Editor’s Note: To help you dominate your rookie drafts, this series will feature a look at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of over 40 dynasty rookie draft prospects and run all through the month of May and even into June. We’ll cover all the premier prospects but also give you critical information on some of the lesser known talents. All of these rookie updates will be loaded into our ever-evolving 2018 Rookie Draft Guide – the ultimate resource for dynasty enthusiasts all over the world.
Name: Kalen Ballage
Position: Running Back
Pro Team: Miami Dolphins
College Team: Arizona State Sun Devils
Draft Status: Round four, 131st overall
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- Height: 6′ 1 1/2″
- Weight: 228 lbs
- Hands: 9 1/2”
- Arm Length: 32 3/4”
- Bench Press (225 Pounds): 15 reps
- 40-Yard-Dash: 4.46
- 3-Cone: 6.91
- Broad Jump: 122”
- 20-Yard Shuttle: 4.35
- Vertical: 33 1/2”
- Demonstrated elite receiving skills at the collegiate level
- Possesses a wide catch-radius and can adjust to poorly thrown balls with ease
- Strong route runner who can create separation from defenders in short/check down routes
- Fast and elusive with strong second-level speed
- Effectively lowers his pad level to convert short-yardage situations
- Upright running style in non short yardage situations causes him to go down after first contact
- Lacks field vision and will run into the backs of his linemen
- Willing, but inconsistent pass blocker due to poor technique
- Failed to secure RB1 role in college; murmurs of poor work ethic
Damien Williams (now in KC) leaves behind a very minimal role as a pass catching/change of pace back that Kalen Ballage should slide right into for the Dolphins. Ballage’s receiving ability out of the backfield is his strongest asset and should be used to spell Kenyan Drake in some obvious passing situations.
After trading Jay Ajayi to Philadelphia, the Dolphins simply did not have a capable goal-line back on the roster. Drake scored one touchdown in five rushes inside the ten-yard line while Williams received zero attempts. Instead of running the ball within ten yards of the goal line, Miami targeted Jarvis Landry in the passing game ten times resulting in nine touchdowns. Landry is now in Cleveland and the Dolphins need to find another way to score in the red zone. Enter Kalen Ballage and his 6’1 228-pound frame. Ballage’s ability to lower his pad level in short yardage situations makes him the ideal fit as a goal-line back. Unfortunately, he won’t be the only new Miami running back competing for these touches.
In the eight games after Ajayi was traded to the Eagles, Kenyan Drake accumulated 619 yards and three touchdowns rushing while adding 29 receptions, 232 yards, and a score through the air. Project that out for a full season and you’re talking about a top ten fantasy running back. The point: the lead back job will be Drake’s to lose when training camp opens.
For the last several years, NFL and fantasy analysts alike have been predicting the demise of Frank Gore. All Gore did the last two seasons in Indianapolis (at ages 33 and 34) was rush for 1,986 yards and seven touchdowns behind the same Colts offensive line that destroyed Andrew Luck‘s shoulder. The former Hurricane signed a one year contract with Miami in March and plans not just to be a mentor, but compete for the starting job. In reality, he was brought in to be the short yardage/goalline back while providing a different running style than Drake. Thus, he stands in Ballage’s path for both playing time and instant fantasy impact.
While Ballage’s receiving prowess should secure him an immediate, albeit a small, role in the passing game; his prospects for instantaneous dynasty relevancy are murky at best. Does the fourth round pick have the size/speed combo to challenge Drake for the starting job? You bet, as Dolphins’ head coach Adam Gase even recently lauded Ballage’s unique skill set. However, Ballage was unable to secure the lead back role for a mediocre-average Arizona State team, splitting time with undrafted free agent Demario Richard. It would be a pleasant surprise for Ballage to win the starting gig, but unrealistic to expect it to happen right away.
Kalen Ballage will be the goal-line back for the Miami Dolphins at some point during this upcoming season. There are two factors working in his favor. First (add my name to the list), Frank Gore has carried the football 3,366 times over his illustrious 13-year career. The laws of anatomy, and historical durability of NFL running backs, signal Gore’s career is on borrowed time. Finally, Vegas projects the Dolphins for six wins in what should be a rebuilding year. A team with a record at 1-5 or 2-6 will start giving its younger players reps over aging veterans to assess their skills.
If Frank Gore is playing in the NFL in 2019, I doubt it’s as a member of the Miami Dolphins. That leaves Kenyan Drake as the only roadblock for Kalen Ballage becoming a dynasty RB2 as a starter. The Alabama product is only under contract for the next two seasons; therefore his performance this year should set the trajectory of the Miami backfield for the next few seasons. If Drake comes out and is the second-coming of LaDainian Tomlinson, then Ballage will be confined to goal-line carries and a backup role for the duration of his Dolphin tenure. On the other hand, if Drake falters and is unable to build on his back-nine success last season, the door is wide open for Ballage.
Drake underwhelming is not all that needs to happen for Kalen Ballage to become the starter in South Beach. In my pre-draft profile on the ASU product, I discussed the need for Ballage to have a strong NFL position coach fix the obvious holes in his game. Meet Dolphins Running Backs Coach Eric Studesville. Studesville brings 17 years of experience coaching the position highlighted by the Pro Bowl selections of Marshawn Lynch, Willis McGahee, and C.J. Anderson under his tutelage. Ballage will need to swallow his pride and work harder than he ever has before not just to become the starter, but survive in the NFL.
NFL Comparisons/Dynasty Value
As stated in my pre-draft profile, Kalen Ballage’s measurables compare to Karlos Williams (cautionary tale on wasted talent), Javorius Allen (solid pass-catching back with touchdown upside), and Jordan Howard (true three-down back).
Again, unless Ballage decides to make terrible life choices, I don’t see him bottoming out like Karlos Williams. In Allen and Howard, we can see both the short-term and long-term ceiling for Ballage’s dynasty value. If Ballage is able to move ahead of Frank Gore on the depth chart, we could see him putting up solid PPR Flex numbers by some point this season.
Since the Dolphins don’t have a ton of draft capital invested in the Sun Devil running back, it will take a ton of work (and even a little luck) for Ballage to be a three-down back in Miami. However, with a year of professional coaching and game experience, I believe Ballage will be able to compete for the starting job in 2019.
Projected Rookie Draft Range
According to ADP data from Fantasy Football Calculator, Kalen Ballage is being selected, on average, at pick 2.06 as the ninth running back off the board in rookie mock drafts. The former Sun Devil ball carrier is being picked after Christian Kirk, Anthony Miller, and Josh Rosen and before Michael Gallup and new teammate Mike Gesicki. The status of your dynasty team should determine whether or not to draft Ballage.
Is your squad thin at the RB position and/or built to compete this season? If so, pick one of the first round backs with a more direct path to fantasy relevancy followed by a WR Gallup who should contribute immediately. However, if you’re solid at the RB position and/or looking at a rebuilding effort then Ballage is your guy.
While possible, it’s a risky proposition to immediately expect a major fantasy contribution from a fourth round draft pick who’s currently third on the depth chart. Yet, if you can afford to show patience for Ballage to put it all together, I believe you are getting a future three-down, PPR gold running back for the price of a mid second round pick. I’ll take that value every single day of the week.
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