Countdown to College Football Kickoff: Top NFL prospects at Indiana

Indiana Hoosiers defensive back Marcelino Ball (9) instructs members of the IU defense during the game against Ohio State at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Ind., on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019.© Bobby Goddin/For IndyStar, Indianapolis Star via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Rob Rang

College football is scheduled to return Saturday, August 29. Each day until then, will be evaluating the rosters of the best teams in college football, including all 64 within the Power Five conferences.

Indiana Hoosiers

Head Coach: Tom Allen (fourth season)

2019 Record: 8-5

2020 NFL Draft Picks: Simon Stepaniak, OG, Green Bay Packers – Sixth Round, No. 209 overall

Overview: For many sports fans, the Indiana Hoosiers remain synonymous with college basketball, but after a 2019 campaign in which the football team enjoyed its greatest success in a quarter century, clearly times are changing.

This version of the Hoosiers, frankly, is playing tougher and more aggressively than some of past teams, a testament to defensive-oriented head coach Tom Allen. Also key to Indiana’s success last year, was the excitement and big plays sparked at quarterback with Michael Penix, Jr. and Peyton Ramsey combining to complete 68.3% of their passes for 3,848 yards and 23 touchdowns against nine interceptions – numbers which would have ranked among the best in the conference at the position., a Tampa Bay native, who guided the Hoosiers to a 5-1 record in the six games he started.

Unfortunately, Penix suffered a season-ending injury for the second consecutive year, missing the final half of the season with a collarbone injury, after missing all but three games in 2018 with a torn ACL. In nine games for the Hoosiers thus far, Penix has completed 67.5% of his passes for 1,613 yards and 11 touchdowns against four interceptions, while chipping in another 164 yards and two scores as a rusher. The Hoosiers went 5-1 in the six games Penix played (all starts) last year.

The team rallied around Ramsey following Penix’s injury but the former saw the writing on the wall and transferred as a graduate student to Northwestern for his final year of athletic eligibility following the team’s sputtering 1-3 finish to last season, including a heartbreaking 4 quarter collapse to Tennessee in the Gator Bowl.

The disappointment of that bitter loss should fuel Indiana, which boasts legitimate next level talent on both sides of the ball.

Featured 2021 NFL Draft Prospect: Marcelino Ball, S, 5-11, 223, 4.45, SR

As NFL offenses become increasingly versatile, defenses are left to adjust with some creating hybrid safety/linebacker roles like Indiana’s “Husky” position, where Ball has excelled since his true freshman season back in 2016.

Ball is built like one, possessing broad shoulders and a compact, powerful frame which helps near the line of scrimmage. For a 220+ pounder, Ball also shows intriguing agility and acceleration, perhaps not surprising given that two of his older brothers (Marcus and Reggie, Jr.) each played in the NFL.

Ball took the Big Ten by storm as a true freshman, posting still-career highs with 75 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and two interceptions to earn Honorable Mention all-conference honors and IU’s Defensive Newcomer Award.

He took a medical redshirt as a sophomore after just three games and opponents have tried to attack elsewhere since he’s returned, contributing to less-than-eye-popping statistics the past two seasons, including just four pass breakups and a single interception.

Last year, in fact, Ball was replaced as the primary playmaker in Indiana’s secondary by true freshman Tiawan Mullen, who not only led the Hoosiers but the entire Big Ten with 13 passes defended last year.

Ball has athletic traits which project well but, perhaps ironically, he needs to make more plays on the ball to boost his NFL stock this fall – just like Mullen, who failed to turn one of those passes defensed into an interception.

Strengths: Power-packed frame with excellent definition, a testament to a lot of time spent in the weight room. Drips with explosive athleticism, showing it in terms of speed and power. Accelerates quickly and possesses impressive top-end speed for a player of his bulk. Generates bone-crunching collisions due to his speed and utter disregard for his own or others’ safety.

Simply put, there is no finesse to Ball’s game. He attacks would-be blockers with fury, playing with the chip on his shoulder that can fire up a fanbase and teammates. 

Big hits come with plenty of knockdown power but Ball does a nice job of wrapping his arms, as well, to assure the efficient takedown. Offers some positional versatility after spending time at safety and outside linebacker, as well as Indiana’s “Husky” position, a hybrid of the two. Comes with an alpha-dog mentality, never backing down from a challenge. Expected to play closer to the line of scrimmage in 2020 and should rack up impressive statistics in this capacity, including as a pass rusher. Untapped potential to explore with many of his issues correctable with more coaching and remaining at one position… Comes from a highly athletic family with NFL bloodlines.

Weaknesses: Projects best at linebacker in the NFL and lacks the bulk and instincts scouts would prefer there… Below average key and diagnosis skills, especially given his experience. Has to see it before he believes it, leaving him flat-footed when others are already anticipating the action and therefore, Ball is functionally slower on the football field than his 40-yard dash time will suggest. Loses sight of the ball in his zest to take out blockers, with far too many of his tackles coming yards downfield in pursuit. Too often sucked up by play-action, losing track of receivers behind him. Stiff in his hips and needs a step or two to complete the transition from backpedal to full sprint, leaving him struggling in coverage against smaller, quicker receivers. Just average ball-skills and awareness of passing lanes, recording just 12 passes defensed (and three interceptions) in 40 career games, entering his senior season. Missed all but three games in 2017 due to a serious knee injury which teams may want to review at the Combine.

NFL Player Comparison: Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Detroit Lions – Like the 6-0, 233 pound Reeves-Maybin, Ball will be viewed by some as a bit of ‘tweener. His eye-popping athleticism and aggression warrant middle round consideration, at worst, with the potential for Ball to grow into a weakside linebacker/hybrid safety role with time while terrorizing on special teams.

Current NFL Draft Projection: Third Round

The Top 10 NFL Prospects at Indiana:

1. Marcelino Ball, S, 5-11, 223, 4.45, SR

2. Whop Philyor, WR, 5-10, 178, 4.50, SR

3. Stevie Scott III, RB, 6-1, 231, 4.55, JR

4. Peyton Hendershot, TE, 6-4, 255, 4.80, rJR

5. Caleb Jones, OT, 6-7, 358, 5.50, rJR

6. Micah McFadden, OLB, 6-1, 232, 4.80, JR

7. Jerome Johnson, DT, 6-2, 294, 5.05, rSR

8. Jovan Swann, DE, 6-2, 270, 4.85, rSR – Grad-transfer from Stanford 

9. Cam Jones, ILB, 6-2, 225, 4.70, JR

10. Jamar Johnson, S, 6-0, 198, 4.60, JR

*All 40-yard dash times are estimates