Leader in rushing TDs in NCAA all-time? Check. Curtis Martin comparison? Check. Plays with chip on shoulder? Check. GM that likes Wisconsin players? Double check.
I've long been a fan of Stepfan Taylor outta Stanford as Michael Turner's replacement. However, I've seen some mock drafts that suggest he could be gone before we get to pick #62. Even if he's not, I've had a bit of a change of heart.
There's a man in Wisconsin right now who has done nothing but succeed at the collegiate level. He's had a wee bit of trouble, but by and large has been a good citizen. If you're concerned about "character concerns", let's not forget what some of our favorite Falcons have done in the past few seasons.
In fact, read this article from Grantland about Ball. Seems like a pretty good kid to me that has just been the victim of some bad luck.
Montee Ball is a bit of an interesting case. He had an All-Universe offensive line his junior year, a lot of which left for the draft (one of which is a Falcon), but his senior year, they weren't nearly as good. What did he do? He struggled. Yes, he struggled, like a human being. He struggled on the field, and he struggled off the field. Then what did he do?
He rose up.
That's right, he rose up, just like a Falcon would. He was a Heisman favorite going into this season, but then he got beat up and missed the start of the season and then had an awful start to his final year.
Read the Grantland article. He promised his teammates he'd come back, but Wisconsin fired everybody and their grandmother on the offensive staff before his senior season. His parents are very influential in his life and are very wise (think Roddy White) and have helped him succeed while letting him make his own decisions.
What did he do? He stayed in school. These are the little things that can make a difference. He felt defeated in the beginning of the season, he felt his work ethic slipping. What did he do? He seeked help. He went to a team Bible study and let it all out. Not everyone believes in that, and that's okay. He recognized a problem and dealt with it, and what happened after that?
Bam. 247 yards rushing against Purdue. 166 against Minnesota. 198 against Indiana. Same team, same not-nearly-as-good offensive line.
I've never been a fan of "rankings" and "reaches" and all that mess, so long as it's not an absurd idea to pick someone in that area. Ball is the leading NCAA rushing TD guy of all-time. Other notable top rushers in terms of TDs are Ricky Williams, Cedric Benson, Ron Dayne, Marshall Faulk, Tony Dorsett, Chester Taylor, DeAngelo Williams, and LaDainian Tomlinson. All of those (except for maybe Dayne, I feel like he wasn't good or he did something bad, not sure) were pretty good backs.
And that's what the Atlanta Falcons need. They don't need a great back. They just need a good, consistent one. Curtis Martin is a good comparison to Ball. Not the fastest, biggest, or strongest, but an all-around solid back. Plenty of teams win without a bulldozer back, plus we have one of those already (Snelling).
Ball has good speed and hits the hole with some intensity. He can also improvise behind the line of scrimmage. He does have a bit of the Turner "I'm going to bounce outside when I really shouldn't" but the difference is that Ball's got some speed and may be able to find the edge at the NFL level. Or he'll learn to adjust.
I watched some of his 2012 highlights, and I noticed that he follows his blocks very well. I wouldn't describe his running style as "patient", but he has the ability to fit into small windows.
I also want to address the concern of "wear and tear". Yes, it is true that Ball probably has eleventy billion carries to his name, but he just turned 22 years old in December. His body is still young, and in my opinion, his amount of carries is a good thing, because he has probably faced some NFL talent in his career, and he'll be less surprised by the speed of the game. Plus, if he does start declining in 5 years, big whoop, we can draft another RB by then.
I think Tony Gonzalez is going to go one more year, which solves a need for a TE in the early rounds. I have a feeling we'll give a free agent TE a good look. There are some quality free agent TEs out there, so I'm not too worried.
Some may feel that RB in round 2 is too soon, but I disagree. How many times were we upset by the lack of a running game? How many times did we, as fans, say "If only we had even an average running game".
Well, here it is. A running back who can succeed at the NFL level, wants to succeed at the NFL level and, in my opinion, will succeed. If we don't take a running back at 62, then we run the risk of not getting one at all until rounds 4 or 5. Easy to say "Oh, you can find a running back in the later rounds", but no pick is guaranteed and, regardless of what you tell me, RB - or just a running game in general - is a major need of this team.
I'm also of the mind that, in the past few years, players are coming into the NFL more and more NFL ready. Just think about the QB class of last year: Luck, Griffin, Wilson, Cousins, all of which played and played well at times, not to mention the running backs.
Richardson, Martin, Wilson, James, Pierce, Lamar Miller, Turbin, Rainey, Ballard, Morris, Brown. All of those, drafted in various spots, contributed to their team.
Montee Ball did more than any of them in college, played behind a pretty lame offensive line his senior year, and dealt with three - three! - different starting QBs his senior year, and still succeeded.
I think people are underselling how good Montee Ball could be in the NFL. Nothing spectacular, but a hard-working player who does a little bit of everything good (he has great hands, also) but nothing great.
And after much consideration, that, my friends, is what the Falcons need.