Most analysts expected Ball to enter the 2012 NFL Draft because of his great junior season and the short careers of running backs at the next level. Ball was heavily recruited after clearing 5,000 yards and scoring 71 times in his final two years in high school. He earned playing time despite the Badgers’ depth at the running back spot in 2009, finishing second on the team with 391 rushing yards — most coming in the final five games of the year. He only received four starts in 2010 as John Clay got the majority of carries early in the year, but finished with 996 yards and 18 touchdowns as the team’s top back to finish off the season. He became “the man” in the Wisconsin backfield as a junior, losing 25 pounds and generally focusing his efforts on his way to being named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and a Heisman Trophy finalist. Ball started all 14 games and leading the nation with 1,923 rushing yards and 33 rushing touchdowns. All this despite not hitting 100 yards in three of the first four contests as lopsided scores in the Badgers’ favor limited his carries and took away the threat of quarterback Russell Wilson passing the ball. He also tied Barry Sanders’ NCAA record with 39 total touchdowns and earned consensus All-American honors, and finished the year strong with 164 yards and a touchdown against Oregon in the Rose Bowl.
The third-round grade he received from the NFL advisory committee pushed him towards returning to school, as did his desire to finish his degree and to become one of the top rushers in Wisconsin history. Ball and the Badgers entered the season with high expectations. Things went sour early for Montee though. He was assaulted near the Madison campus over the summer, suffering a concussion in the incident. The graduation of Russell Wilson left a void that Wisconsin was never really able to replace. Defenses keyed in on stopping Ball, and Wisconsin dropped two of its first five games. Ball performed much better over the second half of the season, finishing the season with very impressive numbers (356-1,850-22 TDs), garnering a first-team All-American spot as well as the Doak Walker trophy, awarded to the nation’s best running back.
Reliable, hard-working zone back. Presses the line of scrimmage, and generally has good vision and feel to find the cutback lane or cut away from penetrating defenders. Willing to run into compressed spaces and doesn’t worry about contact. Hard runner. Stays patient behind pulling guards and fullbacks, has enough quickness to break off a run if the space is available to him. Lowers his pads on contact, keeps his legs moving to gain extra yards against glancing blows. Effective cut blocker in the hole and willing to stand up to blitzers when protecting the quarterback. Natural receiver, adjusts to throws over the middle and in the flat, continues downfield fluidly. Sidesteps or stiff-arms oncoming defenders in space after the catch. Good balance and low center of gravity, can sink low and spin out of tackles. Quick enough to get around the corner on perimeter runs.
Smaller back with a lot of wear on his tires. Possesses average overall size and straight-line speed. One speed runner who another gear to accelerate once in space, and doesn’t have elite agility to elude quicker defenders. Lacks burst in and out of cuts. Does not have pure power to move piles or free himself through better tackle attempts. Volume runner who isn’t overly creative or powerful, and benefits from plenty of clear entry runs into the second level. Cited in May 2012 for trespassing after failing to leave a porch when asked during Wisconsin’s annual Mifflin Street Block Party. Injured after being assaulted by multiple assailants on campus in August 2012.
The 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist led the country with 1,923 rushing yards and tied the all-time FBS record of 39 total touchdowns (33 rushing) after losing 25 pounds in the off-season preceding his junior season. He surprised everyone by returning to Wisconsin for his senior year, which he might have regretted after Wisconsin’s disappointing season and getting assaulted on campus this summer. While he isnt particularly big, strong or explosive, he picks his way through traffic well and is a reliable runner. Though not a burner like others in this class, Ball’s durability and efficient zone running make him a likely mid-round pick.