INDIANAPOLIS – As he prepares to make the most important move of his tenure, Chris Ballard does so with the Colts having a plethora of building blocks already in place.
Yes, Ballard faces critical decisions at a handful of vital spots, but he does so with pretty good support around them, thanks to a strong draft history.
How should we evaluate the 4-year tenure of Ballard, with the Colts going 33-31 in that time?
-Firmer Foundation: Just rattle off the dozen or so Colts under the age of 28 you would call building blocks. Grover Stewart, Ryan Kelly, DeForest Buckner, Kenny Moore, Darius Leonard, Braden Smith, Khari Willis, Bobby Okereke, Quenton Nelson, Nyheim Hines, Michael Pittman, Jonathan Taylor, Julian Blackmon and (you hope) Parris Campbell. All of those guys, besides Kelly, were acquired by Ballard. Through drafting, and a few other moves, Ballard has the Colts with an ascending roster in many spots. That’s vital as these guys reach second contracts.
-Character Leading To Culture: Similar to how Frank Reich handled this chaotic season, Chris Ballard’s stringent focus on player character is a major reason why the Colts won 11 games and made the playoffs this season. In a year unlike any other, teams greatly benefited from self-motivated and driven guys. With a virtual world creating a very unusual NFL offseason and season, Colts players stayed locked in and that comes largely from their own makeup, something that Ballard and his staff do not mess around with during the scouting process.
-Those Other Findings: Whether it’s Zach Pascal, Mo Alie-Cox, Kenny Moore, Mark Glowinski or Al-Quadin Muhammad, Ballard has done a pretty good job of going outside the box to round out this roster. Sure, the signing of Xavier Rhodes was great and worked out perfectly. But these other names should get some mention, too, because they don’t garner the same amount of headlines, yet are guys that have played pretty important roles for the Colts.
Losses/To Be Determined
-Finding A Quarterback: For a second straight offseason, the decision of all decisions is at the top of this list. Whether it’s in the somewhat short-term, or in the long-term, Ballard faces another major decision at the most important position in sports. Like it has been the case throughout his tenure, and sometimes out of his control, Ballard will not have the same starting QB in consecutive seasons. This decision cannot be understated. It’s massive, and will inevitably shape how his run (for however long) as GM is viewed.
-Offensive Line Depth: Specifically for the 2020 season, this is something that Ballard points to as a mistake. And he’s right. The Colts did not do an adequate enough job last offseason in finding better/more offensive tackle depth. And it’s so head scratching because Ballard is such a staunch believer in making sure this part of his team is addressed. With the Colts dealing with more normal offensive line health in 2020, it cost the Colts late in the season. Had it been addressed better, could the Colts have won the division and/or had a home playoff game, and possibly even advanced in the postseason?
-Future At Critical Spots: While the foundation Ballard has created is on better ground than his predecessor entering Year 5, the Colts face unquestionable decisions at arguably the most important parts on the football team. What is the future at quarterback? What about left tackle for 2021 and beyond? How about edge rusher with those young guys yet to emerge? Is there a No. 1 outside corner on the roster? Is Michael Pittman prepared to be the team’s’ No. 1 wideout of the future? If you don’t have the majority of these spots figured out, the ability to achieve long-term success is made infinitely harder. Draft wise, Ballard has struggled in finding success at edge rusher and cornerback, and that’s holding this defense back from truly being elite.