Arizona State running back Kalen Ballage has a thin college resume, but as a 6’2″ 228 pounder with 4.46 speed, his athletic potential earned him invitations to the Senior Bowl and the Combine. Will the less productive member of his college running game be able to make an impact in the NFL? Here’s the prognosis:
Career: 450 attempts, 1984 yds (4.4 YPC), 27 TDs; 82 receptions, 684 yds (8.3 YPC), 2 TDs
2017: 157 attempts, 669 yds (4.3 YPC), 6 TD; 20 receptions, 91 yds (4.6 YPC)
Missed three games in 2015 with mononucleosis
Left a game in 2016 with a lower leg injury
Accolades and off-field notes
Was a backup/change-up running back throughout his career at Arizona State
Senior Bowl invitee
6 feet 1.5 inches tall, 228 pounds, 9.5 inch hands, 32.75 inch arms
4.46 forty yard dash (83rd percentile for running backs)
33.5″ vertical leap (37th percentile)
122″ broad jump (78th percentile)
6.91 three cone drill (69th percentile)
4.35 short shuttle (27th percentile)
15 bench press reps (16th percentile)
Ballage was the change-up back to Demario Richard in Arizona State’s rushing attack during four seasons with the Sun Devils. Though he never rushed for more than 669 yards in a season in this limited role, Ballage certainly has NFL potential as a runner.
He runs with a great tempo, galloping through gaps at considerable speed. Ballage is fast and he knows it, slashing through defenders and hurdling over scrums for extra yardage. At nearly 230 pounds, he can push a pile by running at it like a battering ram, but he’s more of a speedster than a power back.
The player that stylistically comes to mind as a comparison is Melvin Gordon. Gordon had a great reputation in college for the way he stretched out huge plays behind Wisconsin’s awesome offensive line. Gordon also had skill as a receiver, a trait Ballage shares, and had questions about whether his game was one-dimensional or propped up by teammates. The biggest difference between the two runners is that Gordon was producing like a Heisman candidate during his college career, while Ballage never came close.
On inside runs, Ballage is fast enough to make defenders miss in the backfield and dart ahead for 5-8 yards. He effectively sets up blocks at the second level between the tackles, although he’s better at following his linemen than creating daylight to run to. I felt that one of the stronger areas of his game was when running inside zone.
When running toward the outside, he is sometimes tempted to aim for the sideline, but he generally turns upfield eventually rather than losing yards on a risky bet.
Ballage’s vision and processing speed are average. He doesn’t react well when gaps close in front of him, and I feel that he puts his head down too soon when he hits contact.
Ballage’s pass protection has a long way to go. He sometimes outright misses blitzing defenders, and if he’s running a route out of the backfield he rarely offers even a token chip. Most of Ballage’s pass protection is delivered via ineffective shoulder checks.
His cut block is ineffective, and he doesn’t have the core strength to consistently stand his ground against a defender in the hole. It will be very tough for him to see the field as a rookie, at least until he develops some reliability as a pass protector (or moves to the slot as a receiving weapon).
Ballage has plenty of experience running routes out of the backfield, and he has also motioned out wide for some routes. He has soft hands and a wide catch radius, and he’s comfortable contorting his body to catch off-target throws in stride. This receiving skill should be a significant part of his game if he’s to have success as a pro. Like David Johnson, Ballage has the speed and size to be a dangerous open field weapon.
Ballage is a really exciting runner who still has potential to develop as a big play threat. He also has experience as a kick returner and I like him as a change-of-pace back behind a solid starter like Leonard Fournette. I have him graded as a 3.14, which places him near the end of the fourth round of the draft. I think he can be a kick returner or special teamer as a rookie, and there’s potential for him to grow into a rotational running back as a professional. The biggest question surrounding his game will be if he can keep developing his skillset as a professional. The slow progression of his pass protection worries me, but if an offense finds ways to get him the ball in space, they’ll be satisfied.