Summary: Ball's career at Wisconsin has him as one of the most productive running backs in the history of college football. He was a touchdown machine for the Badgers as churned his way into the end zone at a record pace. The team fielded a powerful offensive line and Ball ran behind them to make history.
While splitting carries with John Clay and James White, Ball came on like gangbusters late in the 2010 season for the Badgers with five straight 100-yard games with a total of 777 yards in those five contests. He was third on the team in rushing with 996 yards, but Ball led the Badgers with 18 touchdowns.
That was nothing compared to what he did in 2011 when Ball was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. He ran for 1,923 yards, averaging 6.3 yards per carry and 33 touchdowns rushing. Ball also caught 24 passes for 306 yards and six scores. His 39 total touchdowns were one of the most prolific season totals in college football history, putting him next to Barry Sanders in the record books.
Heading into his senior season, Wisconsin lost a ton of good talent in the form of center Peter Konz, guard Kevin Zeitler, its offensive line coach, its offensive coordinator, quarterback Russell Wilson and wide receiver Nick Toon. As a result, Ball started out slowly before heating up in conference play. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry on his way to 1,830 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2012.
Ball had huge games against Purdue, Minnesota, Indiana and Nebraska. He had a costly fumble against Ohio State on the goal line in the fourth quarter. Ball also had a fumble late in the fourth quarter to end Wisconsin's hopes of tying Nebraska.
One drawback to all that production is Ball took a lot of hits in college and enters the NFL with a significant amount of wear-and-tear. Ball is a tough runner but doesn't physically run over tacklers. However, he is very smart and decisive. Ball runs with excellent vision, balance and pad level.
The most critical issue with Ball is if he has enough speed to be effective in the NFL. Ball is not a burner, but he hit the hole before it closed in college. A big question is if Ball has enough burst to do that in the NFL. He is not a threat to score on every carry as there are plenty of defensive players who are faster than him. Ball had a very slow Combine 40 time of 4.66 seconds, so the speed concerns are legitimate
Ball would be best at the next level as a rotational back who is part of a stable. He probably won't be three-down starter in the NFL. In the proper role, Ball could be a contributor. He should be a third-day pick in this writer's opinion, but it sounds like he will go as high as the second round.
Player Comparison: BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Ball's size and running style is similar to Green-Ellis. In the NFL, Green-Ellis has had some solid play for the Patriots and Bengals. Green-Ellis (5-11, 215) is a well-rounded back but lacks an elite physical skill set. Ball is the same way. While Green-Ellis went undrafted in 2008, Ball definitely will be drafted. HE could turn into an NFL running back who is comparable to Green-Ellis.
NFL Matches: Cincinnati, New York Jets, San Diego, Pittsburgh, Green Bay
There are a few landing spots for Ball. The Bengals are in need of a running back to take the pressure off of Andy Dalton and could consider Ball to pair with Green-Ellis. The former Badger would be a good fit in Jay Gruden's offense.
The Jets have to land a new starting running back in the 2013 NFL Draft. Ball's durability could appeal to New York as the team tries to reestablish its ground game.
San Diego needs a running back to pair with Ryan Mathews as he has dealt with a lot of injuries. A durable running back like Ball would be helpful if Mathews is injured again.
The Steelers need a running back to replace Rashard Mendenhall and have shown interest in Ball. They could select him with one of their second-day selections.
Green Bay is in need of a running back to help take the pressure off of Aaron Rodgers. Ball would have an appeal to the fan base as well.