Colts’ Chris Ballard: Jacob Eason has to earn spot; not ‘the next messiah walking into town’

Colts

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – That sound you might have heard emanating from Chris Ballard’s Westfield basement Saturday evening was him not just tapping the brakes, but pushing them to the floor.

The subject: Jacob Eason being selected in the fourth round of Saturday’s NFL Draft with the 122nd overall pick, and being projected by some as the Indianapolis Colts’ quarterback of the future.

On one level, that speculation makes sense. Eason joins a QB room led by Philip Rivers and Jacoby Brissett. Rivers is 38 and working on a 1-year, $25 million contract. Brissett is just 27, but his uneven play last season contributed to the decision that brought Rivers to Indy, and he also will be an unrestricted free agent after this season.

So, the future belongs to Jacob Eason, right?

Not so fast. That’s most certainly TBD.

“Let’s slow our roll a little bit in terms of tagging this guy as the next messiah walking into town,’’ Ballard said on a Zoom conference call. “He was a fourth-round pick. We didn’t move up to the first pick of the draft.

“Jacob’s got talent. He’s got to work, and he’s got to earn it.’’

That was the message on more than one occasion as Ballard and Frank Reich discussed the offense’s newest arm.

Yes, the kid’s got talent.

“His arm talent was probably the best in the draft,’’ said Reich, who spent more than a few minutes analyzing Eason’s game. “And what I liked about his arm talent is he can throw it on a rope, he can throw it long, he can throw with touch, he can change the speed on the ball, and he can deliver from different arm angles.

“I saw a guy who has all the physical tools to play the position. For a big man, I think has some athleticism to him; not that he’s a scrambler. He’s a pocket passer, but has athletic ability to move.’’

Matt Terpening, the Colts’ assistant director of college scouting, has compiled a thick book on Eason. He saw him play as a freshman at Georgia against Drew Lock and Missouri.

“I think he threw for 300 yards and two or three touchdowns,’’ Terpening said. “He’s got all the physical tools. There’s a lot of things going for him that kind of drew us to the player.’’

But.

There was a reason Eason was the sixth quarterback taken in the draft and lasted until No. 122. He started just two seasons – one at Georgia, one at Washington – and lacked consistency at each stop. He opted to leave Washington early.

“At the end of the day it’s just consistency,’’ Terpening said of Eason’s most glaring deficiency. “But that goes for every underclassman. The underclassmen that are like really, really special players, those are rare guys. Those guys go really high.’’

Think of Peyton Manning, taken 1st overall by the Colts in 1998. Or Andrew Luck, Manning’s successor and the 1st overall pick in 2012.

It’s wholly unfair to mention Eason in the same breath as the two most recent QBs taken in prime draft position by the Colts.

Again, listen to Ballard.

“Well, he’s got talent,’’ he said, “but there’s a long way to go. He still hasn’t even put on a Colts uniform. And like any of (the draft picks), they’ve got to earn it.

“Right now he’s competing with Chad Kelly. Philip Rivers and Jacoby are our first two and Jacob and Chad are competing for the 3 spot.’’

Many draft analysts expected Ballard to find his possible QB of the future this weekend. The Colts resisted the urge until they no longer could resist the urge.

As the 122nd overall pick neared, the discussion among Ballard, Reich and the support staff heated up.

“We spend all this time lining the board up, and we don’t force it,’’ Ballard said. “We put ‘em where we think their value is to our team.

“At that point, Jacob was on the board and was at the right value. That’s why we took him.’’

But again, only after a ton of back-and-forth.

Ballard has made certain not to surround himself with a slew of “yes men.’’ He welcomes debate, encourages it.

“One of the things I love about these guys is they’re going to tell me what they think. They don’t hold back,’’ he said. “You have to have that to get to the right answer.

“It was entertaining. It was definitely lively, but at the end of the day we had Jacob ranked higher than the other players, so we ended up going with him.’’

Terpening appreciates Ballard’s open-ear policy.

“Chris has a pretty unique style of how to do things,’’ he said. “He’s very open.

“If you’re in the room and you have a voice, he’ll listen to it. The one thing about Chris is he always listens.’’

Did Terpening lobby for Eason as the 122nd pick loomed?

“Oh yeah,’’ he said.

No question?

“No question,’’ he said.

One question, though, lingered.

With Rivers entrenched as the starter and Eason on board as someone to groom for the future, is Jacoby Brissett’s roster spot secure for 2020? There was speculation on the national level after Eason’s addition that Ballard would seek to trade Brissett, if he could find an interested team.

Does Ballard envision Brissett being around for ’20?

“Yes. We think he’s a starter in the league,’’ he said. “Jacoby’s continuing to get better, and he’ll continue to get better. Everything Jacoby stands for is what we believe in. He’s a great teammate, he freaking works his tail off, and he’s performed.

“I know Jacoby has taken some hits. Some of them are unfair and look, maybe some of them are unfair by me, too. I might not have used the right words at times.

“I think y’all understand how I feel about this young man. He’s a special kid. He’s a valuable member of the Colts and we’re lucky to have Jacoby Brissett.’’

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

Listen to the Colts Blue Zone Podcast for weekly coverage and analysis of the Indianapolis Colts.

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