A high-upside prospect with impressive physical tools, Christian Ballard appears to have only begun to scratch the surface of his potential. Because he was given the task at Iowa of oscillating between defensive end and tackle, he was never able to master either position. However, he showed plenty of explosiveness lining up at both spots. As a result, the team that drafts Ballard will have to decide how they want to mold the still-developing defensive lineman: he could continue to drop weight and become an effective three down 4-3 base end, bulk up and turn into a super-quick three technique, or improve his strength in order to becomes a solid 3-4 defensive end. Alternatively, a team could decide to play him at multiple spots, but he may be better off being allowed to refine his play at one position. If he does so, Ballard’s near elite athleticism will make him a very good pro.
Ballard’s explosiveness helps make him an effective (but not elite) run defender. He shows a tremendous burst crashing down the line and makes plenty of plays in pursuit. At times, he’ll struggle to disengage from blocks, but his athleticism and lateral quickness help compensate for only average hands; even if he can’t rag-doll an offensive lineman on his way to blowing up a running back, he can get clean in time to lunge and drag down the ball-carrier.
To become a better run defender, Ballard need to learn to keep his pad level lower. Too often the Iowa defensive lineman stands straight up off the snap, thereby losing the leverage battle. The issue shows up noticeably in his inconsistency taking on double teams; when he plays too high, he’s easily washed out of the play and sometimes put on the turf.
Additionally, Ballard tends to tackle high, which has had some particularly negative consequences. On a crucial third down late in the Northwestern game, Ballard was in position to bring down quarterback Dan Persa short of the sticks, but he went in too high, allowing Persa to slip the tackle and make it past the first down marker. His position coach will have to correct what appears to be more of a poor habit than an athletic limitation.
With his explosion off the ball, Ballard can deliver a good initial jolt, but he lacks the strength to bull-rush guards or tackles into the backfield. Instead, he’s most effective when he uses his quickness to beat interior linemen. He possesses a good swim move, which he uses rather well to get upfield. On tape, Ballard doesn’t display the ability to consistently threaten the edge as a defensive end. Only occasionally does he flash the ability to dip his shoulder and beat offensive tackles around the corner. Ironically, Ballard injured himself in the Ohio State game when he fired off the ball and got to Terrelle Pryor with an impressive outside speed rush.
While Ballard doesn’t look like a credible outside speed guy on tape, he surprisingly showcased the ability to win around the edge at the Senior Bowl practices. The bizarre contradiction could be related of Ballard’s playing weight: at his Junior pro day, Ballard weighed 298 lbs., but he was down to 288 when he arrived in Mobile. He dropped another five pounds before his impressive Combine and could slim down even more if he’s drafted to play base end in a 4-3. With that, a team may bet on Ballard turning into a better outside rusher, though his senior tape militates against that possibility. Whether at end or tackle, Ballard needs to do a better job of using his decent length (33 1/2” arms) to disrupt passing lanes. In part because of his struggles to disengage, he doesn’t get his hands up in time to get his mitts on the ball. For that reason, Ballard only batted down three passes during his time at Iowa.
Ballard generally plays with good awareness. He quickly spots the ball and doesn’t take himself out of plays by exploding upfield when the action’s headed elsewhere. However, he sometimes struggles when forced to adjust to unanticipated barriers between him and the ball-carrier, most notably double teams against the run and cut blocks in the passing game. When executing stunts, he doesn’t always prepare himself to absorb an offensive lineman’s punch, leading to him getting knocked backward, sometimes even put on his backside.
Ballard needs to do a better job of quickly shooting his hands and getting inside placement. He’ll struggle to disengage because he’s failed to do so. He relies upon a very effective swim move but will need to expand his pass rush repertoire. Too often he ends up wrestling with offensive linemen instead of getting clean and taking down the quarterback. He clearly needs some work, but a team actually could see that as a positive: he’s only begun to tap into his potential as a pass rusher.
A very durable player, Ballard hasn’t missed a game since 2007. Though he’s never had the opportunity to truly master one position, he’s managed to be effective lining up at both end and tackle. NFL teams long have been aware of his athletic potential: the big man ran a 4.85 40 at his Junior Pro Day while weighing 298 lbs. He shows more hustle than the typical defensive lineman and should work hard to hone his craft at the next level. It was also recently reported that Ballard flunked a drug test at the NFL Combine, which could potentially lower his stock on draft day.
2010: 42 tackles, 23 solo, 19 assisted, 3.0 sacks, 1 FF, 0 INT, 0 TD
2009: 54 tackles, 18 solo, 36 assisted, 5.5 sacks, 0 FF, 0 INT, 0 TD
2008: 41 tackles, 14 solo, 27 assisted, 1.0 sacks, 1 FF, 0 INT, 0 TD
2007: 15 tackles, 5 solo, 10 assisted, 2.5 sacks, 0 FF, 0 INT, 0 TD
An Art major, expected to graduate this spring.
Awards & Honors
2010: Honorable mention All-Big Ten (coaches); Iowa Coaches Appreciation Award, Defense
2009: Honorable mention All-Big Ten (coaches); Third team All-Big Ten (Phil Steele)
Prospect Video Clips
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