INDIANAPOLIS – Just eight days away from arguably the most important working event of his professional life, Chris Ballard sounded like a kid on Christmas morning.
Daily draft meetings, running from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., do not seem to be affecting the mood of the Colts general manager.
He’s ready for Draft No. 1, sitting in the big seat.
“It is exciting,” Ballard repeated three times on Wednesday afternoon at his pre-draft press conference.
“Really cool. Really cool to be able to do it.”
Ballard spoke about the draft for more than 20 minutes on Wednesday.
A week from Thursday, the Colts will take seven picks into the 2017 NFL Draft, one that will most certainly shape the future in Indianapolis.
Here are seven takeaways (one for each draft pick the Colts have) from Ballard’s pre-draft presser:
“Exciting” Draft Needs
Chris Ballard is not balking at any ‘need over best player available’ talk. But he does like how the draft depth in 2017 matches up with his team’s needs.
“It excites me, because it is a good defensive draft,” Ballard said on Wednesday. “And we do want to add some players defensively."
The Colts also like a couple of positions in particular on offense.
For the second time this offseason, Ballard singled out the tight end group in this year’s draft.
Safety and tight end are two positions that Ballard says are the deepest he’s seen in his 16 years of scouting.
Ballard also likes how the outside linebacker and cornerback spots, arguably the biggest needs for the Colts, are looking.
“I think there’s good depth at both,” Ballard said of OLB and CB. “Whether we get one or not, we’ll see – you just never know how it unfolds. You just don’t know. But I think there’s good depth at both positions.”
Best Player Available Reigns
It’s the phrase you will likely hear from every NFL GM over the next week.
Do not steer too far from taking the “best player available.”
That holds true in Indianapolis, with the tiebreaker coming down to positions of need, if players are closely jumbled on a draft board.
Chris Ballard used an example from his days in Kansas City days to further explain his reasoning.
“Take Dee Ford as an example,” Ballard said of the 2014 first-round pick who had 10.0 sacks last year for the Chiefs.
“We had (fellow pass rushers) Tamba Hali and Justin Houston who were humming but we saw a player that we liked in Kansas City that could rush the passer and that is who we ended up choosing.”
Difficultly Of Evaluating Injured Prospects
One thing that has been on Chris Ballard’s mind of late is the dilemma in taking an injured prospect who could miss time this offseason/or even into the regular season.
“You have to think long-term,” Ballard says of the injured prospects. “You have to look at long-term implications of the injury. How does this affect him long-term? Can he have a long-term career? If we say he can have a long-term career and we think the upside of the player is what we want and think it is high, then we will take a shot on the player."
Guys like ILB-Reuben Foster (Alabama, shoulder), OLB-Takkarist McKinley (UCLA, shoulder) and CB-Sidney Jones (Washington, Achilles) are all first-round talents with various injury questions.
“It will be difficult for us for the first few months as we take the daggers for doing it,” Ballard says of drafting an injured prospect. “You have to have a long-term vision. It can’t just be short-term sighted, one-month thinking. You can’t do that, that gets you in trouble. That is like taking a need over the best player. Long-term, if we think it will be okay then I have no issues doing it.”
How To Handle Red-Flag Players
Colts.com will have more on this very topic in an article posting Thursday.
Chris Ballard has been part of teams that have made “risky” picks and become the beneficiary of finding Pro Bowl talent(s).
Ballard has a very specific message for his scouts when extensive research is needed on a prospect.
“I don’t care what everybody else thinks and (what) their opinions are. Make our opinions internally. Do our work internally. And make sure we exhaust it with the player to know what we’re getting with him when he enters the building and then how he’s going to be in the community also,” Ballard says.
“It’s a case-by-case basis. And, when we take a guy that has issues, we (better) have a plan for him to work. We have a plan to develop him in house. We have a plan to develop him as a man. These are young guys. They make mistakes. Are we comfortable with it? Is the organization comfortable with it? Are we comfortable with how he’s going to be in the community? Those are all questions that we ask with every guy case-by-case.”
The Layout Of A Draft Board
The cement is not dry.
That’s the phrase Ballard used on Wednesday to discuss how set the team’s draft board is looking eight days away before the first fireworks get set off.
While the finishing touches on the draft board occur in the coming days, Ballard did explain just how close prospects can be at the end of evaluations.
For example, if the Colts are picking at No. 15 and prospects No. 12, 14 and 17 are still on the board, it’s not a foregone conclusion that the gap will be substantial enough between those guys for the top guy to be the definite choice.
“I just had this discussion,” Ballard said on Wednesday about separation on a draft board. “I always ask myself what the difference is between 33 and 20. To me, there is not, as long as the talent is close. We are not talking (about) a guy that we think is a top-10 pick and then all of a sudden we are taking somebody who is 40.
“Five to ten spots? I don’t see enough spread there, unless there is just a huge separation in the talent to say you don’t take the need.”
Something to keep in mind come next week.
Ramping Up The Competition
The upcoming draft was the focus of Ballard meeting the media on Wednesday.
But Ballard also spoke to his entire offseason plan, too.
The Colts brought in 11 outside free agents under Ballard, easily the most in franchise history.
After next week’s draft and the subsequent signing of undrafted free agents, the Colts will have a roster with nearly 40 percent new faces from the end of the 2016 season.
At his introductory press conference in January, Ballard assured competition would be added to the roster.
He is definitely a man of his word.
“They have to earn it,” Ballard says. “It doesn’t matter where you come from and how we build it from first-round pick to undrafted free agent to street free agent, guy that was cut at the 53, future signing. I can just go back at examples through the history of the league and where I’ve been. It doesn’t matter where you come from. You want guys that are going to be great in the locker room, good teammates, that hold each other accountable. That’s when you know you got it right.
“I can get up here and talk all I want to talk about competition and earning it. Staff can talk about it. But at the end of the day, the great teams in the league, they hold each other accountable in that locker room.”
Some Chicago Cubs Reading Material
When draft meetings come to a close each night and Ballard heads home, he has some bedtime reading to keep him occupied.
Ballard is reading The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse by Tom Verducci.
A quote from Cubs manager Joe Maddon has already resonated with Ballard as the draft rapidly approaches.
Don’t let the pressure exceed the pleasure of the job.
“I thought that said it all,” Ballard said of Maddon’s quote relating to any pre-draft nerves. “This is what I’ve done for 16 years. This is what I know. It’s exciting. Really cool.”
Another message from the Cubs has really struck Ballard.
Theo Epstein, the architect of the Cubs team that broke the 108-year curse this past year, is a big fan of ‘culture’ within a locker room.
That’s something Ballard is looking to create.
“Look at the teams that win in this league. It’s culture. Culture wins,” Ballard says. “It absolutely wins. Football is the greatest team sport. It really is. Guys want to have individual success, but they can’t have individual success without their teammates. They can’t do it. Not in this sport. It’s too hard.”
The analysis from those producing content on Colts.com does not necessarily represent the thoughts of the Indianapolis Colts organization. Any conjecture, analysis or opinions formed by Colts.com content creators is not based on inside knowledge gained from team officials, players or staff.