I really like Iowa defensive tackle Christian Ballard. This year, I'd think it would be fair to say that Iowa has the best defensive line in the country. Adrian Clayborn gets all the credit, but I know that Ballard is an extremely good player in his own right.
Ballard doesn't really have a reputation as a 3-4 defensive end prospect, but I think he could do very well at that position. Ballard possesses ideal height and good bulk bulk for the position: at 6'5, 298lbs and excellent pass rushing ability for a defensive tackle, he is a great match for the position. Ballard also possesses the necessary speed and athleticism for the position, well documented by his outstanding 4.86 40 yard dash.
Ballard is among the best statistical achievers of all the defensive ends in this years draft class: 50 tackles and 5 sacks last season make him among the most productive linemen in this year's draft class. This season, he did a step back though. He is an unbelievable run stopper due to his tackling ability and instincts; he has a wide variety of pass rush moves that make him great at getting to the quarterback.
Ballard possesses above average instincts for the position; showcasing excellent discipline on play-actions and misdirections and reacting quickly to the play. He also takes solid angles to opposing ball carriers, making him a very effective run stopper.
Ballard is a solid tackler who uses great fundamentals to wrap up any man coming at him. He also can be a volatile hitter causing many fumbles. But he isn't very good at making tackles in heavy traffic.
One thing that really jumps out at me is Ballard's quickness off the football. He frequently overwhelms linemen by getting into position extremely quickly and doing an excellent job of using his hands. Ballard's quickness are among the greatest assets to his game.
Ballard possesses solid polish in the different pass rush moves; he has shown pretty good development and polish in the swim move and spin move as well as doing an excellent job of using his hands in the bull rush. I have not seen him incorporate the rip move in his game, though.
Ballard seems to have excellent intangibles; he plays the game with a mean streak and I can tell that he was worked hard to keep himself in shape and make sure that he has an extremely large arsenal of skills to make him a productive player.
Ballard's only big weakness for me is his lack of strength in both the upper body and lower body. Ballard doesn't have the strength to get to the quarterback using the bull rush nor does he have the strength to make improbable arm tackles in deep traffic. If Ballard can improve his strength, he will go in the late second round, and he'll be a great player.
Overall, I think Ballard is an extremely underrated prospect who's name is lost in this year's bevy of 3-4 defensive ends. Considering how many 3-4 ends are in this year's draft class, Ballard might be drafted in the late second round, but he has the talent of a player in the late first round. And I prefer to give grades on talent, and not consider the depth at the position the player plays.
NFL Comparison: A more athletic version of Tyson Alualu