One of the Big Ten's most disappointing NFL combine performances of the year was probably that of Wisconsin RB Montee Ball, who ran a 4.66 40-yard dash and failed to rate very highly in basically every drill he participated in. He wasn't terrible, but he sure didn't look like an exceptional tailback.
Well, Wisconsin's Pro Day came on Wednesday, and Ball was determined to slough off those numbers and look more like the kind of guy who is capable of rushing for over 5,100 yards and breaking the FBS career touchdown record. You know, an exceptional tailback.
Per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, mission accomplished:
Ball, the all-time NCAA record holder for touchdowns and a first-team All-American, looked smooth and swift as he shaved about two-tenths of a second off his plodding 40-yard dash time of 4.66 posted at the scouting combine last month.
Performing in front of about two dozen NFL personnel evaluators, including Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson, Ball ran the 40-yard dash twice. He said he was told he ran the first time in 4.46 seconds and the second in 4.53.
A clearly relieved Ball said he knew he would run under 4.5 seconds because when he ran in Indianapolis he was suffering from a sinus infection and taking medicine.
Well, that'll do it, won't it? Take note, football drug enforcers: Sinus infections add .2 seconds to someone's 40 time. If someone can take on a sinus infection and not lose speed, they're definitely doping. SCIENCE FACTS.
Moreover, Ball chopped his 20-yard shuttle time down from a disappointing 4.40 to 4.11—which would have been third among RBs at the combine. That is significant.
The Packers were particularly impressed with Ball, and that's a team that could use an influx at talent at tailback. The whole "local boy" angle sells nicely too, though the Packers aren't exactly hurting for local interest or ticket sales.
But let's not think this pushed Ball into the first round.
Going back over the last 10 NFL drafts, there have been 29 running backs taken in the first round. That's basically three a year, and there's never been more than five—and that only happened once.
WalterFootball.com puts Ball at seventh among running backs. At CBSSports.com, he's sixth. ESPN.com is significantly higher on Ball—they've got him second—but that's a major outlier on his overall profile.
And while it would bode well for Ball's first-round hopes that the Packers are in need of a tailback, the fact is they're a passing offense first and foremost, and first-round picks don't usually go to secondary aspects of a team's game plan—especially when there's a lot of value in the mid-rounds in this year's RB class. Knile Davis is a freak of an athlete, and Green Bay can probably get him in the third.
But Ball's not going to fall too far. The good thing about the NFL is that most of these teams still place a whole lot of value in the actual film, and on film, Montee Ball is a phenomenal tailback. Yes, he was running behind a phenomenal line, but his 10-yard acceleration is exemplary and his vision is something that just can't be taught.
So now that Ball has the running times to correspond with that kind of rushing ability—he never came off as a burner, but 4.66 didn't pass the smell test—there's very little reason for him to last past the third round. Again, the first round probably isn't happening, not this year, but Ball just emphatically made the case to be a second-day draft pick.