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Miami Dolphins

The Rookies: Kalen Ballage

Travis Wingfield

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“Most of these guys love the game for the press-clippings it brings them. For Kalen [Ballage], he loves the game for the work. It always puts a smile on his face.”

The prevailing praise for the Dolphins new rookie running back was reaffirmed by his former quality coach at Arizona State, Brennan Marion. (You can catch that entire interview on today’s Locked On Dolphins podcast).

Returning to school for his senior season, it was important for Ballage to “finish what he started” and fulfill the promise he made to his family in regards to obtaining his degree. That work ethic bleeds onto the football field where Ballage’s dedication and selfless attitude are suitable for the direction of the 2018 Miami Dolphins.

“I don’t care if I score one touchdown or 20, it doesn’t matter. As long as we win, I’m fine with it.”

That comment, from Ballage, is the polar opposite of the attitude displayed by discarded running back Jay Ajayi with the Miami Dolphins. The positive hearsay doesn’t stop at the quality of his character, Ballage is a talent.

Below: A blurb from a column by Daniel Jeremiah regarded late round “gems.”

Ballage excels in a one-cut, zone-based scheme – the exact system implemented by new running game coordinator, Eric Studesville. During his Denver Broncos’ tenue (under Adam Gase) Studesville discovered Ballage at Falcon High School – just outside of Colorado Springs.

The 131stpick in the draft is expected to bring the same traits to Miami that made him one of Colorado’s top high school prospects in 2014. Exceptional lateral agility, blazing top-end speed, sensational skills as a pass catcher, Ballage is the versatile type of back the Dolphins covet.

Pro Football Focus gave Ballage glowing reviews as a pass protector. Ranking 37thin the nation in Pass Block Efficiency, it’s easy to see Ballage’s role on the Dolphins’ roster. Losing Damien Williams was a blow to the Dolphins third down packages. Converting on the ground, flexing out wide for a big pass play against one-on-one coverage, or making the key block affording the quarterback an extra fraction of a second, Ballage is a ready-made replacement for that job.

He’s a physical phenom ranking in the 90thpercentile among all athletes in the Relative Athletic Score Card ranks. As displayed by @MathBomb on Twitter, here is Ballage’s RAS card:

There’s a reason Ballage slipped to the fourth round with 130 players selected ahead of him. His stock rose with an impressive week at the Senior Bowl. The Arizona State program allegedly held back this talented player – the reason he flashed more in Mobile than in Tempe.

His production was nothing to write home about. Both in the traditional sense, and via PFF grades, Ballage was a run-of-the-mill back in college.

A lack of vision is the main culprit underlined by his detractors. A one-cut style runner, Ballage missed some lanes or was late to react to the blocking scheme that opened up holes. Billed as something of a “large finesse back,” Ballage has a bit of a reputation for running too upright and not finishing off his carries.

His fit as a rookie should be determined by his pass catching ability. That was the trait that vaulted him up boards during the Senior Bowl and throughout the draft process. He’s naturally fluid with soft hands and terrific balance. He didn’t receive a heavy workload in college, so perhaps some seasoning can refine his game at the next level.

Finding a young man with this drive and this talented that late in the draft is a complete steal. It’s up to Gase, Studesville, and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains to get the most out of this back.

And that’s cause for confidence.

@WingfieldNFL

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