Wisconsin Football: How Montee Ball's Late Surge Saved His NFL Draft Status

Paul TierneyCorrespondent INovember 10, 2012

Wisconsin running back Montee Ball.
Wisconsin running back Montee Ball.Eric Francis/Getty Images

Wisconsin running back Montee Ball has been one of the nation's premier tailbacks for the better part of two seasons. He possesses a rare combination of size, speed, power and elusiveness that enables him to be one of the only three-down running backs coming out of the college ranks in 2013.

Although Ball's slow start this season had him dropping on some draft boards, his recent production has kept him in the first-round discussion heading into next April's draft.

In some of Wisconsin's biggest games this season, Montee Ball has come up short. In the Badgers' early-season loss to Oregon State, Ball rushed for 61 yards and no touchdowns. In Wisconsin's second loss of the season to Nebraska, Ball only gained 93 yards on 33 carries. At times this season, he has shown an inability to instinctively find the hole and gain positive yards. 

However, Ball's 198-yard, three-touchdown performance against Indiana this week has erased all doubt about Ball's draft stock. Ball showcased his speed and power and averaged 7.3 yards per carry. Indiana had no answer for him, and Ball took advantage of his offensive line's handling of Indiana's front seven.

Furthermore, Ball does not have much proven competition at his position. With Marcus Lattimore suffering a devastating knee injury, Ball will be far and away the most complete running back heading to the pros in 2013. Check out FFToolBox's scouting report on Ball.

Montee Ball continues the tradition of NFL-caliber running backs to come from the University of Wisconsin. The junior was a Doak Walker Award finalist. Although he isn't a dynamic athlete, Ball possesses a well-developed array of talent. Ball is the type of runner who can make the first man miss or run him over. Shows a great churn in his legs to drive through arm tackles and does well to fall forward for extra yardage. Wisconsin heavily relies on him to make plays and break off runs. He does not possess elite speed (4.55 40-yard dash).

Ball has benefited from stellar offensive line play throughout his entire career. It remains to be seen whether he is a product of Wisconsin's system and personnel, or if he is the real deal. However, Ball has produced almost five yards per carry this season and has already rushed for over 1,000 yards.

That kind of production does not come from just from a system or offensive line play; it takes a complete running back to put up those numbers.

The NFL is transforming from a run-oriented league into one of high-octane, pass-heavy offenses. In fact, the New York Giants won the Super Bowl last season with the league's worst statistical rushing attack. Team's no longer place a premium on running backs, and some organizations will be hesitant to spend a first-round pick on a player who has benefited from his college system.

There are no guarantees Ball will creep into the first round in April.

However, Ball was projected as a late second-round pick in last season's draft. After coming up short in a few games this season, there was potential for his draft stock to fall even further. His recent performances have ensured that, barring injury, Ball's decision to return for his senior season will be beneficial to his draft stock.