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NFL Draft: Montee Ball leads the running game

Wisconsrunning back Montee Ball right runs off block from teammate Derek Watt during second half an NCAA college football game

Wisconsin running back Montee Ball, right, runs off a block from teammate Derek Watt during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind., Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012. Wisconsin defeated Purdue 38-14. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

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Updated: April 22, 2013 9:20PM



NFL coaches and executives expect top prospects to produce at the collegiate level.

Except players at one position can actually produce too much.

Running back Montee Ball faces that predicament after a brilliant career at Wisconsin during which he set the NCAA record with 83 touchdowns and totaled 5,140 rushing yards.

“I took a huge gamble,” Ball admitted at the NFL Combine about returning for his senior season. “I believe I benefitted… I feel that any play you can go down.”

Therein lies the problem for opposing defenders.

Ball was a load to take down, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. Yet he doesn’t have overwhelming speed, and he’s widely projected not to be the first running back selected in the NFL Draft.

Asked what he takes the most pride in, Ball said, “Accountability, durability and consistent.

“I’m extremely consistent,” he said. “You can count on me when I have the ball in my hands — 924 carries, only two fumbles. So I do a great job of protecting the football. I score touchdowns. You can count on me to make the play and be there for you.”

The Badgers certainly would back him up on all that.

In 2011, Ball tied Barry Sanders’ NCAA record with 39 touchdowns – more scores than 42 FBS teams.

Fittingly, Ball said he models his game after Terrell Davis, another running back underrated coming out of college. A sixth-round pick out of Georgia, Davis was a three-time All-Pro and a one-time MVP. Ball also mentioned Curtis Martin, one of the most durable running backs in NFL history.

“He’s my idol,” Ball said of Davis. “But I hear a lot, and I’ve been watching a lot of tape… I feel like I run a lot like Curtis Martin. Nothing really stands out — like speed or strength, but we’re very balanced overall and very consistent.”

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BEARS’ NEEDS

It would be hard to imagine the Bears spending one of their top picks on a running back since they’ve invested so much in Matt Forte and backup Michael Bush. But in the latter rounds, the Bears might be more open-minded since the third-stringer is currently Armando Allen and the only fullback on the roster is Evan Rodriguez. If a dynamic player falls to them, the Bears probably couldn’t say no.

FIVE OF INTEREST

RB Giovani Bernard, North Carolina: He’s 5 foot 9, but he seems to use his size to his advantage, staying very low to the ground.

FB Kyle Juszczyk, Harvard: Physical player with soft hands and the potential to grind out some tough yards in short-yardage situations.

RB Andre Ellington, Clemson: Makes a lot of highlight runs, even when he seems to fenced in by defenders.

RB Eddie Lacy, Alabama: Lacy isn’t likely a first-round pick, but he’s a powerful runner who some have compared to current Bears bruiser Michael Bush.

RB Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina: Coming off major knee injury, but he on track for a brilliant season so he could be worth a gamble because of his upside.

THE THREE BEST

RB Montee Ball, Wisconsin: Highly productive at Wisconsin, but he’s got a lot of touches, and he isn’t a natural pass catcher.

RB Giovani Bernard, North Carolina: Gained over 2,500 rushing yards the last two seasons, but he doesn’t have breakaway speed for a back of his diminutive size.

RB Eddie Lacy, Alabama: Well-rounded back who is a polished receiver out of the backfield and a willing blocker.

THE THREE SLEEPERS

RB Miguel Maysonet, Stony Brook: He has pedestrian speed, but he powered his school to an 11-3 record and showed off solid hands at the NFL Combine.

FB Zach Line, Southern Methodist: Big and powerful, he also has proven that he is comfortable catching the football.

RB Christine Michael, Texas A&M: Fast back who was performing at a very high level before tearing his ACL late in the 2011 season.



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