Throughout the summer, National Scout Jon Ledyard, Assistant Director Joe Marino and Scouting Director Kyle Crabbs will be conducting summer assessments on 99 notable senior prospects. Of these 99 seniors, the 33 most prominent will be covered by all three analysts.
Of the remaining 66, each of the three analysts has “drafted” 22 of them to scout exclusively.
This serves as the foundation for our 2018 draft assessments.
Scout: Jon Ledyard
Name: Kalen Ballage
Position: Running Back
Date of Birth: N/A
College: Arizona State
High School: Falcon (CO)
Games Played: 34
Games Started: 13
Team Captain: N/A
Production: 293 attempts, 1,315 yards, 21 touchdowns. 62 receptions, 593 yards, 2 touchdowns.
High School: Consensus 4-star prospect. Also received offers from Nebraska, Washington, Michigan, Michigan State, Mississippi State, Oklahoma, Colorado, Utah and others.
College: Matched FBS record with eight total touchdowns against Texas Tech in 2016.
Strengths: Ideal size and speed for a feature back. Patient runner who will wait for his blocks to develop. Has the speed to bounce outside when the inside is bottled up and the force defender is compromised. At his best on counter runs reading the puller’s blocks and taking advantage of what the defense offers. Good all-around athlete with light feet. Odd strength, but has the hops and vertical explosiveness to hurdle defenders on the move, consistently displayed the ability in college. Best as a gap/power scheme runner, but did sift through trash to successfully find backside cuts on outside zone a few times. If he reaches the second level at top speed look out. Build-up speed and the science of 227 pounds moving that fast makes him tough for defensive backs to handle. Natural receiving ability with potential for flex (mismatch) work if he develops as a route runner.
Weaknesses: Not a particularly creative runner and will struggle without a runway. Lack of perfect execution up front can stall his mental processing in the backfield. Lacks elusiveness against more athletic defenders and can struggle to work his way out of a jam in the backfield or in the open field. Has long speed, but doesn’t easily access the quick-trigger burst necessary to explode through small openings. Transitions from first to second level are often methodical. Easily brought down by first contact in the box, which is disappointing for a back of his size and stature. Doesn’t always fall forward or finish runs with momentum and power. While listed at a heavy weight, does not have a particularly broad-shouldered upper body. Mental processing on blitz pickups as a blocker needs work.
Summary: Ballage is an enticing bundle of size, long speed and athleticism, but Arizona State’s offensive line did not do him many favors in 2016. Neither did the coaching staff, as Ballage carried the ball just 126 times, many of them from the wildcat formation against loaded boxes. It was hard to get a great feel for his vision because he often had so little to see, but Ballage isn’t a quick processor behind the line of scrimmage when things do go right, so the Sun Devils’ struggles up front didn’t help. He’s a patient runner who is decisive when the runway is clear, but lacks the elite burst to make really quick transitions from the first to second level.
If the hole is clear and Ballage is able to reach top speed however, look out. His build-up speed is for real, and the force a 225-230 pound back creates moving at that speed is difficult for smaller defensive backs to get a bead on. Ballage goes down too easily for a back his size if he’s corralled anywhere around the box, but once he gets moving the task becomes much harder. He shouldn’t be described as a punishing runner despite his size, as Ballage doesn’t even finish all his interior runs with a strong forward push, something he’ll need to work on in 2017. He was however a monster on counter runs, drawing the defense inside with his patient style while his pullers logged the force defender and allowed Ballage to bounce outside into the clear.
Ballage’s ability as a receiver has mismatch potential if he’s used a little more creatively in the NFL. Arizona State asked him to run the ball, operate from the wildcat, block, catch, return kickoffs and even throw four passes, but finding him favorable match-ups as a flexed option in the passing game wasn’t something I noticed very often. When he does most of his damage, as a back or a receiver, is when he’s able to work into space undeterred, build up momentum and put his natural tools to work. I think he’ll need a strong offensive line to be a high-caliber starting running back in the NFL, but a year with a heavy workload and more traditional carries should help determine if Ballage’s vision, creativity and decision-making have grown enough to be a top 50 selection next spring.
Predicted Value Range: Mid-Late Day 2