The 2018 NFL Draft Prospect series breaks down draft-eligible players, highlighting their college production as well as their NFL potential. Daily fantasy players should know about NFL rookies before they’ve played a down of professional football because they are among the most misvalued assets in all of DFS. People who know NFL rookies have a significant DFS edge. The draft will be held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX, from April 26-28.
This piece is on Arizona State running back Kalen Ballage.
For more on all the other backs in the class, see our 2018 NFL draft running back rankings.
Updated as of Mar. 4.
Senior | 6’1″ and 228 Pounds | Born December 22, 1995 (Age: 22) | Projection: Rounds 3-4
Combine numbers: 40-yard: 4.46 sec | bench reps: 15 | 3-cone: 6.91 sec | 20-yard shuttle: 4.35 sec | vertical: 33.5 in | broad: 122 in
Long on potential and short on production, Ballage was hyped as a future NFL three-down back after his 2016 campaign, but as of now he’s a mid-rounder with sky-high upside. What does it matter if Ballage underachieved for four years, never in any given season led the Sun Devils in rushing, and was severely outproduced by Demario Richard, a non-athlete who is getting no hype? When have NFL coaching staffs ever failed to turn raw athletes into polished playmakers?
Built like a linebacker and blessed with good speed, Ballage was a backup runner and part-time edge rusher as a true freshman and committee back as a sophomore. In 2016 as a junior Ballage impressed in waves: Although he managed only 536 yards rushing in a timeshare with the overlooked Richard, he exhibited a David Johnson-esque combination of power running (14 scores) and consistent receiving (44 receptions for 469 yards). In total, Ballage accumulated 1,005 yards and 15 touchdowns and looked like a future star — and yet he had eight of his touchdowns in one game against a defense-deficient Texas Tech team. Without that game, Ballage’s breakout season wouldn’t have been a breakout at all.
In 2017, Ballage regressed. As a junior he had 74.6 yards and 0.64 touchdowns from scrimmage per game (discounting his outlier Texas Tech performance). As a senior, he had just 58.5 and 0.46. Most disturbingly, he dropped from 38.3 non-Tech receiving yards per game to just 7.0. In total he had 760 yards and six touchdowns on 157 carries and 20 receptions as he once again split the backfield workload. Averaging just 4.4 yards per carry for his career, Ballage was perhaps one of the most disappointing college players of 2017. That he was invited to the Senior Bowl despite his general lack of production speaks to his raw talent, and it’s not as if Ballage has no chance of finding success in the NFL. Given his size and athleticism, he could find an immediate role as an early-round change-of-pace power back with eventual three-down potential. Basically, he’s a combination of Christine Michael and Karlos Williams.