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Is Kalen Ballage Still Being Overlooked?


Everybody deserves a second chance. Well, maybe not everybody but in fantasy football, we can surely be more generous to those who have let us down in the past.

Miami Dolphins running back Kalen Ballage was a complete non-factor in his rookie season, bucking the trend of first-year ball carriers finding immediate success. He was sparingly used, as coach Adam Gase decided to rely on veteran Frank Gore and third-year back Kenyan Drake instead. In all, Ballage saw just 36 carries and nine receptions all year despite staying healthy and costing the team a fourth-round pick.

With Gore gone and a new coaching staff in place, it could lead to an opportunity for Ballage to make an impact. Or he could play second-fiddle to Drake and remain completely worthless once again. Does Ballage deserve a second chance?

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Untapped Potential

Ballage was the 131st overall selection in the NFL Draft, hailing from Arizona State. Coincidentally, he was taken with a draft pick received from Philadelphia in exchange for Jay Ajayi. His college numbers weren't overly impressive, as he never gained even 700 rushing yards in a season playing on a team that struggled to go 18-20 over his last three seasons. Ballage might have been passed over in the draft if not for his impressive speed. He ran a 4.46 40 and posted a 115.2 speed score that ranked in the 97th percentile. That led the Fins to make him their third running back on the depth chart, behind vets Gore and Drake.

It was presumed he would at least be given the chance to win the starting RB job but that never materialized. Ballage didn't get his first NFL touch until Week 4 and didn't see extended action until Week 14 during a blowout loss against Minnesota. Despite the fact that he ripped off a 75-yard run en route to a 123-yard game in his first chance as lead runner, coach Gase predictably went back to Gore again next week and killed any hope that Ballage might be a late-season waiver savior for fantasy playoff hopefuls.

Even if Ballage had seen more action in 2018, it's hard to make a case that he would have been a major factor. The Dolphins ran the seventh-fewest rushing plays in the league (360) and had the second-slowest pace of play at 30.08 seconds per play. This was a sluggish offense that struggled to put together sustained drives and misused nearly all its skill players. Good luck this year, Jets fans!

 

A New Hope

As is the case with most losing teams, hope springs eternal. In this case, however, it's almost a foregone conclusion that the Dolphins will be worse this year - intentionally so. Under first-time coach Brian Flores, the plan is to tank hard in order to acquire a high draft pick to restock the bare cupboard. The process is well underway, as left tackle Laremy Tunsil and wide receiver Kenny Stills were traded to Houston in exchange for draft picks. Top linebacker Kiko Alonso was given away for a stick of gum and an old copy of ESPN: The Magazine.

That doesn't sound good on the surface, as the offense could struggle behind a makeshift line. Then again, it also means no pressure to win now, no stubborn adherence to veterans in order to save your job as a coach, no reason not to give younger players like Ballage a chance.

Drake was also rumored to be on the trading block, so who's to say he won't be dealt to a contender as soon as a serious injury to a running back occurs? Even if Drake sticks on the team all year, it's obvious the new regime doesn't love him enough to view him as a long-term fixture. It just so happens he will be an unrestricted free agent after this season too. Enter Ballage.

 

How to Value Ballage

In the final days of draft season, Ballage is going as a late ninth-round pick. He is behind RBs such as Jordan Howard, Royce Freeman, and now, Devin Singletary. Just behind him are rookies Alexander Mattison and Justice Hill, as well as second-year backups Jaylen Samuels and Justin Jackson. It appears that Ballage is in a very similar situation to these players as the young understudy to an established running back, but we should have more hope in Ballage.

Samuels, Mattison, Hill, and Jackson are running behind top fantasy stars with ADPs to reflect such: James Conner, (1.08) Dalvin Cook (2.03), Mark Ingram (4.02) and Melvin Gordon (4.05). Obviously, Gordon being the last of the bunch is an anomaly because he would be a first-rounder if not for the holdout situation, which could resolve any time. If Gordon returns, Jackson's value tanks. Samuels and Hill have Benny Snell and Gus Edwards to hold off for snaps. Ballage just has rookie seventh-rounder Myles Gaskin behind him. Simply put, Ballage has the best chance to see significant touches of any player in his ADP range and could see a huge boost if Drake is dealt. Don't forget that Drake injured his foot in the preseason and may experience a recurrence of that injury too.

If you're in a league that already drafted, don't fret. Ballage is just 49% owned and could still be available in 14-team leagues or even some 12-team leagues. If he has a quiet Week 1, he could be among the first cuts made by impatient owners. That might provide the impetus to pounce on a player with tremendous upside, regardless of how inferior his offensive line appears. Remember, in fantasy football opportunity is king. Ballage may finally get that opportunity which he was denied last year.

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