The Second Shutdown 40: #51 – Christian Ballard, DE, Iowa

With the 2010 NFL season in the books (and a lockout battle now headed to the courts) it's time to turn our eyes to the NFL draft, and the pre-draft evaluation process. We've already done scouting reports of the top 40 players on our board, and you can read all the details on the first Shutdown 40 here. For the second Shutdown 40, players 41-80, we have the advantage of combine performances and that much more evaluation material.

Over the next few weeks, we'll also be adding Pro Day data when relevant. But we're always going mostly on game tape; the proper evaluation formula seems to be about 80 percent tape, 20 percent Senior Bowl/combine/Pro Day. If you see what you expect in drills, you go back to the tape to confirm. If what you see in drills surprises you in a positive or negative sense, you go back to the tape to catch where the anomalies may be.

We continue the second Shutdown 40 with Iowa defensive end Christian Ballard. Lost in the shadow of Adrian Clayborn to a degree, the former tight end has proven the ability to play just about anywhere on the line when necessary. His athleticism has never been in question, but there are those who would like to see Ballard make plays on a more consistent basis. In 48 games for the Hawkeyes, Ballard racked up 150 tackles (57 solo), 20 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, 10 quarterback hurries, three passes defensed, and a blocked kick. Like Clayborn, Ballard put up somewhat disappointing numbers in 2010 compared to 2009; his sack total dropped from 5.5 to 2.0.

At 6-foot-4 and 283 pounds, Ballard ran a 4.75 40-yard dash with a 1.65-second 10-yard split (decent times among the defensive end class), the slowest three-cone drill among defensive ends at 7.54 seconds, and tied for the fourth-slowest shuttle at 4.51. Where does the game tape stand in comparison to the measurable, and where does Ballard best fit in an NFL defense?

Pros: Very good lateral speed for his size off the edge — gets going in a hurry and has the durability to chase a ballcarrier from sideline to sideline. Splits blocks and double-teams best as a five-tech end in three-and four-man fronts. Tremendously effective when he's looping out of blocks and redirecting through gaps. Gets in the backfield very quickly from a wide end set and looks to disrupt. Takes time and Is measured with his reactions — doesn't get burned a lot by misdirection. More smooth than explosive, but Ballard is consistent in what he does. Decent hand moves, but could use more to disrupt. Very hard worker with good character by all accounts.

Cons: Played some one-gap nose, but gets pushed back pretty hard in those situations — not strong or robust enough to take inside double teams and will get washed out unless he can reset and use his speed to redirect. Doesn't shed blocks especially well off the edge; seems to have trouble getting clear from blockers. Benefitted at times from offensive focus on Adrian Clayborn — some of his bigger plays or disruptions came unblocked. Doesn't always flash enough power in goal-line situations and can get washed out from side to side by powerful inside blockers.

Conclusion: There are enough hybrid ends in this draft class to get one's head swimming, especially when you get past the four or five names expected to go in the first round. Ballard is in the second class of hybrid linemen; he's probably best served with a hybrid front team where he can blow through double teams inside and make the occasional splash play outside the tackle.

Whether Ballard is a second-round pick or lower will depend on how much NFL teams take several factors into account — his raw athleticism, the fact that he wasn't the number-one target of enemy offenses, and the fact that he's more a do-it-all guy than a standout at any one particular aspect of the game. Ballard has the potential to be an extremely productive cog in the right defense, but he may never make it to "superstar" status in the NFL.  

NFL Comparison: Corey Wootton, Chicago Bears

More Second Shutdown 40
#41 — Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia | #42 — Muhammad Wilkerson, DT/DE, Temple | #43 — Aaron Williams, DB, Texas | #44 — Ryan Williams, RB, Virginia Tech | #45 — Rahim Moore, FS, UCLA | #46 — Martez Wilson, ILB, Illinois | #47 — D.J. Williams, TE, Arkansas | #48 -- Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina | #49 — Jerrel Jernigan, WR, Troy | #50 — Jabbal Sheard, DE, Pitt

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