Kalen Ballage’s unique athleticism might’ve stretched him thin last offseason.
He spent fall camp learning the devilbacker position while maintaining some return duties. He missed out practicing at his main gig as running back.
But come the season, Ballage still produced in a big way behind running back Demario Richard, ripping off 653 total yards on an average of 5.2 yards per carry despite missing the first three games of the year.
Now a junior, Ballage and Richard return with the expectation they will continue to produce big rushing numbers despite playing with a fairly revamped offensive line.
Those at Pro Football Focus believe it’s Ballage who could be in for a breakout year, ranking him No. 22 on a top-25 list of breakout players in 2016.
Ballage pairs with Demario Richard to form one of the best running back duos in the nation and he’s in line for even more opportunities this season. At 6-3 and 220 pounds, Ballage has size and speed that few running backs can match. He can take it to the house anytime he touches the ball, often using that speed to get to the edge or using his size to run through tacklers. Ballage’s 75.0 run grade bested Richard’s 73.0 mark, so expect a bigger workload for Ballage who missed the first three games last season.
Maybe agreeing with PFF or not is simply an argument about the definition of a breakout player.
Barring injuries, how much can Ballage improve?
Richard fits into the mold of a more versatile running back with 303 receiving yards last season that went along with 1,104 yards on the ground and a 5.3 yards-per-carry average. He likely won’t take a backseat.
It would be surprising if Ballage actually gets a significant bump in carries with other talented options like Nick Ralston and Jason Lewis pushing for time in their redshirt freshman seasons.
It wouldn’t, however, be surprising if Ballage pushed the 1,000-yard mark even by splitting snaps with Richard and others.