Miami Dolphins rookie RB Kalen Ballage leveling out after tough start to OTAs

Dolphins fourth-round pick Kalen Ballage has high potential to be an explosive playmaker. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — Even in the lower stakes of offseason practices, it’s a bad feeling to line up for a play and not be entirely certain where you’re supposed to go. It’s especially unnerving when you’re in the process of trying to prove you belong in the NFL.

Dolphins rookie Kalen Ballage battled that early in Organized Team Activities when Adam Gase hit the accelerator and had the offense running quicker than he’d seen before. He struggled to keep everything straight as Miami called play after play, and it illuminated how much work he still needs to do.

“I’m from a no-huddle offense at Arizona State, so I’ve been in the no-huddle stuff, but going really fast and not knowing all the plays is completely different,” he said after practice today. “There was a few times where my mind was running 100 miles an hour trying to figure things out.

“It’s not that I don’t know, but am I 100 percent sure? You kind of have an idea of what you’re supposed to be doing, but maybe you aren’t fully sure about it. Just being consistent and knowing what I’ve got so I can be very decisive and play fast.”

The Dolphins, who took Ballage in the fourth round two months ago, hope he’ll be a quick learner. He’s got the combination of a bruising 6-foot-3, 230-pound frame, great speed and the versatility to hurt a defense as a runner or receiver and aspires to reach the level of dual-threat stars like Le’Veon Bell and David Johnson.

If he’s ready to contribute right away he’ll be a significant weapon for Gase as he tries to revamp the offense. He’s settled in since those first few days, working on memorizing plays with fellow rookie running back Buddy Howell of Florida Atlantic, and has looked more comfortable in the offense this week.

“He’s progressing quickly,” Gase said. “He’s consistently been one of those guys that’s trying to find a way to get extra (work) and spend time with other players, just trying to really nail down the offense.

“We’re trying to do as many things as possible in the spring to get him used to things, because once you hit training camp you don’t have a ton of time to spend on one specific thing. A lot of things are going to be flying at him once we hit training camp.”

Ballage believes he was underutilized at Arizona State, where he still managed to run for 669 yards and six touchdowns last season. Over three years as a regular part of the Sun Devils’ offense, he totaled 1,858 yards rushing, 620 yards receiving and 25 total touchdowns.

The upside is he did all of that without taking much of a beating physically because he had only 450 carries in his college career.

As he tries to master the playbook before next month’s training camp, Ballage has been learning from future Hall of Famer Frank Gore and third-year running back Kenyan Drake. Both have gone out of their way to help him acclimate. Gore and Ballage hang out and scour film of other running backs around the league to pick up new moves.

All the on-field reps and off-field study sessions are helping make things run more smoothly for Ballage, who prides himself on being reliable.

“I’m not a guy that makes a lot of mental errors,” he said. “There’s gonna be stuff here and there because I’m learning a new playbook and it’s a lot of information to learn, but I’m just trying to be the most consistent football player I can be right now.”

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Miami Dolphins believe they could have three RBs who can play all three downs

Dolphins running back coach Eric Studesville and Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake speak to the media during Dolphins OTAs. (Miami Herald)

DAVIE — The Dolphins are entering the home stretch of their offseason workouts, days away from R&R, but already, a common thread is emanating from the training facility that could have a major impact on what we see this fall.

Kenyan Drake will be the featured back, veteran Frank Gore is the No. 2 man and behind them is Kalen Ballage, a fourth-round pick out of Arizona State. No news flash there. But put your ear to the ground and you’ll recognize a theme developing that can be labeled this way:

Three backs, three downs.

More and more, Dolphins coaches have been pointing out that all three of these guys can run, catch and block. While it would be unrealistic to think the Dolphins will roll their backs the way they’ll roll defensive linemen, it’s a huge benefit to Adam Gase, who likes versatile backs, to know he won’t be tipping his hand by putting any particular back in on any given down.

“You really like a guy that can play on all three downs,” new offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said.

Assuming all three stay healthy, there can be no doubt Drake will get the majority of the carries, but do not assume that just because Gore is 35 and did little in OTAs, the equipment guys won’t need to wash his No. 21 jersey on Sunday evenings. Hardly. Gore ran for 961 yards before a talent-challenged offensive line in Indy last year, had 245 receiving yards and is two years removed from a 1,025-yard rushing season.

Frank Gore had 1,206 yards from scrimmage for Indianapolis last season. (Sam Riche/TNS)

“Frank Gore set the standard of what backs do in (pass) protection,” coach Frank Reich said as the Colts were preparing to part ways with him. “I remember hearing stories when I’d be coaching for other teams that Frank Gore could run the protection meetings, that he could make the protection calls for the quarterback.”

A pretty valuable guy to have around if your QB has been on the shelf since the Obama administration, wouldn’t you say? The Colts somehow overlooked that, but don’t think the Dolphins will make the same mistake when it comes to keeping Ryan Tannehill healthy.

“He shall be missed,” tweeted one guy on the Colts who’s feeling the loss of Gore: QB Andrew Luck.

Ballage has room for growth in this department. All rookies do. At 6-feet-3 and 230 pounds, he’s the tallest and heaviest back on the team. So the tools are there.

“He’s a guy that shouldn’t have a lot of limitations,” Loggains said.

Ballage’s background backs that up. In addition to running back, he grew up playing quarterback, receiver, safety and linebacker.

Dolphins running back Kalen Ballage. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

“I did everything,” Ballage said. “I am a running back, but I consider myself a football player. I feel like I’m somebody that can do everything pretty well.”

He added, “I don’t think they would’ve picked me if I didn’t fit that mold” of an Adam Gase running back.

The Dolphins in recent seasons have wrestled with run-pass balance but should achieve it in 2018. Not all passing plays are created equal, though, because Gase can treat short tosses as extended handoffs, which is where this trio’s skillset also comes in.

Gore caught 29 passes for 245 yards last year and in his career has had as many as 485 receiving yards in a season. Drake caught 32 for 239 yards and two scores last year. In 2017, Ballage had odd totals of 20 catches for 91 yards, just a 4.6 average, but in 2016 he caught 44 passes for 469 and a 10.7 average.

“Drake is a guy that can play all three downs,” Loggains said. “I think Kalen fits that vision as well. He can catch the football. He can be a weapon out of the backfield, but he’s also big enough in pass pro. Where he needs to grow is the NFL game and nickel protections and learning that stuff, because that’s obviously the biggest transition in the NFL is going in there and you’ve got odd defenses and you’ve got spinners and floaters and trap blitzes and all of those things. He’s got to master that stuff.”

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Miami Dolphins’ Kenyan Drake: Kalen Ballage is one ‘smooth’ ‘freak’

Miami Dolphins running back Kalen Ballage is a prototype. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

DAVIE — Kalen Ballage is the tallest player in the Miami Dolphins’ running back room and he’s also the heaviest.

Ballage is 6-foot-3, 230 pounds and he’s also really, really fast. It’s hard to understand how Ballage lasted until the fourth round of the last NFL Draft, but he did, and you can count running back Kenyan Drake among those happy he did.

“He’s a freak,” Drake said Tuesday. “(Ballage) runs so smooth that it doesn’t really seem like he’s running fast. For him to be as tall. Obviously, me being a long, tall back, I always had trouble running behind my pads. He always seems to have a natural bend, a natural ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.”

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Drake knows it’s very early in camp, as only four practices are complete.

“Obviously we don’t have pads on, so blocking is a different story with pads on,” Drake said. “He definitely seems to be a three-tool type of player and I’m just looking to see his development.”

Dolphins offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains does believe Ballage will be able to protect.

“When he walks through the door, that’s what they’re supposed to look like,” Loggains said. “He’s big, he’s put together and he’s a really smart kid. We’re excited about trying to tap him out and make sure his head is hitting the ceiling. He’s got size, he’s got height, weight, speed. Doing those things, we’ve got to figure out what he does well and find out quickly with that stuff.”

The Dolphins acquired Ballage with a pick acquired from Philadelphia for Jay Ajayi. Coach Adam Gase believes the additions of free agent Frank Gore and Ballage creates an opportunity for increased competition and results.

“He’s a big man that runs fast and can catch the ball well,” Gase said. “He really has all of the things that you’re looking for in an all-around back. It’ll be fun to see how he progresses and how things go … how quick he learns everything and how he fits in with the group.”

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Miami Dolphins look for new punt returner to replace Jarvis Landry

Danny Amendola could be the “hands” guy on punt returns this year. (Getty Images)

DAVIE — The Dolphins never clearly stated how they divided up punt returns between Jarvis Landry and Jakeem Grant, but they appeared to lean toward Landry when they were backed up and Grant when there might be more room to run.

Grant is still here, but Landry’s departure to Cleveland means the team needs a new return man for punts that look like they’re going to be in high-traffic situations.

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Veteran receiver Danny Amendola, who often returned punts for New England, seems like the most likely man to replace Landry in that role. Special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi said today he’s consider Amendola, receiver Albert Wilson and rookie running back Kalen Ballage on punt returns in addition to Grant.

“We’ve added a couple of guys onto the roster that have had return experience,” Rizzi said. “We all know Amendola did it with New England. Albert Wilson is a guy that did it in Kansas City. He just got buried behind a couple of really good returners, but he’s got returner experience.

“Then Kalen Ballage was a kick returner at Arizona State. He’s a big body that can run really well. He had some really productive kick returns. We’ve kind of added a couple of pieces there, as well.”

Rizzi said all four players will get reps as punt returners over the next several months. The Dolphins begin four weeks of offseason practices May 22 and start training camp in late July. There’s plenty of time to nail it down before the season opener.

Amendola returned 27 punts last year for an average of 8.6 yards, including a long of 40 yards. Between his time with the Patriots and Rams, he has returned 174 punts and 152 kicks.

Wilson has no punt returns on his record and returned three kicks in four years with the Chiefs, but he did work on return teams in practice.

Ballage, a fourth-round pick, was a running back and kick returner at Arizona State. In four seasons he returned 48 kickoffs for an average of 22.1 yards per return.

Last season, Grant was used on 36 of 51 punts. He returned 25 for 190 yards and called for a fair catch on 11. Landry handled the other 15, fair catching three and returning the other 12 for 81 yards.

Over the last two seasons, Grant was on the field for 59 punts compared to 46 by Landry.

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Rookie RB Kalen Ballage says he can do it all for Miami Dolphins

Kalen Ballage reacts to being asked if he’ll get some snaps at quarterback for the Dolphins. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

DAVIE — Kalen Ballage checks every box on Adam Gase’s list of necessities for a running back.

He’s fast, he’s driven by a perceived snub in the recent NFL Draft and he’s got the versatility to do whatever the Dolphins dream up for him.

“That’s why I’m valuable,” he said today at rookie minicamp. “I can do anything. Whatever you can come up with, whatever you want to do, I feel like I can fit into that system.”

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Ballage, a fourth-round pick out of Arizona State, has played a variety of positions throughout his football career. He’s mainly a running back, but he can catch and throw and has even some defense before he reached college.

He’s thought to be a decent threat at quarterback and had a game against Oregon in 2016 in which he ran for a touchdown, then completed a pass for the two-point conversion. He also had a 3-yard touchdown pass in that game.

Does he think the Dolphins will start working him as a Wildcat quarterback?

“Uh,” he said, knowing this is a question he’s not supposed to answer. “I don’t know.”

Ballage threw his hands up and kept shaking his head, unwilling to give away anything the coaches have talked about with him. Gase can mark that down as another plus.

The most likely role for Ballage will be working as Kenyan Drake’s understudy, which puts him third on the depth chart given that Frank Gore is here as well. He’ll also get a shot at special teams.

In college, Ballage averaged 4.4 yards per carry, but felt he didn’t get a full opportunity to showcase his skills. He carried the ball just 450 times in four years, which averaged out to 9.8 rushing attempts per game. That’s part of why he thinks he fell to the fourth round in the draft despite his 4.46 40-yard dash time and potentially overwhelming athleticism.

Even in his memorable eight-touchdown performance against Texas Tech in 2016, Ballage put up those numbers on 13 rushes and two receptions.

“That’s kinda how it was throughout my college career,” he said. “Now I’m here and I’m a Dolphin and I’m really excited to move forward… I’m a Miami Dolphin now. These coaches are extremely smart and they know exactly what they’re doing and they’re going to be able to put me in positions to make a lot of plays.”

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2018 NFL Draft: Goals for Miami Dolphins’ draft class this offseason

What’s realistic for Minkah Fitzpatrick? (Getty Images)

With the Dolphins’ recent draft class reporting for rookie minicamp this weekend, they’ll need an iPad more than shoulder pads.

The first step toward securing a spot on the depth chart will take place indoors as 20 rookies dive into a playbook they’ll need to nail down by the time Miami hits the field for Organized Team Activities in two weeks.

The goals are incremental, starting with simply proving they’re serious enough about this opportunity to stick around for the four weeks of offseason practices. After that it’s earning the right to stay for training camp in July, when the real competition for jobs begins. The 85-90 players Miami has in camp will scrap for 53 spots.

Of the 20 players expected in Davie this week, only the first five draft picks can reasonably assume anything about their future. Anyone picked in the sixth or seventh round, as well as the dozen undrafted free agents, has nothing close to a guarantee.

As the rookies class begins its venture into this new world, going from college stars to that guy who carries Cameron Wake’s pads off the field, here’s the outlook for the eight players Miami drafted last month:

Minkah Fitzpatrick, safety, first round
As good as he is and as much as everyone raves about him being pro-ready, Fitzpatrick is no guarantee to knock T.J. McDonald out of the starting lineup. McDonald is 27 and looked good enough a year ago that Miami gave him a four-year, $24 million extension before he ever played a game. The test run of him and Jones on the back end didn’t go smoothly, and he’ll probably show up to OTAs ready to prove himself again.

The key for Fitzpatrick is to learn quickly and show versatility. The more he can do, the more defensive coordinator Matt Burke will look for places to get him on the field.

Mike Gesicki, tight end, second round
Gesicki is the most likely player in this draft class to earn a starting job, and the Dolphins are banking on him doing so. They have no one like him at the position. He was drafted to be the receiving threat this roster is missing at tight end, and his physical ability should be overwhelming compared to his competitors on the depth chart.

Route-running is the No. 1 job for Gesicki. If he is reliably in the right spots for Ryan Tannehill during offseason practices, it bodes well for his role in the offense going forward. A good showing will prompt Adam Gase to rework his plans over the monthlong break between June minicamp and training camp.

Jerome Baker, linebacker, third round
As thin as the Dolphins are at linebacker, Baker’s in for quite a fight at the position. Undrafted veterans Mike Hull and Chase Allen have stayed on the team because they’re technically sound, and former first-round pick Stephone Anthony is in a contract year. Beyond those players, Baker’s also got to outplay seventh-rounder Quentin Poling.

Baker is more of a coverage linebacker than a thumper, which should work well with what Miami needs. The plan for now is to install Raekwon McMillan at middle and Kiko Alonso on the outside. Baker’s got the requisite speed to capture the other outside job.

Durham Smythe, tight end, fourth round
By their own admission, the Dolphins basically drafted one tight end to can catch passes and one to block. Smythe is the blocker, but he’ll have to be more than that. Even Anthony Fasano, a role model for him, was a factor in the passing game. Over an eight-year span beginning in his third season, Fasano averaged 31 catches, 352 yards and four touchdowns.

That’s a good goal for Smythe. The Dolphins currently have A.J. Derby as a pass-catching threat and MarQueis Gray as a seasoned, savvy player who blocks well and occasionally springs loose as a receiver.

Kalen Ballage, running back, fourth round
Be fast and know the plays. Gase won’t ask much more than that out of Ballage. Kenyan Drake is the clear starter for the Dolphins at running back, and Frank Gore isn’t here merely to play professor. Ballage needs to get himself ready to fill in for Drake this season and to play with him starting in 2019.

In the meantime, he’s got an opportunity to be a threat on special teams. He clocked a 4.46 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine and was an effective kick returner each of his last two seasons at Arizona State.

Cornell Armstrong, cornerback, sixth round
The Dolphins’ plan for cornerbacks is to have a lot of them. Xavien Howard and Cordrea Tankersley are the starters, Bobby McCain and Tony Lippett are reinforcements and it’s Hunger Games for everybody else.

Armstrong has 4.4 speed, but wasn’t a particularly outstanding high school or college player. He’ll have to be convincing to assure himself of making the cut over the next four months and he’ll be competing with Torry McTyer, Tracy Howard, Jordan Lucas and others to do so.

Quentin Poling, linebacker, seventh round
The Dolphins currently have eight linebackers on the roster, and Poling is last in line of that group. Additionally, the team is bringing in Cayson Collins from North Carolina and Mike McCray of Michigan as undrafted free agents, and there typically isn’t a huge difference between seventh-round picks and undrafted guys.

Poling’s got good strength and speed, which gives him a nice start in trying to win a job as a special teamer and second-string linebacker. While he’s got some decent competition, this is a position that’s mostly wide open for Miami.

Jason Sanders, kicker, seventh round
Sanders’ situation comes down to the fairly simple question of whether he can outperform undrafted Florida Atlantic kicker Greg Joseph. Whoever makes more kicks and looks better on kickoffs will take Cody Parkey’s old job — unless, of course, someone better becomes available in free agency.

Sanders made 25 of 35 field goals (71 percent) in his college career and hit 111 of 112 extra-point tries. Joseph, who played at American Heritage in Delray Beach, made 57 of 82 field goals (70 percent) and 165 of 170 extra points.

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2018 NFL Draft: grades Miami Dolphins’ 2018 draft class

Minkah Fitzpatrick seemed too good to last all the way to No. 11. (Getty Images)

The Dolphins’ recent NFL Draft class looked pretty good overall, with the exception of them being unable to land a quarterback they liked, but there doesn’t seem to be much praise for the work they did.

One analyst thinks they did OK, though. Lance Zierlein, who does a lot of the site’s pre-draft assessments, put Miami 18th in his NFL Draft power rankings this week. That’s much better than the team scored with ESPN’s Mel Kiper and another breakdown.

The Dolphins were surprised they could get Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick at No. 11, thinking he was no worse than a top-six talent. They followed by addressing needs at tight end in the second round (Mike Gesicki) and linebacker in the third (Jerome Baker), then went for a playmaking running back in Kalen Ballage in Round 4.

“The addition of Fitzpatrick adds more consistency and a strong presence to the back end,” Zierlein wrote. “It will be important for the Dolphins to fit Gesicki into the right role — he’s pass catcher who shouldn’t be asked to do much blocking—but if they do, he could pay off in a big way.

“The rest of the their draft was relatively solid but unspectacular, with the performance of (fourth-round tight end Durham Smythe) and Ballage potentially determining whether this draft was a success.”
Here’s the Dolphins’ full draft class, which reports for rookie minicamp next week:

First round, No. 10 overall: Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, Alabama
Second round, No. 42 overall: Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State
Third round, No. 73 overall: Jerome Baker, LB, Ohio State
Fourth round, No. 123 overall: Durham Smythe, TE, Notre Dame
Fourth round, No. 131 overall: Kalen Ballage, RB, Arizona State
Sixth round, No. 209 overall: Cornell Armstrong, CB, Southern Mississippi
Seventh round, No. 227 overall: Quentin Poling, LB, Ohio
Seventh round, No. 229 overall: Jason Sanders, K, New Mexico

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2018 NFL Draft: Dolphins fill needs, get juice without being irresponsible

Minkah Fitzpatrick is a big reason the Dolphins think they got good value this year. (Getty Images)

DAVIE — This works.

It’s not amazing, it’s not particularly thrilling, but it’ll do.

The Dolphins got most of what they needed out of this year’s NFL Draft, including at least two players who should be instant starters at need positions, and they look a little better today than they did at the start of the week. Filling holes and getting better is what the draft’s all about, and Miami accomplished both of those.

And the team got all that done without giving in to any impulsive trades that sacrifice its chances of continuing to upgrade next spring. All eight picks for 2019 remain intact.

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“You always want to make sure you have ammunition for next year,” said general manager Chris Grier, who added that the Dolphins would’ve made a trade if a good one presented itself. “We got great value.”

And, as vice president Mike Tannenbaum pointed out, they’d already brought in former all-pro defensive end Robert Quinn for one of this year’s fourth rounders, and they weren’t going to pick anybody better than him this late in the draft.

The crown jewel of Miami’s class is No. 11 pick Minkah Fitzpatrick, who was thought to be a borderline top-five talent out of Alabama. At the time, it seemed like bad luck for the Dolphins that all the best quarterbacks were gone before its spot came up, but that’s part of the reason Fitzpatrick fell to them in what they believe will be an incredible value pick.

They had Fitzpatrick as one of the six best players on their draft board and were surprised he was available. If he overtakes T.J. McDonald for a starting safety job this summer, it’ll be a good early indicator that the Dolphins played it well in the first round.

There were quarterbacks they liked in that top group, especially Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield, but they made the decision well in advance that they weren’t mortgaging the future — like the Jets and Bills did — to move up and take one of them. It was tense in the draft room waiting to see if someone would slip to them, but restraint reigned.

Are there bigger needs than safety? Definitely. But it’s an important enough position and a talented enough prospect that Miami had to pounce.

Addressing needs came later, and the Dolphins showed conviction once again by taking tight end Mike Gesicki in the second round at No. 43 overall. He’s the guy they believed in, even though most analysts had Dallas Goedert ahead of him at the position.

Goedert was thought to be going late in the first round at one point, and Gesicki was cast as possibly a fourth-rounder early in the pre-draft coverage. The Dolphins vetted both of them and stayed true to their board, which had Gesicki second only to South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst.

Gesicki and fourth-round pick Kalen Ballage, a speedy running back who can also make an impact in the passing game, give Miami some badly needed playmaking threats in an offense that has been dull and ineffective for way too long.

Adam Gase was brought in to change that and hasn’t been able to do so yet. Over his two seasons as head coach, the Dolphins have ranked 24th in points, 27th in yardage and kept the ball on offense more than just six teams. Bad and boring.

Gesicki and Ballage aren’t bad or boring. They bolster the speed and athleticism of a collection of skill players Gase says is very close to what he envisioned when he took the helm.

The big letdown of this draft is that Miami didn’t land a quarterback, and the roster certainly seems like it needed a promising rookie to work behind Ryan Tannehill this season and eventually challenge him.

But Gase warned everyone a month ago that might happen. If there’s one area in which he deserves to be trusted, it’s quarterbacks. Question him on a bunch of other things, but he’s built his career off his expertise at this position. He wasn’t on board with taking a quarterback just to appease people and get someone in the pipeline.

“Are we taking a guy just to take a guy?” he said in March. “I mean I’d love to add a quarterback as much as anybody else but at the same time, I want it to be the right guy for us.”

After the draft, Grier added, “We weren’t going to reach for any quarterback.”

None of the top four were convincing enough for him to sell of big-time future assets. He wasn’t sold on Mason Rudolph, a highly rated prospect from Oklahoma State who was available at No. 73 overall, and the Dolphins went for Ohio State linebacker Jerome Baker there instead.

Baker solved another problem for a roster that was, and maybe still is, woefully thin at linebacker.

Everything after the fourth round is usually about scouring the list for talent that can at least make an NFL roster, but the Dolphins also made good use of that opportunity by locking in kicker Jason Sanders from New Mexico with their final pick rather than having to scramble for an undrafted free agent in frenzy of phone calls that always follows the final pick.

Filling the two most glaring roster needs in the first three rounds is sensible, and adding a talent of Fitzpatrick’s caliber makes that a good haul already. If Ballage and anyone else materializes into an asset, even better.

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2018 NFL Draft: Fourth-rounder Kalen Ballage is Dolphins’ most exciting pick

The Dolphins have two young running backs now that they’ve pickedd up Kalen Ballage to pair with Kenyan Drake. (Getty Images)

DAVIE — This is the most exciting pick the Miami Dolphins have made in this year’s NFL Draft, and it’s unusual to say that about a fourth-round pick.

An offense that’s been dangerously low on electricity got a big jolt of it by choosing Arizona State running back with the No. 131 overall selection. He’s a thicker back at 6-foot-2, 228 pounds and he’s still got enough speed to clock a blazing 4.35 in the 40-yard dash at his pro day.

Much of the Dolphins’ draft to this point had been about filling crucial needs, which is important, but Ballage is the first pick that brings the thrill of posing a big-play threat at all times.

“I don’t believe there’s 130 guys better than me, and definitely not 11 other running backs,” Ballage said.

This is a guy who once scored eight touchdowns in a game against Texas Tech, and anybody who can do that is worth the attention. Last year, as a senior, he put up 669 yards at a rate of 4.3 per carry and scored six touchdowns.

Ballage also possesses the pass-catching ability Adam Gase covets as he tries to assemble Miami’s backfield of the future. Kenyan Drake will be the primary back this year and has put together convincing evidence that he can do damage as a runner and receiver, and Gase’s imagination will run wild with ways to use him and Ballage together.

As a nice bonus, he’s already well-versed in special teams and could be a big factor for Miami in the return game.

Take a look at the skill players Miami has now, and the offseason departure of Jarvis Landry hurts a little bit less.

The Dolphins have exceptional speed at receiver in Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson, plus the potential that always comes with DeVante Parker if he can get it together as well as a steady veteran in Danny Amendola.

They’ve got two new tight ends, one with the athleticism and leaping ability of an NBA wing player and one who made his name as a gritty blocker. The former, Penn State’s Mike Gesicki, could provide Miami with the red-zone target it’s been badly missing the last two years.

And the backfield now has dynamic speedsters in Drake and Ballage, both of whom will learn from one of the all-time greats in soon-to-be-35-year-old Frank Gore.

“Frank Gore is one of the best running backs ever,” Ballage said. “It’s cool to be able to learn from him.”

That’s a perfect attitude for Ballage, who admitted he’s raw and could use some guidance. He endured plenty of turnover on the Arizona State coaching staff during his time there and comes to Davie ready to be molded by Gase’s staff.

He also comes in with low mileage after getting just 450 carries in four years with the Sun Devils. That’s part of why Ballage thinks he got overlooked and drifted all the way to the late fourth round, but he won’t be short on opportunity when he joins the Dolphins.

In Gase’s economy, being a big-play threat is worth more than anything, and finding one this late in the draft is great work by Chris Grier and the Dolphins.

[Vote: Grade all of the Dolphins’ draft picks]

[PHOTO GALLERY: From the NFL Draft in Arlington, Texas]

[Miami Dolphins stuck without a QB in Round 1 of NFL Draft; Will it cost them?]

[What the Dolphins think of skill players in this year’s NFL Draft]

[Frank Gore’s on a mission with Miami Dolphins]

Check out The Palm Beach Post‘s Miami Dolphins page on Facebook.

Lieser: Miami Dolphins can make it fun by picking a playmaker in 2018 NFL Draft

Alabama’s Calvin Ridley will probably be the first wide receiver taken. (Getty Images)

It’s been at least a few years since a Dolphins’ draft energized the fan base, and this week might finally bring some excitement.

There’s drama surrounding what will happen with the No. 11 pick, whether Miami will catch a break and see at least one of the top four quarterbacks slip to that spot, but there are opportunities to find game-changers throughout the three days.

That’d be a breath of fresh air after the last two drafts, when the team opted for an offensive tackle, cornerback, defensive end and linebacker in the first two rounds. Miami has spent its first-round pick on the line of scrimmage in six of the last eight drafts.

Sometimes that’s necessary, but it’s rarely fun.

It could be much more interesting this year because this is expected to be an offense-first draft for the Dolphins, and coach Adam Gase is desperate to add anybody who can create a spark after seeing his team finish 28th in points scored last season. Miami managed two offensive touchdowns in the first four games and never truly turned it around.

So regardless of how deep the Dolphins might look at receiver or how crowded the backfield could be, they can’t turn down a dynamic playmaker at any position. They’ll have to balance that desire with the fact that they’re still in search of a starting tight end and linebacker, but real firepower isn’t easy to acquire.

If someone like Alabama’s Calvin Ridley and D.J. Moore or Maryland are available at No. 11, which is likely, that’ll make it a very difficult decision.

Ridley is 6-foot-1, 190 pounds and clocked a 4.43 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. He averaged more than 900 yards per year and totaled 19 touchdowns in his three seasons with the Crimson Tide, putting him atop his position in most rankings.

Moore has roughly the same measurables except he’s 20 pounds heavier. He had 80 catches for 1,033 yards and eight touchdowns last season.

The Dolphins don’t have a true, established No. 1 receiver on the roster heading into the upcoming season.

Kenny Stills is their most accomplished player at the position and is in the prime of his career, but he has yet to break 1,000 yards. Perhaps this will be the year. It’ll be another offseason of Miami hoping DeVante Parker finally has that breakout season. And the combination of up-and-comer Albert Wilson and nine-year veteran Danny Amendola are responsible for patching the hole left by Jarvis Landry.

The team is weighing its 2019 option on Parker, Amendola is on a two-year deal and the Dolphins have Stills and Wilson signed through 2020.

At running back, third-year man Kenyan Drake takes over for his first full season as the chief ball-carrier, and the ageless Frank Gore is here to teach him how it’s done. Bringing in another student via the draft wouldn’t be a bad idea, and Gase would like to solidify a two-man backfield with Drake for the long term.

The runaway leader at the position is Saquon Barkley, who will go early. While the Dolphins won’t have any shot at him, he could be pivotal in their draft if a team like the Giants becomes fixated on him and allows a top quarterback to start sliding.

Miami will be more interested in the next tier of prospects. Someone like Sony Michel of Georgia or Ronald Jones II from Southern California would be tempting at No. 42, or the Dolphins could hope to pluck another Bulldog in Nick Chubb or San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny in the third at 73rd overall.

Each of those four backs put up a season of at least 1,200 yards as a collegian, including Penny with a staggering 2,248 for the Aztecs last year.

Kalen Ballage, a rushing and receiving talent, is in the group behind them and could be on the board in the third or fourth round. He and Penny each ran a 4.46 in the 40 at the combine, tying for the third-fastest time behind North Carolina State’s Nyheim Hines (4.38) and Barkley (4.40).

LSU’s Derrius Guice is another name that’s been linked to Miami, but the closer it’s gotten to the draft, the less of a fit that appears to be. Guice is such a compelling talent that he might not last to the No. 42 pick, but even if he does, it’s highly likely the team will go a different direction.

The only offensive skill players they’ve taken in the first two rounds over the last five years were Parker in 2015 (14th overall) and Landry (63rd) the year before.

Gase’s first draft class included Drake and receiver Leonte Carroo in the third round, but it took until late last season for Drake to make a big impact on the offense and Carroo has yet to prove he belongs in the league.

The last playmaker Miami drafted that went for 1,000 yards rushing or receiving was Jay Ajayi in 2015. Before that it was Landry and 2012 third-rounder Lamar Miller.

More than any other reason, Gase was hired to ignite a brutally boring offense. He’s had to clear out players who didn’t fit financially or scheme-wise and now he’s got the roster close to what he envisioned when took the job. He thinks he’s got some big-play threats in the lineup already, and adding at least one more in the draft should give him all the ammunition he needs.

[A look inside the Dolphins’ process for making draft picks and who makes the final call]

[What the Dolphins think of skill players in this year’s NFL Draft]

[Frank Gore’s on a mission with Miami Dolphins]

Check out The Palm Beach Post‘s Miami Dolphins page on Facebook.