As Stanford wrapped up a 20-14 victory over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, the collegiate careers of two premier running backs came to an end as well.
Wisconsin's Montee Ball and Stanford's Stepfan Taylor—both seniors—played their last games for their respective schools and will now move on to the NFL.
In the game in Pasadena, Ball finished with 24 carries for 100 yards and a touchdown, while Taylor ended up with 20 rushes for 88 yards and a score.
Ball finished the season with 1830 yards and 22 rushing touchdowns, and Taylor totaled up 1530 yards with 13 scores on the ground.
With these kinds of numbers, the two backs are looking at potentially successful careers in the NFL, and if the pre-draft rankings indicate anything, these two could be high picks come April.
According to NFLDraftScout.com, Ball and Taylor are ranked second and third respectively among running back prospects for the upcoming draft. With Clemson's Andre Ellington and Florida's Mike Gillislee flanking them at the No. 1 and 4 spots, the two Rose Bowl backs are in good company.
From a physical standpoint, Ball and Taylor are extremely similar. Ball is 5'11'', 212 pounds, and Taylor is almost exactly the same—standing at 5'11'' and 215 pounds.
So, what will separate the two on draft day?
One concern for both has to be the miles they have endured over the years. The two powerful backs have logged around 1800 carries combined over their college careers.
With that in mind, NFL teams might be cautious with these two because of the overall mileage they have amassed and any potential reliability issues that might arise as a result.
However, with these two guys, teams can rely on their combination of strength, speed and scintillation.
Ball's ability to hit open holes is something to behold. The Wisconsin running back looks like he's just gliding out there, but he's not too finesse to avoid contact.
What many people don't notice is Ball's ability to pick up extra yards after contact, especially against the heart of the defensive line and linebackers. Even with his small stature, Ball builds up such a head of steam that it's hard to stop his engine.
However, Ball struggled to carry Wisconsin earlier in the year when the offense had obvious issues. With virtually no quarterback comparable to Russell Wilson this year, more of the pressure was on Ball, and he probably did as well as could have been expected.
When it comes to Taylor, there's not much to complain about.
When Andrew Luck was still with Stanford, some thought Taylor's 2011 numbers were jaded because of the quarterback's presence and all the attention he attracted from opposing defenses.
However, Taylor has proven that he's a reliable back with a multi-faceted game.
Not only does the Stanford runner bulldoze corners and side-step lineman, he is also a proficient pass-blocker and a good receiver coming out of the backfield. Taylor finished the season second on Stanford with 41 receptions.
In my opinion, both these rushers have first round talent, but both will be picked up as steals in the second round.
In terms of future NFL careers, it will come down to what type of system Ball and Taylor end up in, but if I had to take one, it would be Taylor.
Even though Ball put up monster statistics last year, it was with a premier offensive line and Russell Wilson quarterbacking the team.
Not taking anything away from Ball's records, but his early-season struggles are cause for some concern
While Taylor is a bit small, his uncanny ability to make subtle and shifty cutbacks shows his awareness with the football.
Whatever teams land these two backs will be happy franchises because both Ball and Taylor will be playing on Sundays for quite some time.
However, after some nit-picking, I think Taylor is the better bet to have a successful NFL career.
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