The University of Wisconsin boasts a rich history at the running back position, and there are plenty of signs that point to that rich history continuing on into the future. It dates back further than Ron Dayne, but it was in 1996 when The Great Dayne first stepped onto the gridiron at Madison.
Several prolific tailbacks have come and gone since Dayne's historic four-year stint with the Badgers, which culminated in becoming the all-time Division I-FBS rushing leader, having back-to-back Rose Bowl victories and winning a Heisman Trophy.
From Michael Bennett to Anthony Davis to Brian Calhoun to P.J. Hill to John Clay, the list is stacked with players who put up huge numbers during their tenures at Wisconsin.
The most recent to graze the grounds of Camp Randall Stadium was Montee Ball. Not only did Ball shatter several Wisconsin rushing records, but he even set his share of NCAA Division I-FBS records, including career rushing touchdowns and career total touchdowns.
Considering those who preceded him at Wisconsin, what Ball accomplished is mighty impressive, but there is one thing those running backs have in common other than their distinguished careers at Madison—their failure to produce at the NFL level.
It began with Dayne, who was selected with the No. 11 overall pick of the 2000 NFL draft by the New York Giants. Dayne simply never developed into an effective runner, failing to top his rookie rushing total of 770 yards during his eight-year NFL career.
When it was all said and done, Dayne ran for 3,722 yards and 28 touchdowns with a 3.8 yards-per-carry average for the Giants, Denver Broncos and Houston Texans.
His most memorable moment in the NFL came on Thanksgiving Day against the Dallas Cowboys in 2005 when he won the All-Iron Award after rushing for 98 yards and a touchdown.
Suffice it to say, Dayne was a bust considering where he was drafted and how his career panned out. Back in 2000, Dayne chose not to workout at the NFL Scouting Combine, and he also didn't participate in the physical testing at Wisconsin's pro day.
Dayne was 5'11" and weighed in at 259 pounds while being clocked running a 40-yard dash at 4.66 seconds coming out of high school. He was a different type of runner than Ball, combining his bruising power with a surprising amount of speed. Ball is a quicker, shiftier back, although he also possesses a decent amount of strength at 5'11" and 210 pounds.
Unlike Dayne, Ball fully participated in the Combine drills, but he didn't do anything to improve his draft stock and may have even hurt his stock in the end.
An unimpressive 40 time of 4.66 and managing just 15 reps in the bench press were the most glaring black eyes on his performance.
However, Ball bounced back nicely at his pro day, noting that he had a sinus infection and was on medication during his workout in Indianapolis. At Wisconsin's pro day on March 6, Ball ran the 40-yard dash at 4.46 and 4.53 seconds, which was a drastic improvement from his time at the NFL Combine and would put him in the upper echelon of times run by running backs (via Tom Silverstein of JSOnline.com).
Ball benefits from this year's running back class being a relatively weak one—at least that is the perception.
It appears as though Eddie Lacy is the consensus No. 1 tailback, but Ball could easily be the second back off the board even though his selection may not come until the second or third round.
Of course, where a player is drafted and how his NFL career pans out are two completely different animals. Perhaps being drafted in the late second or early third round would take some pressure off of Ball and help him succeed at the next level.
Ball's work ethic is second to none and he clearly knows how to produce.
What may hurt him on draft day is the history of Wisconsin running backs in the NFL and the perception that they have all been a product of the system with the big uglies paving the way for them up front.
It's not as if all Badger running backs haven't had success at the next level. Michael Bennett, who was also selected in the first round and once had a 4.13 40-time, wound up arguably having a better career than Ron Dayne in the NFL, playing 10 years with six different teams.
But it's been the recent struggles Wisconsin tailbacks have had latching onto an NFL team that plays against Ball.
What could separate Ball from this haunted past is his underrated ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, which could help him instantly become at least a third down back in the league. What he lacks in size and strength, he makes up for in balance, vision and straight-up hard work.
The way players are scouted is different in 2013 than how it was done in 2000, and if Ball is able to match his production in the NFL with the way he's been evaluated, he has a great chance to become the greatest running back to play in the NFL out of Wisconsin—and that includes Ron Dayne.