Wisconsin's Ball could be first RB drafted
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As an integral part of the national championship team, Alabama's Eddie Lacy got most of the early attention as the top running back in this year's draft.
But Wisconsin's Montee Ball could be the first running back chosen.
It's easy to make the argument that the 5-foot-10½, 214-pound Ball did more with less than the 5-11, 231-pound Lacy.
Ball rushed for 1,830 yards last season and won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's best running back. And he did it behind a depleted offensive line, a year after he led the nation with 1,923 yards as a junior.
He also rushed for 55 touchdowns and scored a total of 61 times over his final two seasons, finishing his career with an NCAA-record 83 TDs.
Lacy only started for one season at Alabama and rushed for 1,322 yards in 2012, playing behind an offensive line that included projected first-round picks Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker, plus Barrett Jones, one of the top three centers in this draft.
Lacy averaged 6.5 yards per carry to Ball's 5.1, but Ball averaged 6.3 yards per carry as a junior and 6.1 as a sophomore.
Ball has a much more voluminous body of work and was able to transform himself by slashing weight from the 240-pound power back he was as a sophomore to a more complete runner with 4.48 speed in the 40 and increased big-play ability.
Ball lists "accountability, durability and consistency," as his three greatest assets, and the numbers back him up.
"You can count on me when I have the ball in my hands," he said. "Nine hundred and twenty-four carries and only 2 (lost) fumbles. So I do a great job of protecting the football. I score touchdowns. You can count on me to make the play and be there for you."
Ball considered entering the draft after his huge junior year but decided to return to Madison when the NFL's advisory board told him he might not be drafted until the third round.
That decision looked like a poor one when, in the early morning hours of Aug. 1 near campus, he was jumped by five men and suffered a concussion that kept him sidelined in the early preseason practices.
The attack was allegedly in retaliation for an off-campus fight days earlier that involved Wisconsin football players, although Ball was not implicated in the original altercation.
Less than three months earlier he was arrested on charges of trespassing during a block party. He said both incidents were the result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but they had him second-guessing his decision to return for his final season.
"I'm only human," Ball said. "I caught myself at times debating if I made the right decision to come back. But I'm very fortunate to have the players I had around me to really keep me comforted and just doing a great job of being around me."
For Ball, it was a life lesson.
"You live and you learn," he said. "I learned that I live my life in a fishbowl the hard way. The bottom line is I learned my lesson and moved on from it."
•Follow Bob's NFL reports on Twitter @BobLeGere, and check out his Bear Essentials blog at dailyherald.com/sports.
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