2018 Rookie Class: An Early Look at Kalen Ballage

Justin Bales

ASU’s Kalen Ballage was a hot devy asset this time last year, based on his outstanding athleticism and freaky potential. While he hasn’t lived up to the hype, he still has NFL potential. Let’s take a closer look.


Kalen Ballage saw playing time during his freshman season for Arizona State, but he was limited to reserve duties behind D.J. Foster and Demario Richard. He saw only 48 touches that season, recording an uninspiring 190 total yards and four touchdowns.

Ballage was then thrust into a timeshare with Richard during the 2015 and 2016 seasons. In those seasons, he recorded 1,189 rushing yards and 18 rushing touchdowns on 251 carries. He also displayed tremendous receiving skills, specifically in 2016, when he recorded 44 receptions for 469 yards and one touchdown.

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After displaying tremendous potential during his junior campaign, many people were predicting a breakout senior season with Ballage becoming the lead back at ASU. He was given the opportunity in the first two weeks of the season, as Richard only totaled one carry, but Ballage struggled with 149 total yards on 37 touches, although he did score three times.

He would then be placed back in a timeshare with Richard, totaling 15 or more touches in only three of his final ten games. Ballage certainly has collegiate production, as 29 total touchdowns is nothing to scoff at, but he struggled quite a bit with efficiency throughout his career.


Ballage was not a top recruit in the class of 2014, as he was ranked as 247Sports’ 27th overall athlete. He was also a four-star recruit, who received many scholarship offers. With that being said, the majority of his offers did not come from elite level schools such as Ohio State or Alabama, but rather came from schools such as Colorado, Oregon State, and Georgia Tech, to name a few. His decision came down to Arizona State and Boise State, and he ultimately decided to play in Arizona.


It should come as no surprise that Ballage has been labeled as an elite athlete throughout his life. He is listed at 6’3” and 227 pounds on Arizona State’s website. There are also rumors swirling around that before the season, Ballage had only 6.4% body fat. He is truly an elite physical specimen.

Ballage does not only look the part, though. Arizona State used Catapult GPS technology to record Ballage’s speed, which maxed out at 23.3 miles per hour during the off-season. That would be faster than Leonard Fournette, whose max speed of 22.05 mph leads the NFL this season. Ballage also recorded a 37-inch vertical jump and nearly ten-foot broad jump this off-season, displaying elite explosiveness.

Furthermore, Ballage can bench press more than 350 pounds, squat more than 500 pounds, and power clean nearly 350 pounds. It is going to be difficult to find any player in this draft as physically gifted as the ASU running back.


This draft class has a plethora of top running backs, which will work against Ballage on draft day. He is the type of physically dominant player who should work his way up the draft boards after the NFL Combine, as teams will likely fall in love with his potential over his production. With that being said, he is still likely to be a day three pick with the potential to go undrafted. NFL teams will likely see him as a potential backup power running back that will be a project early in his career.


Ballage is one of the most frustrating prospects I have ever watched. If you watch his game tape against Texas Tech (2016) and Oregon (2016), he looks like he has All-Pro potential, but if you watch his tape against Washington (2017), he looks like he is a late round pick at best. He is one of the most inconsistent players in the entire draft, as his future ranges anywhere from an All-Pro running back to a training camp cut.

Ballage has everything it takes to be an elite running back. His speed, quickness, and power all pop off on tape. At times, he also displays good patience and solid vision. Furthermore, Ballage has soft hands and can beat defenders in one on one situations. He does not necessarily run the most complex route tree, as he often times catches the ball near the line of scrimmage, but he also runs deeper routes, such as wheels, on occasion. He has every physical tool to be a dominant running back in the NFL. It also would not be shocking if teams opted to teach him more of a route tree in hopes that he can pick up the slot receiver position.

While there is a lot to love about Ballage’s physical characteristics, there are a few things to dislike about his play. He is an inconsistent player, displaying elite traits in some games, while struggling in others. There does not seem to be much reasoning for this, as Ballage will display patience, vision, agility, and power on one play before running into his own linemen on the next.

His pass protection is also a major concern. Ballage has displayed the ability to pass protect when he wants, but that is not often. He shows little effort in protection, often times diving at defenders legs or letting them run around him. His effort in pass protection is the type of effort that will not only get Ballage benched in the NFL, but also get him cut. He dealt with multiple coaching changes at Arizona State throughout his career, so his pass protection could have potentially suffered because of this instability.

If Ballage is drafted to a team that will instill discipline into him as a player, he has the tools to quickly become a featured back in the NFL. He is the true definition of a “boom or bust” player in this draft.