Scouting Profile: Running Back Kalen Ballage

by Mike Tagliere | @MikeTagliereNFL | Featured Writer
Mar 23, 2018

Arizona State’s Kalen Ballage has a rare combination of size and speed

Kalen Ballage, Arizona State

Height: 6’1″
Weight: 228 pounds
40-yard dash: 4.46 seconds
Vertical: 33.5 inches
Broad Jump: 10’2″

One of the more intriguing late-round running backs who’ll come off the board, Ballage is a rare combination of size/speed. Running a sub-4.5-second 40-yard dash at 228 pounds is quite impressive and not far off Saquon Barkley (Ballage is an inch and a half taller). Despite being as big as Ballage is, he’s excellent in the passing game and can stay on the field for all three downs.

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It’s not all sunshine for Ballage, though, as he was only able to eclipse the 100-yard rushing mark in one of his 13 games in 2017. Part of that may be because he had just one game where he reached the 20-carry mark. Despite his big frame, he also finished with just six touchdowns, which could be worrisome. His 437 receiving yards were among the better totals for running backs in college football, though.

Vision/Patience: 2.0 out of 5 stars
While watching Ballage, you immediately get frustrated at how much he shuffles his feet behind the line of scrimmage. It’s like he’s having a battle over what his identity is/should be. On almost every single carry, you see him hesitating, waiting for a massive hole to open. Once there is a hole, Ballage will hit it, though it simply takes too long. He often waits for too big of a hole to develop, as he fails to get skinny through the offensive line. His tap-dancing is also the reason he finished the season with just six rushing scores. As is the case with most running backs, if Ballage falls onto a team with a straight up monster offensive line, it’ll help him appear a lot better. But if he plays behind a mediocre-to-below-average offensive line, he’s going to get swallowed in the backfield.

Elusiveness (twitch, juke, tackle breaking): 2.0 out of 5 stars
He’s not a tackle-breaking machine despite his massive frame, but rather someone who relies on making people miss. He’s got some lateral ability, but not enough to make many NFL defensive backs miss. He needs to become more of a downhill runner, but he’s always searching for that massive hole. It’s rare you’ll see him run over a defender and he’s not a high-twitch running back. What does this mean? Well, it unfortunately means that he’ll likely gets what’s blocked, but not much more.

Speed: 4.0 out of 5 stars
As mentioned above, Ballage is a rare combination of size and speed, though he doesn’t have as much acceleration out of the hole as some others. Not that he doesn’t have the ability, but his dancing behind the line of scrimmage doesn’t showcase it. If I were to draft Ballage, I’d sit him down and have him watch Leonard Fournette. That’s his comp when it comes to the size/speed combo, but Fournette gets downhill in a hurry. Once Ballage gets his feet moving downhill, the speed is apparent. While he may not be a tackle-breaking machine, once he gets moving, who wants to step in front of a 228-pound freight train? His speed is not an issue.

Pass-catching/Pass-protection: 5.0 out of 5 stars
When giving him five stars in this category, it’s not to say that he’s the best pass-catching running back in this draft, but it’s more because of how big he is. It’s rare to find a running back his size who is as versatile he is catching passes and running routes. He’s able to run routes out of the slot, out wide, and out of the backfield. Knowing he’s got 4.46 speed, he could become a real mismatch for a linebacker. His massive frame also allows him to be a really good pass-blocker, as he’s not afraid to get in front of a blitzing linebacker. The way he moves in the passing game reminds me of David Johnson coming out of college.

Balance: 3.0 out of 5 stars
There’s nothing extremely special out of Ballage when it comes to his balance, as you won’t see him stick his foot in the ground and get upfield in a split-second. With that being said, he’s a solid athlete who moves well throughout his cuts for his size. It’s the reason he’s able to make players miss in the open-field. In the end, he’s got solid balance for a player of his size, maybe slightly above-average because of his athleticism.

Potential Landing Spot
The ideal landing spot for Ballage is with a team who uses their running backs in the passing game, though he wouldn’t be the primary back in the offense. He’d be mixed-in at times on early downs, but would be a mismatch running routes. Knowing he won’t/shouldn’t start right away, a potential landing spot would be the Cowboys, who just lost Alfred Morris this offseason. The offensive line would allow Ballage room to operate on early-down work, while giving Ezekiel Elliott relief when he needs it.

NFL Comparison
I’d like to create two separate comparisons in this area, as Ballage is extremely Jekyll and Hyde throughout his game. As a ball-carrier, he reminds me of Jamaal Williams, who shows a bit too much hesitation behind the line of scrimmage but is a bigger body who moves well for his size. As a receiver, he reminds me of David Johnson. The reason he’ll have a tough time becoming anything close to Johnson is because of the versatility that Johnson possesses. He can stay on the field at all times, presenting a quandary for defensive coordinators, whereas Ballage doesn’t present a risk on first- and second-down. When Ballage is on the field, opposing teams will have a good idea of what the offense is trying to do. If he can learn to get downhill, Ballage could be a factor down the road because of how good he is in the passing game.

Don’t miss the other Scouting Profiles on top prospects below:
Saquon Barkley (RB – Penn State)
Derrius Guice (RB – LSU)
Ronald Jones (RB – USC)
Sony Michel (RB – Georgia)
Nick Chubb (RB – Georgia)
Royce Freeman (RB – Oregon)
Rashaad Penny (RB – San Diego State)
Kerryon Johnson (RB – Auburn)
John Kelly (RB – Tennessee)

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Mike Tagliere is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeTagliereNFL.

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