devils ran their version of the “Wild Cat formation” known as “Sparky.” This is a formation where Ballage lines up behind center in a shotgun formation and receives a direct snap. At least 11- of Ballage’s 14-touchdowns in 2016 came out of this formation, nearly half in the Texas Tech game. Ballage was very inconsistent in his game film, sometimes flashing top-end traits while at other times looking exactly like the player unable to take control of the RB1 duties for the Sun Devils. He runs into the backs of his offensive linemen far too often and doesn’t consistently show physical power. Ballage’s poor agility scores show up on tape when he has issues with change of direction and bouncing the play outside when the line of scrimmage becomes muddled.
Pro Football Focus has Ballage creating only 44 missed tackles as a runner during his tenure with the Sun Devils. Ballage had an Elusive Rating of 24.9 which was 73RD among draft-eligible backs. He also only had a Breakaway of 26% which ranked 67th. Elusive Rating charts missed-tackles-forced, either by juking a defender or trucking over the player with Yards Gained After Contact for a metric. Breakaway percent takes yards gained on runs over 15 yards and then divides it by the RB’s total yards. Neither of these stats is very supportive of Ballage being an elite producer at the next level.
When people say that the ceiling of Kalen Ballage is David Johnson it feels like a reach, particularly when you look at college production. Ballage only broke 100-yards rushing 4-times in his collegiate career. While he has some nice traits, his obvious upside is as a pass-catching back. It is extremely hard to ignore his lack of production in college and inability to hold off Demario Richard and lock down the RB1 role.
I was high on Ballage pre-combine, and before going back and watching his tape, but the shine has faded. In rookie drafts being held so far this offseason, Ballage has an ADP of pick 2.06 as the RB8 in drafts. Honestly, after the recent RB renaissance, and with a perceived weak rookie WR class, this might be a value for him. Depending on roster construction, maybe trade out and get a 2019 first-round pick. Don’t overdraft Ballage on hype.