Last year, Wisconsin running back Montee Ball finished fourth in Heisman balloting. Instead of declaring for the 2012 NFL Draft, Ball came back for one more year.
Did he make the right decision?
Ball is the NCAA's career touchdown leader (82)—he set the record against Penn State on November 24 of this year. Ball also overcame a head injury as a result of an off-campus assault by five men.
So far, Ball has pretty much duplicated his previous season's success. In 2011 he rushed for 1,923 yards and 33 touchdowns and this season he has rushed for 1,730 yards and 21 touchdowns. Ball, for all intents and purposes, has proven he's a durable and dependable back.
Ball had seven games of over 125 rushing yards this season and four games of 190-plus rushing yards. Last season he had eight 125-plus rushing yard games and two games of 190-plus rushing yards. He's consistent with big game production numbers.
Last December, Ball was projected to go in the late-first round of the 2012 NFL Draft. This year? CBSSports has Ball going in the second or third round, behind North Carolina's Giovani Bernard, Alabama's Eddie Lacey and Clemson's Andre Ellington.
It's not that Ball is a second or third-round prospect in as much as 2013 has a great defensive player class that has pushed Ball's status down.
Of CBSSports' first 25 projected draft selections, 16 are defensive players. Last year, there were 14 defensive players taken but six of the first 10 selections were offensive players. Clearly, the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft will be heavy on defensive players.
Is Ball really a fourth-best pick of all running back prospects?
Actually, I would have him first, above Bernard, Lacey and Ellington, albeit just slightly ahead of Lacey.
Lacey is a one-year starter and only had two games with over 150 rushing yards (Missouri, Georgia). There's no question he has talent, but one more year of starting experience wouldn't hurt his draft status—the problem is T.J. Yeldon may cut into his starts. Lacey's build is perfect for the NFL, but I'm not sure if his blocking skills are on par with his great lower body strength.
Bernard had a stupendous October rushing for 262, 177, 143 and 135 yards, but he missed two games and has been fairly inconsistent all year. Bernard (5-10, 205) also doesn't have nearly the size of Lacey (6-1, 220) or Ball (5-11, 212).
Clemson's Andre Ellington is a two-year starter and has posted solid back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons, but this year he had just three games of over 100 rushing yards. His size (5-9, 190) is also something to consider.
In the end, it's going to be between Ball and Lacey for the first running back selected in the 2013 NFL Draft.
If the team is looking for explosive speed from an under-20-carries-per-game back, then Lacey will go first. If the team needs a 25-to-35-carries-per-game back, Ball fits the bill.
In any case, Ball should be gone by the third round and will continue to tear up the field at the next level.