MOBILE, Ala. — The Indianapolis Colts are about ready to start building their board for the 2019 NFL Draft.
The team is currently undertaking a huge step in that process at the 2019 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., where the Colts' personnel folks are getting an up-close-and-personal look at some of the best prospects that will be available in April's draft.
Colts general manager Chris Ballard on Wednesday sat down with Colts.com's Caroline Cann to discuss the importance of the Senior Bowl, as well as what's next in this draft process:
On how the first couple days of the Senior Bowl have gone as the team begins the process of really getting to know some of these prospects:
"Well, our guys do a tremendous job organizing. Anthony (Coughlan), who is our college scouting coordinator, the logistics that he has to do to get all the scouts in place, get the interviews scheduled — especially when you have 31 other teams grabbing at these kids — it's been fun to watch him grow, because it's really the first year's he's had to do it on his own. And he's a problem-solver and he figures it out. But the time we're able to spend with (the prospects), and each one of our scouts, is invaluable. I think I was talking about before we started, you almost get them in their truest form right now, their guard's down, they're getting coached by NFL coaches, and it's a chance to really spend an hour, if we need, with them to really dive in to things that we need to keep digging on the player."
On the importance of the Senior Bowl practices, game and interviews compared to the Scouting Combine, where time with the prospects is very limited:
"This is a big step. We pay attention to these bowl games — they're important to us — and the Senior Bowl's really important to us because, you know, it's an apples-to-apples (evaluation). You know, the talent level is pretty equal, so it's a very important step for us. We do watch it — we watch every snap of it two, three, four times until we get a real good feel for the player. I mean, his college career absolutely matters, but when they come to the Senior Bowl, they've got a chance … I've always said — (former NFL scout) Greg Gabriel taught me this early in my career — don't let the Senior Bowl hurt a player, but it can definitely help and enhance his value. And I think last year's draft, you know, we had a really good player out of here, and then in Kansas City we took some kids out of the Senior Bowl that really helped us. So it's a big event for us; the whole week is. They do a great job setting it up and doing everything the clubs need to get to the players and get access to the players."
On how Darius Leonard was able to show he belonged at the Senior Bowl last year, and how players like him can show that in just a few days while in Mobile:
"Look: they're getting real NFL coaching, and they're getting a lot put on them here in a short period of time, and seeing how they react, how they compete, how they take the coaching, how they handle the interviews, how they handle the stress of the week. You know, some guys, it's just not too big for them. Like I just remember with Darius, nothing was too big for Darius. I remember, I didn't even interview Darius down here, but I remember Jamie (Moore) and Brian Decker did, and they came back just blown away by it just wasn't too big for him. So those are things we're looking for. And to watch them grow from the first day of practice Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and then onto the game, to see their growth just in that four-day period is something we look at."
On how much trust he puts in his scouting staff this week:
"Well that's why they're here. Everybody that works for the Colts, we trust them. We trust them to do their job. I give them a lot of autonomy to be able to do their jobs and give their opinions, and eventually we'll make decisions together. We always say that they start out as scouts' players, then, when this week starts and when our meetings start, they become Colts' players. And I put a lot on our scouts to get us the right information — and accurate information."
On the next few weeks as the personnel staff begins draft meetings and starts to form its board:
"So we'll come back next week and we'll do a complete evaluation of everything we're doing, especially with our players. We'll go through medical, strength, coaching, scouting and give a take on every player, and then really set our plan going forward of what our needs are (with our) players, how can we help them get better, get them to their ceilings. And then the next week we'll get into our draft meetings, which will last, you know, 17 to 20 days. And we'll grind through and go through every player in the draft and eliminate a lot that don't fit, but also start rounding out our board to make sure we've got guys placed and guys that we need to work on. And then we'll hit the Combine."
On what has been his first impression of the Senior Bowl crop of prospects this year:
"Well, Jim (Nagy) and his staff do a tremendous job of putting a roster together. Especially nowadays where kids, they don't want to get hurt, they're doing everything they can not to take a risk for injury — which I get. But, saying that, Jim and his staff did a really good job working with the schools, working with the agents, putting a great roster together for us. There's a lot of players in this game that will be really good NFL players."
On if the "up-front" approach remains in effect as he continues building the roster this offseason:
"I mean, you're always looking to get better in every area, you know? We'll always be a front-driven team — you know, O-line and D-line — but, look, every position here has somebody that we think can help us."