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Montee Ball Is Making the Right Choice by Returning to Wisconsin in 2012

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Montee Ball Is Making the Right Choice by Returning to Wisconsin in 2012
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3,310 career rushing yards

55 touchdowns (B1G record)

Tied Barry Sanders Single Season Touchdown Record (39)

Leading rusher in NCAA for 2011 (1,923 yards)

2011 B1G Offensive Player of the Year

2011 All B1G First Team Selection

Fourth place in 2011 Heisman voting

Consecutive B1G Conference Championships

 

One hell of a resume, no?

Without question, Wisconsin running back Montee Ball has had one of the most incredible careers in NCAA history—a career that most players would kill to have.

But with his decision today to return to Madison for his senior season, Ball has told the world that he's not yet finished with his assault on the Big Ten record books. To many (ahem, @RossTuckerNFL), this may appear to be a bad decision, but to those people I say look deeper, and you'll see why this is the right move.

In an age where college football players use their schools more as a stepping stones to the NFL than for an actual education, it is refreshing to see star players stay for four (or five) years and actually earn their degree.

But, we all know that isn't the only reason Ball is staying.

After crushing back-to-back Rose Bowl losses, the Wisconsin Badgers are losing a significant number of offensive and defensive starters—so why would Ball want to return to a team that, by all accounts, will be worse than the 2011 edition?

There are a couple different answers to that question.

The most obvious answer is that Ball didn't get the news he wanted when he filed papers to the NFL Draft advisory board. Ball told Sporting News that he expected to be a "late first or maybe early second" round pick in the 2012 draft, and if that was the case he would be leaving Madison.

Most likely, the advisory board told Ball he would be a third-round pick—news that would not make leaving Wisconsin worthwhile to the Wentzville, Mo. native.

It is also obvious that Wisconsin's heartbreaking, last-second loss to Oregon in the Rose Bowl last weekend has left a bad taste in Ball's mouth, and has left him wanting more. Immediately after the loss, Ball tweeted to NFL legend Barry Sanders "Oregon is a great team...we will get it next year."

Clearly, he wants to finish his college career the Vince Young way—with a thrilling Rose Bowl victory.

Many will make the argument that Ball is turning down millions of dollars to stay for his senior season, but if he can raise his stock to the late first-round level that he feels he should be at for the 2013 draft, then Ball will be making a very sound investment in himself.

Is Montee Ball Making the Right Decision by Staying for his Senior Season?

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Just look at the numbers from the 2011 draft: DeMarco Murray, the first RB taken in the third round, signed a four year/ $2.97 million contract (via Sportrac). Ryan Williams, the first rusher selected in the second round, also inked a four year deal, but his was worth a cool $5 million (via Sportrac).

Lastly, Mark Ingram, taken late in the first round, signed the same four year deal as the other two RBs, but his was worth just under $7.5 million—two and a half times as much money as Murray's contract is worth (via Sportrac).

Barring injury (I'll get to that later), Ball should be one of the top running backs available in the 2013 draft, which should all but secure his late first/early second round status—and net him somewhere between $3 to 5 million dollars more than if he bolts to the draft this year.

I mentioned it before, and yes, injuries are always a concern when returning for your senior season. For every Beanie Wells or Chris Johnson, who played their senior seasons without issue, there is a horror story like that of Michael Bush.

Bush, who played his college ball at Louisville, would have been a high first-round pick had he declared for the draft after his junior season, but he decided to stay for his senior year. After shattering his tibia in the first game of the season—an injury that caused him to miss the rest of the year—Bush fell all the way to the fourth round of the 2007 draft and cost himself countless amounts of money.

Injuries are always a possibility for every player, but Ball has no history of glass bones or weak knees. He has never missed a collegiate game due to injury. Sure, some 350 lb. defensive tackle could land on his knee and bend it in directions previously unknown to man, but Ball seems willing to take the risk.

So what separates Ball from someone like USC QB Matt Barkley, who received widespread praise for returning for his senior season (via LA Times)?

Well, running backs don't have a long shelf life in the NFL, and its getting shorter and shorter as the league continues to evolve offensively. Quarterbacks, especially a pocket passer like Barkley, play a much less physical game than running backs who get hit every time they touch the ball.

So can Ball really afford to spend one more year in the college ranks, or in another sense, take one more year away from his NFL career?

In short—definitely.

After sharing the backfield with the likes of John Clay and P.J. Hill, Ball didn't become the full time No. 1 starter until his junior season. Because of this, his body has not taken the consistent beating of someone like Oregon's LaMichael James.

Ball has only carried the ball 568 times in his college career, while James (who is also a junior), has carried the ball 771 times.

Even San Diego State super-sophomore Ronnie Hillman has carried the rock more times (573), than Ball in his short career, yet nobody is complaining about Hillman coming back for his redshirt junior season. Ball has the size (5'11", 210 lbs), and strength to take another year of beatings from (admittedly weak) B1G defenses.

People can criticize and complain all they want about Ball's decision, but in the end it's just that—Ball's decision. It doesn't matter what we think or say about it, if this is what he wants to do with his career, who are we to say otherwise.

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