Kalen Ballage is probably the easiest play in all of fantasy football. He’s also one of the most difficult, because he violates a key principle for selecting middle-round Zero RB candidates – target good players.
It created a fantasy hullabaloo when Ballage took the first training camp snap over not-quite-incumbent Kenyan Drake. Some covering the team hypothesized that the call might have been simply sending a message, but I’m not sure they’re going to get that message. As camp has progressed, more observers continue to note Ballage’s presence with the first team.
Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage Are Fantastic Athletes, Mediocre Football Players
Ballage made my list of the 8 Most Explosive Breather Backs due to an impressive and well-rounded athletic profile for a 228-pound back.
Although his leaping and agility results were inconsistent, there’s no denying the explosive ability of a back that size who can post a 4.46 forty, 122-inch broad, and 6.91 three-cone.
Unfortunately, while Ballage made my list, it came with a caveat. He was the only member with unimpressive production. As a senior at Arizona State, he lost the starting job to Demario Richard.
How can an experienced back with that size/athleticism profile lose snaps to a non-prospect? We get a partial explanation from Dolphins RB coach Eric Studesville in Cameron Wolfe’s provocative article where the ESPN scribe predicts a 45/40/15 split for this backfield:
“[Ballage] can find holes. He sees reads. He runs through way more contact than you think. He had three or four runs out here in camp where he broke through wrap-up tackles. He’s so big and strong. But the one thing I keep encouraging him to do is utilize his size and strength. Sometimes he wants to be a smaller back, but you’re 230, so go use that 230.”
This is an unfortunate backhanded compliment. You never want to hear the phrase “runs through way more contact than you think” about a 228-pound back.
There’s One Potential Workhorse In Miami. Unfortunately, He’s Probably Not In the Mix
Ballage and Drake have never endeared themselves to their offensive playcallers. Including their pro and college exploits, we get these results for the two of them combined:
- 12 seasons played.
- 2 seasons with 1,000 yards from scrimmage. (Ballage 2016, 1,005; Drake 2018, 1,012)
- 1 season with 150-plus rushes. (Ballage 2017, 157)
- 0 seasons with 1,000 rushing yards.
Compare those numbers to that of seventh-round pick Myles Gaskin:
- 4 seasons played.
- 4 seasons with 1,300 yards from scrimmage.
- 4 seasons with 200-plus rushes.
- 4 seasons with 1,200 yards rushing.
These are not apples-to-apples comparisons, nor are they meant to be. But the cardinal rule for evaluating football players is that good players play. The stark contrasts between the two sets of resumes helps explain why Cort Smith believes Gaskin could be the 2019 Phillip Lindsay.
Ballage Sits In the Perfect Price Window
Ballage’s ADP has really started to move since the beginning of training camp, but he still sits in a favorable area for RB selections.
On the very surface, these prices would push us toward Ballage if we believe the 45/40/15 split could be accurate.1
However, history also tells us that Ballage is a priority pick and Drake a must-avoid. When an RB depth chart shows a small split between the two backs in ADP, the less expensive of the two backs finishes with an average win rate almost identical to stud backs, while the more expensive back earns an average win rate lower than handcuffs.
This also fits with a key takeaway from yesterday’s article, Zero RB Quietly Posted a 14% Win Rate in 2018 and All of the Pieces Are in Place Again. Blair Andrews is about to release this year’s Win the Flex app, and it includes some key intel.
RB/WR Points By ADP 2017-2018
Ballage’s ADP is moving right into the window where RBs are actually worth more than WRs.2
How to Play It
Kenyan Drake is a headliner on my list of RB Land Mines – 7 Roster Killers and How to Avoid Them. He ticks off almost everything you want to avoid in an early-round pick: underwhelming 2018 production,3 lack of career production, RB in a timeshare, RB in a poor offense, RB in a poor ADP window. But you can also see where the enthusiasm comes in. Despite consistently losing carries to Frank Gore, the fantasy points were still there.
In early June, T.J. Calkins penned a compelling piece arguing that the Dolphins are mispriced in all formats. T.J.’s piece is a must-read and includes a flurry of encouraging stats and splits for Drake. When he’s allowed to touch the ball, he scores. Those splits explain why Mike Beers has drafted Drake in some high-profile best ball contests.4
I’m not reaching for Ballage – in fact, earlier this offseason I would usually just miss him even at the lesser prices – but he does have one intriguing trait that might push him across the finish line. He caught 82 passes in college, including 44 during his junior season. The 4.45 forty and 6.91 three-cone are consistent with the development of plus receiving skills. Given the current camp rotation, Ballage has multiple paths to a significant workload and several scenarios in which he’d earn high-value touches. Cutting into Drake’s 53 receptions would tilt this battle heavily in the underdog’s favor.
Image Credit: Daniel Dunn/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Kalen Ballage.
- This is probably an oversimplification, as most who cover the team still expect Drake to earn more of the higher value receiving touches. (back)
- RBs are structurally overvalued, but they are great picks in exactly the range where many owners are targeting the mythical WR depth. (back)
- This point depends a little bit on context and expectation. Drake did score 208 points and finish with a 7.4% win rate. (back)
- I pay close attention to anyone Mike is buying. You can see more of Mike’s picks in Part 1 of our Best Ball Round Table. (back)