The New York Giants’ offseason was filled with negative headline after negative headline: from numerous injuries, to Osi Umenyorias contract, to key FA losses. None seemed to leave a bigger hole at a position than the departure of Kevin Boss to Oakland.
Most Giants fans, including myself, looked to free agency, then the waiver wire for Boss’s replacement to arrive, but no one ever came. Instead, the Giants front office and coaches kept their faith in 2010 undrafted free agent Jake Ballard. I myself had given Ballard a 7th round grade: I thought he could stick as a blocking third TE because of his 6’6″ 280-pound frame. While I had a higher grade than most, I never expected him to be starting in the NFL, let alone contributing in this manner.
Through six game games, Ballard has 15 catches for 273 yards and 2 Touchdowns. On the surface, those numbers may not seem overly impressive, but they certainly are when you factor in the efficiency at which they have been achieved.
Now, a lot of Ballard’s success in the passing game has been due to defenses not devoting a lot of resources to stopping him. He also has one of the lowest target rates among starting tight ends in the NFL at 8.8%. Last year, Kevin Boss was targeted 13% of the time and 12.9% in 2009, far less than Shockey’s hay-day under Coughlin at 20%. What Ballard has done that neither of those two managed is convert those opportunities at an otherworldly clip.
Watching the game yesterday and seeing his 6’6″, 280-pound frame gobble up pass after pass, I was left wondering: does the ball ever hit the ground when Eli throws it to him? The answer is Yes, but it doesn’t reach the turf very often. Ballard has been targeted 17 times this season. Of those 17 targets, 15 have turned into receptions. That’s a catch rate at 88.2%, or the best in the NFL: not just among tight ends but all receivers.
As impressive as that number is, the stat that blows me away is his Yards Per Catch. Ballard’s YPC stands at 18.2, second among tight ends behind Jared Cook, who is an athletic seam-stretcher. If we start talking Yards Per Target, no receiver even comes close. Ballard’s YPT dwarfs the second best tight end Fred Davis by almost 5 yards, 16.1 to 11.4. It also surpasses the best wideout Mike Wallace, whose YPT stands at 13.9.
Now, it’s early in the season and things may change. Teams may decide to clamp down tighter on the middle of the field, thereby reducing his impact, but that would only help the Giants’ offense over the long haul. Having a safety start to pay more attention to Ballard will allow for Nicks, Manningham, and Cruz to have one less body protecting the sidelines. For a Giants team that thrives on the deep ball, that’s a very good thing.
One thing’s for sure: Jake has proven that he is far more than just a blocking tight end. And at a position fans were just hoping to get mediocrity from, the team now has a promising new contributor.