Summary: The 2018 NFL Draft is strong at the running back position, and Ballage is one of the potential good values who could be had lower than where he would go in an average draft class. Ballage flashed special talent at Arizona State, but never put together a big season for the Sun Devils, making him a more complex evaluation for NFL scouts.
As a junior in 2016, Ballage had 536 yards with 14 touchdowns on the ground. Half of his rushing touchdowns came in one game against Texas Tech. He also made 44 catches for 469 yards and a touchdown that season. In 2017, the senior averaged 4.3 yards per carry for 657 yards and six touchdowns. He had 20 receptions for 91 yards as well. Ballage earned an invitation to the Senior Bowl and really helped himself in Mobile with an excellent week of practice. Ballage showed a real burst to rip off yards in chunks, was dangerous as a receiver, and flashed blocking potential. Ballage's Senior Bowl performance reminded this writer of how David Johnson looked in Mobile in 2015.
There is a lot to like about Ballage for the NFL. To go along with size, he is surprisingly fast, possessing a real burst with first-step quickness to hit the hole before it closes. Ballage has easy acceleration to the second level with another gear in the open field to break off long runs. He is a smooth runner who can glide through defenses and weave his way to extra yardage.
Even though Ballage is a big back, he is more elusive in the open field than a power runner who runs through tackles. Ballage is shifty and can make defenders miss in the open field. He has surprising moves and is not a typical big back who can't beat defenders with cutting ability. Ballage uses those moves to dodge tacklers rather than run through them. Even though he has big size, Ballage is not a physical runner who runs over defenders regularly. At the Senior Bowl, he ran with more violence and aggression, but that was not the norm for him in college.
As a receiving back for the NFL, Ballage is very impressive. He has soft hands to make receptions and runs good routes. Ballage finds open space for his quarterback and uses his instant acceleration to take check downs for good gains. On top being a skilled receiver, Ballage flashes better blocking and pass protection than you see out of a lot of college backs these days. Ballage's ability contribute in the passing game is very advanced.
Ballage is hurt by having produced inconsistently in college despite a skill set capable of putting up some massive seasons. Because of his height, Ballage can be an upright runner, which leads to defenders landing some hard hits on him. A few team sources said that Ballage has questionable makeup and some think he plays a bit soft.
In the 2018 NFL Draft, Ballage stands a good shot of being a second-day pick. He might sneak into Round 2 if he works out and interviews well. Ballage probably won't last long if he makes it to the fourth round. The third round could end up being the happy medium where Ballage hears his name called.
Player Comparison: DeMarco Murray. I reached out to team sources, and they said Murray was a good comparison for Ballage. The two have a similar running style with a surprising skill set of quickness in a bigger back with receiving ability. Murray was a third-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, and Ballage could also be a third-rounder. If Ballage pans out, he could be a back similar to Murray.
NFL Matches: Cleveland, Tampa Bay, New York Giants, New York Jets, Oakland, Detroit, San Francisco and Indianapolis
There are a lot of teams that could consider taking Ballage on the second day or in the mid-rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft. The Browns could move on from Isaiah Crowell and could use another back in their offense. Ballage could make sense for one of their second-day picks.
The Bucs moved on from Doug Martin and need a feature back for their offense. Ballage could fit as a three-down option in Dirk Koetter's system.
In the Big Apple, the Giants could use a feature back for their offense, and Ballage would give them a three-down weapon they haven't had. The Jets also will have to replace Matt Forte before long, and Ballage's receiving ability would make him a good replacement for Forte. Ballage could be a nice complement to Bilal Powell.
Oakland badly needs more consistency from its rushing offense. Predictably, Marshawn Lynch was a disappointment after coming out of retirement. The Raiders need a true feature back to go with Derek Carr. Ballage's receiving ability would be a great fit for Jon Gruden.
Similarly, the Colts could use a running back of the future to pair with Andrew Luck and bring a more steady rushing attack to their offense. Ballage would be a good fit for Indianapolis.
For years now, the Lions have had one-dimensional offense with one of the worst rushing attacks in the league. Detroit needs a true No. 1 back to bring some balance to its offense. Ballage would a good fit for that organization.
San Francisco could use a receiving back for Kyle Shanahan's offense. That is the kind of back Shanahan likes and prefers. Ballage would be a nice fit for the 49ers.