Chargers Draft

Los Angeles Chargers: It’s a good year (and smart idea) to draft a running back

SAN DIEGO, CA - NOVEMBER 18: Rashaad Penny
SAN DIEGO, CA - NOVEMBER 18: Rashaad Penny
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MIAMI’S MARK WALTON: I’m really high on Walton. I know, he’s a smaller running back at 5-foot-10 (ish) and 202 pounds. But unlike the other smaller backs, I think Walton has the potential and skill set to be an every-down running back. That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it.

Walton wouldn’t be lost in the shuffle if weren’t for last year’s season-ending ankle injury. Before getting injured, Walton rushed 56 times for 428 yards and three touchdowns in just four games. He averaged 7.6 yards per carry, which was superb. He also caught seven passes for 91 yards. In his first year as a full-time starter (2016), Walton earned third-team All-ACC honors after finishing with 1,117 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns, as well as catching 27 passes for 240 receiving yards and a touchdown. The year prior, Walton led Miami with 10 total touchdowns (nine rushing, one receiving) as a true freshman. He also returned 17 kicks for 300 yards that season.

Scouts say Walton is dominant in space, has good burst and speed and can thrive in many roles. Another important positive: He hasn’t fumbled over his last 274 carries. Take a look at this thread here, which shows the kind of impact he can make in every aspect of the game, including making plays in the passing game, pass-blocking skills and using that special jump cut of his running the football. It also displays some weaknesses like the habit of dancing at the line of scrimmage.

Walton will likely slide because of the injury. He didn’t have great testing numbers at the combine either. His 4.6 40 was average at best, though he looks much faster on tape. He did, however, finish with 18 reps on the bench press, showing off that strength of his.

Walton is as well-rounded of a back as some of the guys who are going higher than him. I don’t see many negatives to his game. He could be the Keenan Allen of the 2018 draft.

Round Prediction: Round 3-5

ARIZONA STATE’S KALEN BALLAGE: Ballage has huge upside. He saw playing time right away, but he doesn’t come with a ton of starting experience or production, mainly because he split time with Demario Richard the last two years. He’s mostly known for scoring eight touchdowns in one game. EIGHT. His historic performance came in 2016 against Patrick Mahomes and the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Overall, he had 450 carries for 1,984 rushing yards and 27 rushing touchdowns over four years at Arizona State. He also played a huge role in the passing game, catching 82 passes for 684 yards and two touchdowns during that span.

Ballage is an athlete. He is also one of the taller backs out there (6-foot-1, 228 pounds via combine measurements, but was listed at 6-foot-3 at ASU). Scouts say he is a patient, downhill runner who has great speed and good movement skills. As a receiver, he’s hard to keep up with. According to PFF, Ballage won 80 percent of his pass routes in 1-on-1s during Senior Bowl practices. They also say he’s a solid pass blocker. However, scouts say he doesn’t have great balance. They also say his vision is below average, which will kill any chance of being a RB1 in the NFL. His career 4.4 per-carry average is nothing to write home about, too (it doesn’t help when your team’s run blocking isn’t good).

What boosted his stock was his combine performance. He ran a 4.46 40, tied for third-best among running backs who participated. He was also a top performer in the broad jump (10’2″, tied for fifth-best) and three-cone drill (6.91 seconds, fourth-best). What also helps is Ballage’s versatility. Not only will he provide insurance at running back, but at his size a team could line him up out wide as a receiver. He would be a matchup nightmare. Also, he has experience as a kick returner. He returned 21 kicks for 1,059 yards and one touchdown. He averaged more than 20 yards per return in three of his four seasons.

Again, the talent is there, but he has some work to do.

Round Prediction: Round 4-5

TENNESSEE’S JOHN KELLY: Kelly has been part of a three-man committee for most of his career at Tennessee. He was behind Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara on the depth chart from 2015-16, and it wasn’t until last year that he became the Vols’ lead back. Unfortunately, it was a year when Tennessee (4-8) didn’t do well at all. However, he had over 1,000 yards from scrimmage in 2017. He finished with career highs in rushing attempts (189), rushing yards (778), rushing touchdowns (nine), receptions (37) and receiving yards (299).

The 5-foot-10, 216-pounder isn’t that big and doesn’t have the breakaway speed scouts crave, but he runs very angry and is one of the more physical backs in this class. He also has amazing contact balance and can deliver a mean stiff arm. He does pretty good damage on screen plays, too. He didn’t run the 40 at the combine but clocked a 4.5 at his pro day; that number would have ranked sixth among backs who participated at the combine.

It’s worth noting that Kelly had a run in with the law last season. He was cited for a misdemeanor drug possession after police found marijuana in his vehicle during a traffic stop. He was suspended one game by Tennessee.

It’s clear Kelly was underused, just like Kamara. But here is a good article saying why teams shouldn’t be turned off by his lack of production. Teams will probably be higher on a speedier player like Ballage, but I feel like Kelly is the safer pick. I love his fight, and I’m sure Tom Telesco will, too. He’d be a perfect complement to Gordon and offers versatility in the passing game.

Round prediction: Round 4-6

BONUS – N.C. STATE’S NYHEIM HINES: Hines was a 2017 finalist for the Paul Hornung Award (nation’s top all-purpose back). He led the Wolfpack with 1,112 rushing yards and tied for first with 12 rushing touchdowns. He also had 26 receptions for 152 yards, 26 kick returns for 468 yards and 11 punt returns for 135 yards and a TD. Hines is a speed demon who led all running backs with a 4.38 40-yard dash. I focused more on bigger RBs–Hines is only 5-foot-8 and 198 pounds–but he is an intriguing option later in the draft.