INDIANAPOLIS – The nearer we get to next Thursday’s NFL draft, one thing remains perfectly clear.
Uncertainty rules with an iron fist.
Chris Ballard and his personnel staff have piled up the man hours. Intense, oft-times contentious staff meetings. Video work until the eyes blur. Pro days. Private workouts. Top-30 visits. And more spirited staff meetings.
They’ve monitored chatter saturating the NFL landscape and determined as much as possible which has a kernel of truth to it and which is classified as smoke, misinformation or flat-out lies.
“Everybody is lying,’’ Ballard said Friday afternoon. “I might be the most honest, unfortunately.
“But everybody is lying.’’
And here Ballard and the Indianapolis Colts sit: six days away from investing a top-4 pick – and, yes, eight others – that carries such humongous ramifications for the franchise’s long-term direction.
Three times since 1990 the Colts possessed the draft hammer. They held the No. 1 overall pick, and it didn’t matter one bit what the rest of the league would do. When it came time to hand the first card to the commissioner, there was no doubt the names would be Jeff George (1990), Peyton Manning (’98) and Andrew Luck (’12).
Another major reset at quarterback is required, but uncertainty clouds things because sitting ahead of the Colts in the draft order are the Carolina Panthers, Houston Texans and Arizona Cardinals.
Have the months of due diligence given Ballard any indication how the draft might unfold ahead of him?
“No. No idea, and I don’t think anybody does,’’ he said. “Everybody thinks they do. I mean, of course everybody thinks they do, and everybody has an inside source who is giving them information of what’s going to be done.
“Just look at the mock drafts and tell me how accurate they are after the draft. Nobody knows. Nobody is giving out information.’’
Misinformation, yes. Information? Not likely.
As the draft nears, a “team source’’ tells one national insider this team is locked onto that player or another team is leaning toward another player.
One week, the Colts clearly favor Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud. The next, it’s Kentucky’s Will Levis. Or is it Florida’s Anthony Richardson? Maybe Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker?
“There’s always this assumption that we’ve targeted one player,’’ Ballard said. “I don’t know if that’s an accurate assumption. Matter of fact, I say it’s not.’’
It’s hard to imagine Ballard and his staff not having the quarterback class figured out and appropriately aligned on their value board. It’s hard to imagine the Colts not knowing how they’d like things to fall ahead of them.
But Ballard scoffed at the notion the team has shared its intel with anybody.
“I just always love to read the reports that, ‘The Colts love this guy, and they’re dialed in on this guy,’’’ he said with a smile. “Like, who’d that come from? It didn’t come from me.
“Who’s it coming from? Who’s telling them who we love and who we don’t love? They don’t know.’’
Which, again, is an apt representation of the top of Thursday’s draft.
Apparently, the Panthers have settled on Bryce Young as their quarterback of the future. If you believe what everyone’s saying.
But then what? The Texans are as desperate for a quarterback as any team in the league – they’ve got Davis Mills and Case Keenum – but recent speculation has Houston opting for Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. at No. 2 and perhaps using its No. 12 selection on a quarterback. Or maybe Houston trades out of No. 2 altogether, although it would strain credulity to think the Texans would be willing to deal with an AFC South rival (the Colts or Tennessee Titans).
Arizona has made it clear the No. 3 spot is for sale. If the Colts decide to stay at No. 4, some quarterback-needy team – the Las Vegas Raiders, Atlanta Falcons, Seattle Seahawks, Tennessee – is likely to leap-frog them.
It’s all about being prepared for the unexpected, and acting accordingly while being guided by the available prospects.
“You always have an idea both ways: how far are you’re willing to go up, how far you’re willing to go back,’’ Ballard said. “You always have an idea, and then the board dictates that too a little bit.’’
He reflected on the 2018 draft. The Colts were criticized for using consecutive second-round picks (Nos. 36-37) on linebacker Shaquille Leonard and guard-soon-to-be-tackle Braden Smith.
That was too early for each, many believed. The Colts’ board argued to the contrary.
“We had them ranked high, and I remember walking up to the board and telling everybody, ‘Who’s left?’’’ Ballard said. “I mean, there was nobody left at those positions. I said, ‘This is it. If we don’t take these two guys, there’s a scarcity now going forward at the position.’
“We had them as highly-ranked players, so a little bit of that plays into it, too.’’
The Colts have needs on the offensive line, cornerback and receiver. And the draft should be accommodating.
“It’s a good o-line draft,’’ Ballard said. “I’ll tell you, tight ends is about as good as I’ve ever seen. Secondary, cornerback in particular, really good depth. Defensive line, defensive end especially I thought really good depth.’’
But all of that is dwarfed by the Colts’ commitment to finding a quarterback capable of stabilizing the position and giving the entire franchise long-term direction. It’s time to put the brakes on a carousel that has spit out Jaboby Brissett, Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz and Matt Ryan since Luck’s sudden retirement prior to the start of the 2019 season.
Ballard admitted as much at the owners’ meetings in late March.
“If you don’t feel like you have one that can absolutely change the franchise in terms of leading you every year, I think you’re always going to feel some pressure to get that guy,’’ he said. “Now whether we need to take one at 4, if the right one’s there for us that we feel good about, then we’ll do it.’’
The importance of first-time head coach Shane Steichen can’t be overstated. He’s worked with quarterbacks featuring different skillsets – Rivers and Justin Herbert with the Chargers, Jalen Hurts in Philadelphia – and likely will have heavy input in the ultimate decision.
“That’s a good thing,’’ Ballard said. “That broadens the field for you.
“It comes down to who fits you and what you can work with. I think that’s critical and what your coaching staff can work with . . . what they think they can do with them and how they can build an offense around that player to make him work no matter who it is.
“It doesn’t matter who the quarterback is. I mean, you’re going to build an offense different for Peyton Manning (than) you’re going to build for Michael Vick. I think it comes down to who you believe you can build the offense around the best and win games with.’’
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