Fantasy Football: What to Expect From Kalen Ballage

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Kalen Ballage
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 16: Kalen Ballage #27 of the Miami Dolphins warms up before the game against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium on December 16, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

It’s the fantasy football championship week, and now is the time when you want your roster to be completely set. However, thanks to a variety of injuries to key players, several championship-caliber teams are desperately scouring the waiver wire to find last-minute streamers. Of the players currently available, Miami Dolphins running back Kalen Ballage is one of the most intriguing.

Fellow Dolphins running back Frank Gore suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 15’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Ballage took over in Gore’s absence, recording 12 carries for 123 yards and a touchdown. This was obviously fantastic production, but it doesn’t necessarily project what he will do moving forward. Chasing fantasy points can be dangerous, especially for an out-of-nowhere player like Ballage. The rookie was great in Week 15, but can he carry that success over into Week 16?

Fantasy Football: What Kalen Ballage Can Bring to Your Team

Ballage, a fourth-round rookie out of Arizona State, spent the majority of the season buried on the depth chart. However, Frank Gore’s injury opened a door of opportunity, and Ballage burst right through said door. As previously mentioned, Ballage had a fantastic performance, running for 123 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. While that stat like looks unbelievable, it’s worth noting that one of those carries went for 75 yards and a score. Runs like these are unsustainable, so let’s look at how Ballage did on his other carries.

When taking that outlier out of the equation, Ballage finished his a more modest 48 yards on 11 carries. Still, this is still a respectable 4.36 yards per carry, so the first-year running back was still getting the job done when his number was called.

Ballage did everything one could have hoped for against Minnesota, but it was just one game. Prior to Week 15, Ballage had never seen more than four carries in a week. Because of this, it’s impossible to tell what type of NFL player he is. In order to get a better grasp of who he is, let’s look at who he was in college and see what can be expected from him in a full-time role.

Scouting Ballage

Back in college, Ballage was a dependable yet unexplosive part of the Arizona State rushing attack. Throughout his four-year collegiate career, Ballage recorded 450 carries for 1,984 yards and 27 touchdowns. While the touchdown number is impressive, it’s worth noting that 14 of those touchdowns came during his Junior season. Ballage didn’t see a substantially larger role in 2016, so this high touchdown rate could be an aberration.

Additionally, Ballage didn’t offer much in the passing game. During his time in Arizona, Ballage recorded 82 receptions for 684 yards and two touchdowns. Once again, most of that production came during his Junior year, when he recorded 44 receptions for 469 yards and a touchdown. Outside of that one season, Ballage never finished a season with more than 91 receiving yards or 20 receptions. That said, he does have the raw skills to do the job. Why he never managed to be much of a receiving threat is anyone’s guess, but for now, assume that he won’t be worth much in the passing game.

When looking at the film, Ballage is a player who basically takes whatever his offensive line gives him. He can be indecisive behind the line of scrimmage and he doesn’t always read his blocks well. Ballage is easier to tackle than his 6’-2”, 237-pound frame would suggest, and he doesn’t have the quickness needed to consistently beat defenders to the edge. However, he’s still an athletic player capable of making plays between the tackles, and he typically falls forward when being tackled.

Ballage’s Matchup/Usage

Of course, it doesn’t matter how good or bad Ballage is if he doesn’t see the ball. Even with Frank Gore departed, Ballage will still need to battle second-year running back Kenyan Drake for touches. Fortunately, Ballage should be the main guy in Miami, at least on running downs.

Despite Gore leaving early, Drake saw just one carry during Week 15’s action. While some speculate that the Dolphins were worried about Drake’s ankle, Miami head coach Adam Gase vehemently denied those claims. According to the Miami Herald, Drake’s low usage was purely a coaching decision, as Gase felt Ballage was the better option.

This is obviously good news, as it shows that Ballage should see a sizable portion of game action. In fact, it’s entirely possible Ballage out-snaps Drake in Week 16. Against Minnesota, Ballage finished with 49.1% of the offensive snaps, while Drake finished with 52.8% of the offensive snaps. This is a pretty even split, but Ballage probably would have had more if he had started the game over Gore.

Now that we’ve established Ballage will have a healthy workload, let’s take a look at what we can expect from the rookie in Week 16. Miami, 7-7, faces off at home against the 4-10 Jacksonville Jaguars. While the Jaguars as a team are underachieving, the defense is actually still strong against the running back position.

Per Pro Football Focus, the Jaguars allow an average of 16.0 fantasy points per game to the running back position, seventh-best in the league. Football Outsiders tells a similar story, as the advanced stats website currently ranks the Jaguars as the seventh-best run defense in terms of efficiency.

The Jaguars gave up 264 rushing yards to the Tennessee Titans the last time they were on the road, so anything is possible. However, it looks like this is going to be a tough matchup for Ballage. Miami has an average run-blocking line, but Jacksonville’s rush defense is above-average. Considering Ballage projects as a guy highly dependent on the blocking in front of him, this matchup should limit his value.

Last Word on Kalen Ballage In Fantasy Football

With Frank Gore out of the picture, Kalen Ballage should play a fairly significant role in the Miami Dolphins rushing attack. Thanks to a wave of injuries throughout the league, this makes Ballage an exciting waiver pickup. However, before putting Ballage in your starting lineup, make sure to evaluate everything Ballage brings to the table.

Ballage saw significant snaps for the first time in Week 15, recording 12 carries for 123 yards and a touchdown. Even when taking his 75-yard touchdown out of the mix, Ballage still averaged almost 4.4 yards per carry. This is obviously a good thing and shows that Ballage should a serviceable-at-worst option in fantasy.

Additionally, his workload looks to be safe heading into Week 16. Adam Gase simply does not believe in Kenyan Drake as a workhorse back, meaning that Ballage should see the majority of the carries. He won’t play a big role in the passing game, which limits his ceiling, but he should have a relatively safe volume.

The biggest factor working against Ballage is his matchup. Despite their record, the Jacksonville Jaguars remain a good defense against the run. Jacksonville is top-seven in both fantasy points and DVOA against running backs all season long. Considering this defense gave up 299 yards and four touchdowns to Titans running backs, that’s pretty extraordinary.

If you need to start Ballage, he can probably give you flex production with an RB2 ceiling. As shown in Week 15, he has the ability to take the ball to the house on any given play and he should see the majority of the goal line carries. However, his matchup combined with his exclusion from the passing game gives him a limited ceiling. You’d basically be praying for a touchdown if you have to start him. Before putting in a claim for Ballage, check the waiver wire and see if there’s anything else around.

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