Zachary Ballard (Northern Knights)
Height: 184 cm
Weight: 77 kg
Strengths: Ball winning ability, clearances, tackling, speed
Weaknesses: Kicking can be hit or miss, goal kicking
Player Comparison: Nathan Freeman
Zac Ballard is arguably one of the top midfielders in this draft, but he is criminally underrated. Based on his AFL ready body, game style and potential, he should be a mid to late first round selection.
He’s always around the contest. His great endurance base allows him to only take short spells, and he gets to just about every contest. You’ll often find him on the bottom of a pack. He is a bull in the pack, as his strength allows him to win the inside ball, but also break tackles so he can get kick away.
Ballard reminds me of Nathan Freeman a lot. The differences are Freeman is a cleaner ball user and Ballard gets more of the ball. Ballard’s speed is under rated because he often uses it when running back to get a chase down tackle. He doesn’t try to be a flashy player and he doesn’t need to be. That speed allows him to be an effective inside and outside midfielder.
Occasionally, he’ll have games where he has a low kicking efficiency. He never shanks it and he’s certainly not a bad user of the ball. It’s more about that he’ll try and kick to a dangerous position and he hasn’t quite executed it properly. Alongside that, many of his kicks will be contested possessions, so that also makes it tough.
Over his six matches so far, Ballard has been in the bests in every game. He was clear best on ground for two of those games. He has averaged 21.5 disposals per game. His season high was an outstanding 34 touches, and that doesn’t even begin to describe his influence that day. His disposal efficiency is at a very solid 63 per cent, although his kicking efficiency is around 46 per cent.
Ballard eight handball receives per game is elite for someone who a dual midfielder. That also goes with his 4.5 marks per game – Clearly he is plenty of outside ball from his high work rate. The most impressive stat though is his tackling. He averages 8.2 tackles per game and his lowest for the year was four tackles. If you take that and his game against the Jets with five tackles, then he averages a whopping 10 tackles per game. He leads the league in this stat so it’s not surprising he is someone to watch out for come year’s end.
Photo: Zac Ballard in action against the Western Jets
Zac Ballard might not have the flash-in-the-pan style of a Patrick Dangerfield or the skills of a Scott Pendlebury, but his ability to chase hard defensively and mow down opposition players, while hurting them the other way is a real standout of his game. If Ballard can further enhance his hurt factor when running offensively, he will become an exceptional player at AFL level. While he has room for improvement, Ballard is one that should expect to hear his named called earlier rather than later in November.