Denver Broncos: Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin
John Fox is not shy about using early selections on running backs. He needs one. Willis McGahee is old, Knowshon Moreno can't be trusted, and Ronnie Hillman's just a chance-of-pace back.
Montee Ball, 5-11/214
Finishes runs well
Can pick up some yards after contact
Nice cutting ability
Ready to contribute in the NFL
Strong ball security
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.