Rookie Spotlight: Kalen Ballage, Arizona State University
Height: 6’ 1 2/5” (official)
Weight: 228 lbs (official)
Hands: 9 1/2”
Arm: 32 3/4”
40 yard dash: 4.46 (combine) 4.35 (pro day)
NFL Comparison: Rod Smith, David Johnson
– extremely athletic and powerful
– can be used all over the field
– good acceleration
– clean hands
– returns kicks
– quick feet
– member of 2018 RW All-Senior Bowl Roster
– lacks good vision
– not very elusive
– north/south runner that can have angles erased trying to bump outside
Scouting Notes: It’s been a tale of two workouts for Ballage who turned few heads at the Combine with a 4.46 forty and 32.5’’ vertical, only to run around 4.35 and reach a 37” vertical at his pro day. This was in addition to looking sharper in his drills and catching the ball very well. But inconsistency has always been the biggest knock against the athletically gifted Ballage who will break open a game, only to disappear the next.
Ballage is the definition of a utility back. You can line him up behind the QB or out in the flat as a receiver. You can send him out to return kicks too, and he’ll often have success in each aspect. With solid hands and a quick step to the edge, Ballage is a big play waiting to happen. He’s also got thick thighs that churn through defenders, picking up extra yards in most cases. That being said, he’s a little stiff in the hips, which makes him less elusive than you would think.
If Ballage had better on-field vision, he’d be a star in the making. As is, he’s indecisive at times and fails to take advantage of open lanes too often. Maybe this can be mitigated by his athleticism and impressive burst, but it limits his potential as a three down back. He does have a good frame for blocking, which could benefit him in staying on the field on third downs, but he could improve his technique there too.
Fantasy Outlook: Teams are going to be lured in by his prototypical size and athleticism, as he’s fast for his size. He’s a pass-catching back who can return kicks too, so that just ups his perceived value. Most scouts have him going on day three, but an early run in RBs could bump him up. He’s said to be a strong character guy too, so that only helps.
Ballage is a bit a of a question mark fantasy wise. I see similarities to big, fast pass catchers like David Johnson, but I could see him being more of a high upside backup like Rod Smith too. He’s worth a stash in dynasty based on his homerun potential and wide skill set.
Quotable from the Combine:
Q: Strengths and weakness compared to other backs at the combine?
A: I’m right up there with everybody else, in my opinion. Maybe even better.
Q: What’s your biggest strength?
A: I’m a versatile back, but I’m not a small guy. I’m 6-2, 228 pounds. I feel like I can get down with the best of them, running-wise.
Q: Grew up in Colorado, what would it be like to go to the Broncos?
A: It would be amazing. Really, though, I’m just excited about the opportunity to play in the league. That’s where I’m at right now. It doesn’t matter if it’s Buffalo or Cleveland or the Broncos or Tampa Bay. Wherever it is, I’m going to take the opportunity and run with it.
Q: Versatility so important these days. How would you feel about your versatility, especially if you had to head to the NFC South?
A: The running backs that compete in that conference, they’re tough guys. They’re dogs. I feel like I have that same mentality. To be able to be in a conferencelike that, I think it would be good for me to showcase my skill-set.
Q: Nice to see increase in Arizona State participation at combine?
A: Absolutely. I feel like there was a lot of talent on our team. Unfortunately we didn’t win a lot of games the last couple of years. Maybe some people were overlooked. Hopefully with the combine process this year, they’ll see that there is a lot of talent coming out of that establishment.
Q: Good to have role models that played at high level?
A: Yeah. My uncle Pat played at Notre Dame and started all four years at strong safety. My other uncle played in the AFL back when the NFL and the AFL were split. It was a good thing for me growing up, seeing them older than me and already doing what I wanted to do. I felt that from a young age.
Q: What were their names?
A: Norman Barnett, Patrick Ballage, and Howard Ballage.
Q: Did you grow up in Falcon (Colorado)?
A: Yeah. That’s where I went to high school and middle school.
Q: Could you describe the town?
A: Small. Small. (laughter). Small.
Q: Born in Pueblo?
A: No. My dad and uncles went to school in Pueblo. I was born in Denver and I moved to Colorado Springs when I was 8 or 9.
Q: What did you get out of the Senior Bowl?
A: I think a lot. Just continuing to try to put my name on the map. I think that a lot of scouts had seen my film but maybe not seen me play in person. I think that was good for me, to play in front of a lot of NFL scouts and really let them visualize what I’m able to do.
Q: Ability as a pass-catcher?
A: That’s something I’ve been doing since I was a little kid playing in the backyard. I feel like I’ve always been good at that. Just showcasing that talent to the scouts that were out there.
Q: Something about workload.
A: I’m a competitor. If I could carry the ball 80 times a game, I would. That’s just my mentality. At the end of the day, the coaches didn’t feel like that was best. There’s another great running back here from Arizona State as well (Demario Richard). But we both ended up here.
Q: Preparation for this week?
A: This is something I’ve been preparing for all my life. I pictured myself here, and now I’m here. I don’t have to panic or do anything different. Just be myself.
Q: Players you mold your style after?
A: David Johnson. I feel like he’s a bigger back that can catch the ball out of the backfield. Todd Gurley. Le’Veon Bell. All bigger backs that do things that I want to be able to do.
Q: When did you first start noticing David Johnson?
A: Actually, I noticed him in college. I heard about him in college. Everybody was talking about him. A smaller-school guy, so everybody felt like maybe the talent around him wasn’t special, so maybe that made him look special. But when you know, you know. You could just see his talent in college and it translated to the NFL.
Q: Splitting carries made you fresher heading to NFL?
A: I only had like 430, or something like that, carries. A lot of these guys, they get that in one season, almost. I think my body is fresh, I have a lot of tread on my tires.
Q: Disappointed in production in college?
A: Nah. I’m not really worried about it. I would love to be a 1,000-yard back every year and 20 touchdowns. All those accolades. But I think I’ll have the opportunity to do that at this next level.
Q: Catching passes at combine?
A: I’m doing everything. I’m going to wait until the Pro Day to do the receiving stuff there.