Former Wisconsin running back Montee Ball accomplished practically everything he could individually during his college football career. Heisman Trophy finalist. Doak Walker Award winner. All-time FBS touchdown leader.
Yet not even those spectacular accolades are enough to guarantee Ball a spot as a first round pick in April's NFL Draft. In fact, the consensus from pundits is Ball will likely be a second-round selection.
Why? At 5-foot-11 and 215 pounds, the knock on Ball is he isn't big enough to be a power running back, but he isn't quick enough to elude tacklers consistently as a speed back.
Ball will have his first opportunity post-college to prove people wrong this week, when he participates in the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. The event, a showcase for college football's top players entering the draft that starts Wednesday, features four former Badgers. Center Travis Frederick, left tackle Ricky Wagner and linebacker Mike Taylor also were invited to participate.
According to Taylor Jones, an NFL draft analyst who contributes to FOXSports.com, Ball's pass protection and pass catching ability remain a question to scouts.
In 2011, Ball caught 24 passes for 306 yards with six touchdowns. In 2012, without the services of star quarterback Russell Wilson, Ball caught just 10 passes for 72 yards with no touchdowns.
"I guarantee a lot of people are interested in watching how he does in those pass-catching drills at the Combine more than anything else," Jones said. "Spread college offenses to a certain degree are taking over in the NFL. You need a back that does that. It gives you more of a home run threat."
Jones compiles a list of his top 200 prospects ahead of the NFL Draft and has Ball in the 50-range. His top running back is Alabama's Eddie Lacy, who ranks No. 36 overall. Jones said Ball and North Carolina tailback Giovani Bernard would compete to be the second running back taken in the draft.
Jones compared Ball to former Alabama Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram because both are considered downhill power running backs. In two seasons with the New Orleans Saints, Ingram has rushed for 1,076 yards and 10 touchdowns.
NFL Network draft expert Mike Maycock, who lists his top five prospects at each position, also puts Ball as the No. 2 running back behind Lacy. He said Ball would be a late second- or early third-round pick.
"I just happen to like Montee Ball a lot when I put the tape on," Maycock told reporters this week on a conference call. "He's a downhill, tough kid. I think he's got really good feet for a fairly large back. I think he's going to have to do a better job with pass protection, but at 5-11, 215, he should be able to do a better job of pass protection. I think he showed toughness, balance, vision. He's a one-cut, north-south runner and I think he fits most of the offenses in the NFL."
According to both Jones and Maycock, it's possible Ball won't even be the first Wisconsin player taken in the upcoming draft. That distinction could instead belong to former Badgers center Travis Frederick, a 6-foot-4, 338-pounder from Sharon, Wis.
Frederick played 32 games in his Wisconsin career and started 31. Of those 31 starts, 13 came at left guard and 18 at center versatility that makes Frederick even more appealing.
Jones compared Frederick to former Badgers center Peter Konz, who was drafted in the second round (No. 55 overall) by the Atlanta Falcons last year.
"The thing you want in an interior lineman is the ability to play center since you're only carrying a handful of guys into a game," Jones said. "Especially as you develop these young guys, the more versatile they are in the interior part of the line, the better off you're going to be."
Frederick's biggest competition to be the No. 1 center selected is Alabama's Barrett Jones. Taylor Jones lists Barrett Jones in the mid-50s and Frederick at No. 61 overall but said those numbers could shift after the Combine.
Maycock predicted Frederick would be selected in the second round.
"He is a big, strong kid, gets a push, smart, tough," Maycock said. " I think the fact that he's a Wisconsin offensive lineman is going to help him. That's just a positive thing to be in today's NFL."
Draft projections for Taylor and Wagner, meanwhile, are more of a mystery. Wagner began the season as an Outland Trophy candidate for best interior lineman, but his draft stock appears to have taken a hit. His lack of foot speed and perceived lack of upside will likely make him a middle-round pick on the second day of the draft.
Taylor finished his Wisconsin career with 378 total tackles, including 273 the past two seasons. But at 6-2, 224 pounds, he is a bit undersized as an NFL linebacker and could struggle to find consistent playing time.
Of course, a solid performance at the NFL Combine certainly wouldn't hurt his chances.
FOXSportsNorth.com's Brian Hall contributed to this story.
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