So You Drafted a Badger? Montee Ball Edition

Harry How

The series concludes with a breakdown of the decorated and underrated running back.

Montee Ball is the 8th-ranked running back, according to SB Nation.

That surprised me reading that. I mean, I can grant the premise that an Eddie Lacy is likely to be drafted higher. Gio Bernard is a pretty sharp runner as well. Jonathan Franklin has the speed that will have him in the conversation when running backs start to get picked. But eighth? You know, if it was my lot to be appalled by superficial stuff that doesn't happen while I'm driving? I'd be annoyed.

But I'm not. I'm just... surprised.

Then again, it's been Ball's lot to be surprising. He came into Madison as a moderately regarded recruit and left it as the NCAA's career touchdown leader. Along the way he almost rushed for 1,000 yards as a sophomore despite only having eight carries for the entire month of October. (He was healthy). He lost 25 pounds and usurped Russell Wilson as the Heisman candidate of choice in Madison as a junior with a season that knocked Barry Sanders from the record books. Then he came back as a senior.

By all logic, he was going to have a down year. But you know what Ball's definition of a down year was? 1,830 yards rushing and 22 touchdowns. Only 22 touchdowns.

The hypothetical person may respond, "He left college with 983 plays from scrimmage to his credit. Isn't that going to lead to a shorter professional career?" And I would agree. That's a concern. But collegiate plays from scrimmage isn't a barrier to professional success. For every Ron Dayne, there's a Ricky Williams. For every Travis Prentice, there's a LaDainian Tomlinson.

And Ball has shown himself to be resilient as a college runner. When he took on the starting role, he never missed a start. He did get dinged up a couple of times along the way (Michigan State in 2011, UTEP last season), but when he was needed to get up and play? He played through the pain.

We all know that athleticism was and is going to be a question going up to the next level, and after the 4.66 40-time Ball put up at the combine, there was a real question of how far Ball could fall. He mitigated that loss with a time that hovered just below 4.50 depending on whom you asked at the pro day. In fairness, Devin Smith clocked a 4.49 and his major weakness has always been long speed on the field. But you know where Montee is at his best?

That whole vision thing.

If you're a team that has a zone blocking scheme, Ball is perfect for you. He has strong instincts on where to make the cut and go upfield. He will attack the hole at top speed, and he will get to top speed quickly. It's not a Jonathan Franklin top speed, but the speed he was timed with? It definitely translates to the field.

He also knows how to get beyond the first hit and this is an aspect that should translate to the NFL, as well. He's also a solid pass blocker, and while he wasn't tested on a regular basis? He flashed good hands when called upon.

I'll admit, I do have a fondness for Montee Ball. I've thrown out a Matt Forte comparison on more than one occasion. I've also heard comparisons to front men of running back-by-committees (Stevan Ridley) to Hall of Famers (Curtis Martin), as well.

But here's why you're likely to get something good from Ball as a second-round pick. His comparative floor? The two names I heard were Chester Taylor and Ben Tate. Taylor had a decade-long career, and the one time he had regular carries, he put up a thousand-yard season. When healthy, Tate almost got to 1,000 yards as a backup to the best running back in the NFL.

If a more durable version of Ben Tate is the worst case if Ball stays healthy? You've got yourself good value. No matter what any draft expert says.

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