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Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Ballard the new "Boss" for Giants

By Michael Landrigan


AP Photo/Michael DwyerJake Ballard goes up high to catch an Eli Manning pass and keep the Giants game-winning drive alive

Jake Ballard caught the game-winning TD for the New York Giants against the Patriots, and has become one of Eli Manning's favorite targets over the past five weeks.

After being targeted only five times by Manning over the first three weeks of the season, the undrafted second-year tight end out of Ohio State has been targeted 25 times in the past five.

Ballard’s season-to-date totals may not blow you away (23 receptions, 3 touchdowns), but he has become an invaluable weapon for Manning in moving the chains, including his 28-yard grab in traffic on third down that sustained the Giants game-winning drive.

In a year with tight ends Jimmy Graham, Jermichael Finley and Rob Gronkowski having outstanding seasons, it is Ballard who has the highest yards per reception (17.2) of all qualified tight ends. Almost 80 percent (78.3) of his receptions have gone for first downs, the third-highest percentage among qualified tight ends.

How did Ballard drop in Jerry Reese’s lap as an undrafted free agent? A main reason is that the Jim Tressel-led Buckeyes rarely featured the tight end during his tenure, as evidenced by Ballard’s 34 catches and 3 touchdowns in his four seasons at Ohio State.

Last season, Kevin Boss was fourth on the Giants in both receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. Ballard has more than filled the void created by Boss’ departure, ranking third on the team in receiving yards and tied for second in TD.