Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Hughes: Don’t worry about Ball’s numbers in 2012

Back in January, when the fallout of another Rose Bowl loss still echoed throughout the fanbase of the Wisconsin football team, Montee Ball’s decision to remain in Madison for his senior season certainly made some (if not most) of the pain go away.

But in the months that have passed since that moment, countless times I’ve watched fans voice gratitude for Ball’s return and then follow that by questioning his decision.

Sometimes, people appealed to the potential of Ball coming down with an injury bad enough to hurt his draft stock or worse – a valid concern.
But most of the time, this second-guessing has to do with the numbers Ball flashed last season and how little of a chance there is for him to match or best what he did come the 2012 season.


But Badger fans don’t need to be constantly glancing back and forth between Ball’s stats in 2011 as we march through next season when it comes to considering his position in the NFL draft.

Ball did, indeed, build a mountain of a stat-line last season. Throughout 14 games, he averaged 6.36 yards per carry. His 1,923 rushing yards not only led the nation, but were 77 yards shy of him becoming the 15th running back in FBS history to rush for 2,000 yards in a single season.

His 39 touchdowns tied the single-season mark held by the legendary Barry Sanders. He scored a touchdown once every 8.48 times he touched the ball, which is just absurd.

Looking at those numbers with the prospect of outdoing them in the back of your mind is a hell of steep incline. Think mountain passes of the Tour de France with sandbags strapped to your bicycle.

And, of course, Ball won’t have the same support he had a year ago to help him achieve those numbers.

Quarterback and record-setter Russell Wilson, as well as wide receiver Nick Toon, won’t be around anymore to divide the attention of opposing defenses. Josh Oglesby, Kevin Zeitler and Peter Konz – the latter two being All-Americans – are done plowing the road for Ball.

All three of those positions – quarterback, running back and offensive line – are in flux right now, although the line should be another team strength in 2012.

So either Ball transcends literally all expectations of him and enjoys one of the best two-year stretches of any college football player has ever had, or, in all likelihood, his numbers take somewhat of a dive but remain impressive nevertheless. Just not Herculean.

Should the latter happen, nobody ought to land on Ball for it. The NFL draft isn’t all about numbers. For years, we’ve seen the stock of a player skyrocket or nosedive based solely on measurements, individual workouts and personality evaluations.

Plain and simple, NFL teams are going to look far beyond numbers, and they’ll also consider what kind of a team surrounded a particular player of interest.

This all reminds me of Jordan Taylor’s senior season at Wisconsin. His junior year, he had Keaton Nankivil and Jon Leuer by his side, and so Taylor found a way to shoot 43.3 percent from the field, 42.9 from the arc, 82.3 from the free throw line. He scored 18.1 points per game and owned a 3.83 assist-to-turnover ratio – the nation’s best.

His senior year, Nankivil and Leuer weren’t around anymore and his numbers fell in every category except steals. Nevertheless, onlookers have yet to give him too hard of a time for it. Taylor was still named first-team All-Big Ten by the coaches and received honorable mention All-American accolades from the Associated Press.

His draft stock hasn’t fallen much, if at all, yet. After his junior year, he was picked as someone who could go in the second round, but if not, he certainly would have found someone to sign him, and that remains the case as of this moment.

Ball’s third-round projection from the NFL draft’s advisory board didn’t sit well with him, and he ultimately set his sights on reshaping his body and skill set for his senior year. Ball already has incredible vision and instincts, but he thinks he could still become a faster and more powerful runner.

After losing weight following his sophomore season, Ball’s agility and overall speed have unquestionably improved. He still looked like a downhill running back last year, but he probably didn’t have the kind of strength he had as a sophomore.

Now, in his last year before going pro, Ball is again trying to find a happy equilibrium between speed and weight, saying he hopes to be back up to 215-218 pounds back in January. If he does, indeed, show increased levels of speed and power in 2012 – with the ridiculous statistics to accompany him or not – his stock will rise higher than the third round.

Adrian Peterson is a comparable example to the kind of situation seemingly everyone thinks Ball will be in by season’s end. As a freshman at Oklahoma, Peterson ran for 1,925 yards and was named a Heisman finalist. As a sophomore, he battled injuries and mustered 1,120 yards. As a junior, his season was again cut short by injury, and he ran for just 1,012 yards.

Peterson’s performance was hindered by forces beyond his control and his breakout, signature season was deep in the past. Despite that, his physical attributes earned him the No. 7 overall pick by the Minnesota Vikings.

That’s all that Ball and his fans need to worry about in 2012 – whether he looks fast, sharper and stronger, which NFL scouts can surely recognize.

And don’t expect him to be complacent. Ball is clearly one of the most motivated players on the Badgers’ roster – and possibly in the Big Ten – right now.

Oh yeah, and NFL scouts kind of like that about players, too.

Elliot is a senior majoring in journalism and philosophy. What do you think about Ball’s decision? Let him know at [email protected].

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Badger Herald

Your donation will support the student journalists of University of Wisconsin-Madison. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Badger Herald

Comments (0)

All The Badger Herald Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *