Second Round, 58th Pick
Montee Ball leaves the University of Wisconsin as one of the most prolific running backs in college football history.
Following in the footsteps of a long line of great Badger backs, he put together two incredibly productive seasons as an upperclassmen. That production was nothing short of eye-popping, as he posted a startling 4,131 yards from scrimmage and recorded 61 touchdowns during his last two years in Madison.
Ball received the appropriate accolades for those monster numbers. A consensus All-American in both 2011 and 2012, he would go on to win the Doak Walker Award (given to the nation’s best running back) as a senior.
But was Montee Ball run into the ground by a heavy college workload? Does he have the talent to become a feature back at the next level? I explore these and other questions as I take a closer look at the NCAA’s all-time leader in touchdowns.
|+ One of the most productive players in NCAA history||- Lacks breakaway speed, can be caught from behind|
|+ Good balance, breaks tackles and stays on his feet||- Has some wear on his tires, 983 career touches|
|+ Hits the hole hard with impressive burst||- Stats inflated behind a big, physical offensive line|
|+ Displays some lateral agility, elusiveness in the open field||- Occasionally drops his eyes in traffic, missing opportunities for big runs
Though lacking freakish physical qualities, Ball looks the part of a feature running back. At 5’10”, 214 pounds, he possesses the frame of an NFL running back.
Ball is an underrated athlete who is equipped with good burst and acceleration, but his speed grades out as average. At the NFL Scouting Combine he ran a disappointing 4.66 in the 40-yard dash. While he improved his time by over a tenth of a second at his pro day, reports indicate he was running on a faster surface.
It has been a whirlwind year for Ball.
First, he was arrested for trespassing last spring. Just a few months later, Ball was assaulted by five men and suffered a concussion. Regardless of troubles off of the field, however, he was named a team captain as a senior and was viewed as a leader in the locker room.
Despite struggling a bit with head injuries, he exhibited durability throughout his college career. His long-term health may be a concern for some due to his collegiate workload, but Ball did well to stay on the field and not compromise his running style.
For the last decade-plus, Wisconsin has insisted on playing smashmouth football, running the ball down opponents' throats behind massive offensive lines. In Madison, they run a power run-blocking scheme that is heavy in traditional I-formation and single-back sets.
Even considering the success of recent Badgers running backs, Ball established himself as a star among stars. He finished his career as the NCAA record holder with 77 rushing touchdowns and 83 total TDs from scrimmage.
Ball is a cutback runner who displays impressive vision, especially in space. This season without such a dominant interior line, he was forced to work harder to identify holes.
He shows patience, allowing his blocks to develop before hitting the hole. While Ball does a nice job of following his blockers, he benefited from playing behind one of the nation’s biggest, most physical offensive lines.
That all said, his decision-making is not always very good in traffic as he will occasionally drop his eyes and lose sight of what's opening up downfield.
Despite his production dipping as a senior, NFL teams in general should be satisfied with Ball’s abilities as a receiver.
His hands may grade out as average, but Ball is a good route-runner out of the backfield who can be a threat after the catch due to his vision and elusiveness.
A willing and able pass protector, he flashes three-down capability. Though Ball is occasionally late to react, he possesses the feet to slide and mirror defenders.
Running between the Tackles
Ball excelled running between the tackles at Wisconsin, taking full advantage of the Badgers’ physical interior blockers. Whether in tight quarters or not, he hits the hole hard with a good burst.
He is tough up the middle, a slippery runner who breaks tackles with impressive balance. In the hole he does a nice job of making himself a smaller target and avoiding direct hits.
One of this class’ more effective backs in short-yardage situations, Ball demonstrates good awareness of the first-down marker and a nose for the end zone. Occasionally in traffic, however, he will drop his eyes and lean into contact, missing opportunities for bigger gains.
For a bigger running back, Ball showcases good lateral agility and fairly light feet.
He is an elusive runner who shows the ability to shake defenders in the hole. While Ball is by no means electric, his ability to make would-be tacklers miss is among his most underappreciatedqualities.
Utilizing a strong jump-cut and quick spin move makes him tough player to tackle in the open field.
Generally speaking, Ball is not a particularly bruising runner, but he fights to stay on his feet. I would define his running style as more tough than physical.
Though his raw power grades out as average, he is able to gain yards on contact consistently. He does a nice job of keeping his pad level low, allowing him to pinball off would-be tacklers.
Ball shows willingness to lower his shoulder and finish runs. Likewise, he keeps his feet churning and pushes for extra yardage on contact.
Future Role/Scheme Versatility
With a well-rounded game and NFL skill set, Ball has the look of a feature back. A team may want to pair him with a faster player with more receiving prowess, but he looks capable of carrying the load.
A potential knock on Ball, however, concerns his 983 career touches. The focal point of the Badgers offense, he may have taken too much punishment at the college level; this may be a factor that limits his long-term NFL potential.
Draft Projection: Second or Third Round