What Went Wrong With Ballage?

The Miami Dolphins' decision to move on from running back Kalen Ballage didn't come as much of a surprise, but what happened after he showed promise as a rookie?
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So the Miami Dolphins apparently will be able to get a conditional draft pick for Kalen Ballage after they reportedly were ready to simply release, according to NFL Network report Ian Rappoport.

The decision to move on from Ballage really isn't surprising given the poor season he had in 2019, but what happened last year WAS a surprise because of the promise Ballage had shown as a rookie in 2018 and the strong training camp he had last summer.

So what happened?

The bottom line is that the shortcomings that caused Ballage to last until the fourth round of the 2018 NFL draft really started showing up once he got more than a few touches the way he did as a rookie.

Ballage carried the ball only 36 times as a rookie, though he took one of those rushing attempts 75 yards for a touchdown in a December game at Minnesota.

But even then there was the troubling advanced stat of ZERO broken tackles on those 36 carries.

In 74 carries last year, Ballage ended up with only one broken tackle, the lowest number for any NFL running back with at least 55 rushing attempts — and we won't even mention his four dropped passes on 24 targets.

What was the problem?

The problem is simply is that while Ballage is built like a power back, he runs like a finesse back. And while he's got great straight-away speed, he's got marginal lateral quickness.

Ballage went to the 2018 scouting combine and was measured at 6-2, 228 before going out and running a 4.46 in the 40-yard dash.

To put that in perspective, the 4.46 is the ninth-best number for any running back at the combine over the past three years. And only three running backs weighing at least 210 pounds did better, and two of them were Saquon Barkley and 2020 Colts second-round pick Jonathan Taylor.

But maybe the fact that Ballage, despite the obvious physical gifts, never rushed for more than 669 yards at Arizona State should have been a red flag.

And it clearly was the reason he lasted until the fourth round in 2018, even with that ridiculous night against Texas Tech when he had eight touchdowns operating out of the Wildcat.

His NFL.com draft page gives him a grade of 5.90, which classified him as a backup/special teamer, though there was a draft projection of third or fourth round.

An NFC director of college scouting gave this anonymous quote about Ballage: "Mark this down. Nobody will be talking about him until he gets to the Combine where he will lift well, run well and jump out of the stadium. Then, he'll be the hot name."

And then there was this analysis from NFL.com writer Lance Zierlein, which turned out to be right on the money: "Ballage looks great on the hoof and should test well at the Combine, but his lack of decisiveness and vision make it hard to envision him as a full-time RB1. Ballage can do a little of this and a little of that, but a team will need to have a clear-cut plan for how to use him. Ballage's size and athletic ability will appeal to teams as will his ability to play on third downs and return kicks."

The 2020 Dolphins currently have nobody with more than one year of NFL experience behind newcomers Jordan Howard and Matt Breida, and they decided already that Ballage wouldn't be able to help them.

That's a pretty strong indictment.

And even though he was only a fourth-round pick, it's clear that Ballage has to go down as a draft miss.