INDIANAPOLIS – Less than a week before the NFL Draft, Chris Ballard was on his game in keeping things under wraps.
Ballard’s annual pre-draft presser is one that often includes more generalities, than specifics, which one can more than understand when you know what lies ahead this week.
What to make of what Ballard had to say on Friday?
–On the Colts’ need at left tackle: “I have told y’all all along that I think we’ve got four really good linemen before free agency started. We’ve signed a couple veterans – (Sam) Tevi, who started a lot of games for the Chargers. Julién (Davenport) has played in this league. And we think they are good players. We will create competition at left tackle and we’ll get the best five players on the field. That’s the one thing about the offensive line that I think gets looked over sometimes, it’s different from any other group because they have to play as one, five as one, and they have to play together. It’s a unique group that we have. We’re very fortunate with the guys that we have. They all love to play, they work, they’re unselfish, they stand for everything we want to stand for. Adding to that group, we want to make sure we have five good starting linemen, plus – you’re going to have points in the season where the six, seven, eight and nine are going to play. Lord knows we had it last year. So they are all important. Then in comparison to the draft, yeah I think it’s a good draft. In terms of just all the offensive linemen as a whole, it’s really good.”
Bowen’s Analysis: Ballard he has been pretty cautious this offseason in publicly committing to the thought of ‘the next left tackle must be found in the draft.’ He’s been steadfast in saying the Colts will try and find the best 5 offensive linemen and go from there. Now, Ballard gushed about the depth of the offensive line class in 2021, saying it’s the best he’s seen in quite some time. Does this mean the Colts can find a future starter outside of Round 1? Ballard was asked about projecting a college right tackle over to left tackle in the NFL. The GM said if the player has enough athletic ability and instincts, such a move can be made. This is key to remember as you don’t have a ton of ‘pure’ left tackles in this draft class.
–On the Cots’ need at edge rusher: “You lose Denico Autry, Justin Houston – two good players, and Justin is still (a free agent) right now, those are big shoes to fill. Saying that, we think we’ve got some young players. I thought Tyquan (Lewis) really came on last year and played good football and we think he can play good football for us. When you talk about (Kemoko) Turay, look, he’s had some bad luck. Last year we didn’t get to see Turay fully. He had another surgery after the season and at the end of the day, I blame myself for not just pausing and saying, ‘Okay, let’s make sure we get him healthy.’ He fought through, he played hurt. He was never quite right all year. We think we have the problem fixed. He’s a good kid, he’s very talented. Let’s see him come to fruition. Then this is a big year for Ben Banogu, this is a big year for him. He knows it. It’s time for him to step up. He’s got a lot of talent. He’s a good kid, he works. Let’s see what he can be. Then we brought back (Al-Quadin) Muhammad. We signed (Isaac) Rochell from the Chargers. So we’ll work through that and we do think there are some good players in the draft.”
Bowen’s Analysis: The Colts continue to be high on Lewis. In 2020, Lewis had a really nice season, although most of his production came from the defensive interior. Here, Ballard is tossing Lewis into the edge conversation. Health remains the biggest question with Turay as he needed another surgery after the 2020 season. While Ballard wasn’t incredibly outspoken about this need, we do have to remember the draft is less than a week away. We do know the Colts want ample depth along their defensive front and they definitely don’t have that right now.
–On Jim Irsay mentioning cornerback as a need: “You’re always looking for corners. You want to have depth. We’ve got good players. We’ve got proven players there. Rock (Ya-Sin) is continuing to develop and look, I’ll tell you this about Rock, he has not missed a day. He has been here every day. He has not missed a day, so he is driven. So, I think you’re always looking for corners at every level of the draft and I think it’s been proven that you can take them at every level of the draft and you find good ones. So we’ll continue to look.”
Bowen’s Analysis: Irsay said last week the Colts were looking for a 3rd cornerback to join their top 2 (Kenny Moore and Xavier Rhodes). Ballard fielded that question and turned it into a continued praise of Rock Ya-Sin’s work ethic. This is often where Ballard and the Colts sit on the Ya-Sin debate. They stress his ability to work in overcoming the inconsistencies he has had in two NFL seasons. How Ballard truly feels about Ya-Sin will be felt next week.
–On electing to pass on the first wave of edge rushers in free agency: “Our own philosophy is we want to be able to draft and develop and sign as many of our own guys as we can. We think that’s just how you build continuity and build something that lasts over time. You have to make choices, and I think all of you understand my philosophy on free agency. I’m not against free agency. I think we’ve shown that we’ll go out in free agency, but saying that, I just think that the long-term health both from a cap standpoint, from a culture standpoint is to continue to draft and grow and develop your own guys. You have to make financial decisions that – anytime you sign a big-time free agent for a lot of money, there are consequences down the road and that means you are willing to let other players go. I’m just, I’m not there. I like what we have on our team. We have work to do. I’m not sitting here saying we’re some Super Bowl ready team. We have work to do and that work will not end when the draft is over. We will still try to acquire the best players we can that can help us between now and into the season. I think I’ve said this ad nauseam, that player acquisition is not just the free agency and the draft. There are other times that you can acquire players and we’ll continue to go down that road and dig and try to find the right fits for us and fill every need we have.”
Bowen’s Analysis: Ballard wasn’t in the mood to answer a question on whether the Colts’ lack of activity at pass rusher in free agency was more so because of their belief in Turay/Lewis or because they didn’t like the price tags for those guys in FA. What’s clear in this answer though is Ballard’s belief in roster building. He is adamant that retaining your own through the draft is a must and that’s not changing anytime soon. Ballard’s reservations about using free agency more are pretty clearly stated above. Yes, roster building is a 12-month long process, to some degree, but there’s no denying that the bulk of that happens in March (free agency) and April (draft).
–On having just six picks in this year’s draft: “The more picks you have the better chances you get, shots at the board. This is not an exact science and you need a little luck. Let’s be real here. I think we’re pretty good at what we do but there needs to be a little luck involved and the more picks you have, the more chances of luck are going to show up. That’s just a philosophy that we have in the draft. If we’re sitting there and there is a player that we really think is a difference-maker and he is going to really make a difference on our team, we’ll take him or we’ll trade up to get him. We thought Jonathan Taylor was a difference-maker and we traded up to get Jonathan Taylor. But there are times that we just felt that whether it was the fit of the player, medical issues of why we traded back, but we just thought at the time whoever was sitting there we could move back and acquire two or three players versus the one player at the time.”
Bowen’s Analysis: Currently, Ballard is entering a draft with just six picks. That’s a small number, especially for him. Ballard is dead on here with his thought process in wanting more picks. The draft is no exact science and the more darts at the board, the better. This week though will be interesting to see if/when the Colts trade back, do they acquire picks right here in 2021 or try for some 2022 capital, knowing that they could be without their 1st rounder next year?