The past year came with no shortage of challenges for Wisconsin senior running back Montee Ball.
First, Ball was involved in two highly publicized incidents. In May, he was arrested for trespassing with 400 others at a Madison party before later being assaulted in August by three men in Madison.
On the field, Ball's senior season started slow in his follow-up to a 1,923-yard junior campaign that positioned him as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.
Eventually, both Ball and the Badgers turned a corner. He finished with his second consecutive 1,800-rushing season, and the NCAA record for both career touchdowns (83) and rushing touchdowns (77).
This week, Ball made his long-awaited debut at the NFL scouting combine, a place many projected him to be a year ago before he made the decision to return to Wisconsin, which went onto make its third consecutive Rose Bowl appearance this past season.
Ball’s tumultuous season ended with coach Bret Bielema bolting for Arkansas and athletic director Barry Alvarez returning to the sidelines to coach the Badgers in the Rose Bowl as their interim head coach.
It all made for a long season for Ball, who often wondered if he made the right choice to return.
“The challenges I faced after the season. I’m only human,” Ball said. “I caught myself at times debating if I made the right decision or not to come back. But I’m very fortunate to have the players I had around me to really keep me comforted and just doing a great job of being around me.
Along with Alabama’s Eddie Lacy, the 5-foot-11, 215-pound running back is considered one of the best running back prospects in his class and projected to go anywhere in the first three rounds by some mock drafts.
Both players could be available for the Green Bay Packers, who start their selections with the 26th pick in the first round.
Both Lacy and Ball expressed a desire to play for the Packers, who are still in the market for a game-changing back after selecting Hawaii’s Alex Green in the third round of the 2011 NFL draft.
During Mike McCarthy’s time in Green Bay, the Packers coach has been willing to commit to an every-down back when proven successful, but the team still hasn’t had an individual back eclipse 100 rushing yards in a single game in 43 regular-season contests dating back to Week 5 of the 2010 season.
“Three-down back is what you want to play with,” McCarthy said on Friday. “No one likes to come out of the game and I’d rather them stay in the game (when I’m) calling plays. Three-down back is something that, as you go through the evaluation process, is something that’s part of their grade, part of their value.”
Both Lacy and Ball project as guys who could fill that need, but the team has been cautious spenders. The Packers haven't used a first-round pick on a back since Darrell Thompson in 1990 and it stands to reason Green Bay wouldn’t start now.
The closet Packers general manager Ted Thompson has come to using a first-rounder was in 2007 when the Packers used their second-round pick (63rd overall) on Nebraska’s Brandon Jackson, who was solid as a run-blocker but never developed in a proven every-down capacity.
Could the Packers roll the dice on Ball? Possibly. They talked with him this week at the combine.
Regardless, the Wisconsin standout will be ready after thinking about this moment for the better part of two years.
“It would mean a lot,” said Ball if he were selected by Green Bay. “It would mean a lot to play for any team. It’s always been my dream to play in the NFL and my job here is to impress as many teams and coaches as I can and hopefully get my foot in the door somewhere.”
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