[#FilmWithFive] Prospect Preview: RB Kalen Ballage

When you’re discussing running back’s in today’s NFL, Le’Veon Bell and David Johnson are the gold standard. Todd Gurley, as well, has been reborn in a post-Jeff Fisher world and should be talked about at the top once more along with those aforementioned names.

These are true, three-down workhorses with ideal body type’s (six feet or taller, weighing more than 220 pounds) and more importantly, the ability to hurt you not only on the ground, but in the passing game.

Now, admittedly, I’m not the best with player comparisons and as such, I try to avoid them. They’re extremely subjective, and many tend to get hung-up on stylistic comparisons vs. predictive and production-related ones. It can get real messy.

Additionally, player comparisons (more often than not) are simply unfair to both the player getting compared and who they’re getting compared to. I understand the “need” for them, and they tend to add some context when approached correctly, but saying that a safety is the next Ed Reed or Sean Taylor, or a wide receiver is the next Jerry Rice or Randy Moss, is just a little overwhelming. I’m absolutely guilty of doing this myself; you’ll see some Saquon Barkley/LaDainian Tomlinson (and Derwin James/Sean Taylor) tweets floating around the timeline most assuredly.

So, with all that said, we can now introduce and talk about our new friend Kalen Ballage, and further discuss why comparisons are tough.

If you haven’t seen them already, be prepared for the Ballage/Johnson or Ballage/Bell-talk:

This comes from Mr. Ballage himself, so I’m not sure it really counts:

As much as I still enjoy the prospect of Kalen Ballage at the next level, those aren’t the comparisons that I would run with. It is easy to see why those players are being mentioned when looking at Ballage; physically, and stylistically to an extent, it makes sense.

If I were to create-a-running back, I’d build him like Kalen Ballage (or Le’Veon Bell, or David Johnson):

Kalen Ballage: 6021, 222, 4.49*

Le’Veon Bell: 6013, 230, 4.60

David Johnson: 6005, 224, 4.50

(*pre-Combine projected forty time)

Combine Update: Ballage turned in an official 4.46 forty.

We’ll expand on it shortly here, but as we alluded to above, the hands definitely standout. They’re all bigger backs. They’re all athletic. Again, I get it.

Then you get to the production during their respective collegiate careers and that’s where the comparisons become laughable. That’s when you have people you don’t follow in your mentions yelling at you.

One of these things is not like the other:

Kalen Ballage “popped” in 2016, and set the stage for what many of us figured was going to be an equally-exciting, if not better, 2017.

Needless to say, we didn’t get that player, but we’re still here.

Game’s watched: vs. California, Los Angeles (2017), vs. Colorado (2017), vs. North Carolina State (2017), vs. Oregon (2016), vs. Utah (2016), vs. Washington State (2016)

Hands

Despite the underwhelming production during his time in Tempe, there are a few aspects of Ballage’s game that we’re allowed to get excited about.

His hands, for starters, are top-shelf.

This was obvious prior to the Senior Bowl. Post-Mobile, there was plenty of buzz about the prospect of Kalen Ballage moving to wide receiver full-time at the next level. Ballage’s hands might be some of the best – if not the best – in class, regardless of position.

Natural hands-catcher:

Athletic grab, because that’s what athlete’s do:

Now the mittens, with the YAC. That’s a combination that’ll work on Sunday’s:

More of the same:

More quintessential Kalen. Effortless grab, followed by some work in the open field. This is what he can bring to the table. His size/speed, coupled with the hands, in the right offense, is going to be an issue (on paper it scares me, anyway).

Patience

What Kalen Ballage lacks for in vision (or, at the very least, certainly more sporadic in that department than we’d like), he more than makes up for with his patience at times; I imagine this is where many keep coming back around to the Le’Veon Bell comparisons, as well.

Feet standing out here:

This is one of the better runs from Ballage that I watched. We “knock him” for his inconsistent vision, but here’s a run where it’s definitely on display, along with the patient running style. On 1st and 10, he picks his way through the hole, remaining light on his feet. Couple quick plants, and he’s breaking off chunk-yardage.

Putting it all together…

If you’re like me, you follow players like Kalen Ballage, and continue to hold out hope due to their obvious athleticism. Being an “athletic snob”, I guess, takes a certain level of stubbornness and at times, pure ignorance.

There are holes in Ballage’s game. I’ll share my concerns below momentarily. They’re obvious. But at the end of the day, there aren’t many players that are built like Ballage and able to move and flash like he does for a back his size.

The problem is, those flashes are just flashes. He has failed to live up to any sort of potential to this point. My hope is that some creative-minded team gets a hold of him in the league, and he’s able to take off from there.

Quick, decisive feet through traffic:

This was Arizona State’s “Sparky” formation. I don’t want him taking snaps on my team, but what I like about this red zone play is the patient feet in traffic, little cut back inside, and then a little power at the end to punch it in.

More of the athletics on display. Balance, falling forward; something out of nothing.

These are the types of runs you want to see more of from Ballage, and they’re just not there as often as you’d like. Strong plant-and-go, good (slight) change of direction. He’s more than capable:

This is what many (myself included) clowned Leonard Fournette fans for last year. It’s a straight run, right? Who cares. The run blocking was obviously therel. Still, enamored by the burst. It’s why everyone fell in love with last year’s fourth overall selection after all, right?

Areas to improve, and final thoughts/projections:

We’ve talked about the production, or lack thereof. There’s not much else to add, other than it’s sad and it doesn’t make sense.

We’ve talked about the feet, and how they also come and go. Agility doesn’t pop consistently enough.

He displays good power at times, or at least is as strong as you’d think a 220-plus pound athlete would be, but it’s not always the case.

We noted the vision above, as well. It’s cloudy. We saw what he can do when he gets the lane out in front of him.

With all that said, I’m still a fan. I remain intrigued.

What I’m not doing is suggesting that team’s burn a Day 1 or even a Day 2 selection on him. I’d throw my hand’s up as early as the fourth round if I had confidence in my offensive staff to really work with him, and capitalize on his full potential.

Catch me on Twitter: @StillRyanFive

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1 thought on “[#FilmWithFive] Prospect Preview: RB Kalen Ballage

  1. Have we decided that Elijah Hood has no future with the Raiders if Lynch is let go, or in a year when Lynch is gone? How does he compare to some of the mid to late round backs in this draft?

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