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Top Takeaways: Colts GM Chris Ballard talks ahead of 2023 NFL Draft

Chris Ballard held his annual I'm-not-giving-anything-away pre-draft press conference on Friday at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. 

In just a few days, subterfuge season will finally end. On Saturday evening teams will, finally, speak openly about the 2023 NFL Draft – once all 259 selections are made, of course.

"Everybody is lying," Colts general manager Chris Ballard said on Friday. "I might be the most honest, unfortunately. But everybody is lying."

Ballard took the questions he was asked and mostly tiptoed around them – "today, I'm a dancer," he said – but there were some notable takeaways less than a week before the Colts go on the clock Thursday night in Kansas City.

How what happens ahead of the Colts in the draft impacts their strategy

The only guarantee in this year's draft seems to be that the Carolina Panthers – who traded several high draft picks and wide receiver D.J. Moore to the Chicago Bears to move up to No. 1 overall – will take a quarterback. Who that quarterback is, and what happens after that quarterback is taken, is still anyone's guess, despite some recent media buzz Carolina is leaning toward Alabama's Bryce Young.

So, no, the Colts – just like the Houston Texans, Arizona Cardinals and 29 other teams – cannot say for certain what'll happen over the first few picks of this year's draft.

"No idea, and I don't think anybody does," Ballard 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."

Ballard generally avoids pre-draft media coverage and focuses he and his football operations team on building their draft board, while not worrying about how teams like the Texans or Cardinals maybe stacking theirs.

"Everybody's draft board is a little different," Ballard said. "Who we have ranked high, they might not have ranked high. So you don't know that. We're not in those draft rooms. So no, we line them up, and how they fall is how we take them.

"... I think if you polled 32 teams, you might get 32 different answers of how they would have them lined up."

All that uncertainty may seem daunting, especially with as much riding on the Colts' first-round pick as there is this year. If the Colts don't trade down, this'll be the franchise's first top-five pick since 2012; the Colts have only had one top-five pick in the last 20 NFL Drafts. For reference: They're one of nine teams to have zero or one top-five pick in the last 20 NFL Drafts, along with the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens (0), and the Panthers, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks (1). The Panthers, Colts and Seahawks all have top-five picks this year.

But Ballard is able to brush aside the weight of that pick because of the work he, his scouts, Colts coaches, football ops staffers, etc. have done over the last year.

"I think you all feel the pressure more than I do sometimes," Ballard said. "When you do the work, the pressure is not as great as what people make it out to be. It doesn't mean you're always going to be right. But when you put the work in there's not a lot of angst within you. I don't know if that makes sense to you all. We were all in college at some point and there was at some point where we went to take a college test and we didn't do squat. Like we didn't prep for it – we didn't do anything. Well damn right. There are beads of sweat. You are trying to BS your way through the test and hope you can get a C. When you study for the test, you walk in, you do it and you do really well."

What options the Colts may have at quarterback

Ballard, of course, didn't tip his hand on if the Colts like or dislike any of the quarterbacks in this year's draft class. But he also didn't really even have to try to dance around that question because of his head coach.

Shane Steichen's experience developing offenses for Philip Rivers, Justin Herbert and Jalen Hurts – three completely different types of quarterbacks – means the Colts are not pigeonholed into needing to add a certain quarterback to fit into a certain style of offense.

"That broadens the field for you," Ballard said. "That's a good thing and I think as we've gone through the process of all the evaluations and coming down to what we think will be best for the Indianapolis Colts – whoever we end up taking is going to be that guy and he'll make it work."

That being said, Ballard said evaluation of this year's quarterbacks hasn't changed in the months since Steichen was hired – but how they could fit with the team's new head coach has perhaps changed a bit.

"I just always love to read the reports that the Colts love this guy, and they love this guy and they're dialed in on this guy," Ballard said. "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."

A yearly reminder

One last thing: Roster building does not stop at the conclusion of the NFL Draft. There's usually a bubble-up of veteran free agent signings right after the draft, when unrestricted free agent signings are no longer tied to the NFL's compensatory pick formula. There are undrafted free agents to add to the 90-man roster. And there are always moves to be made to improve your roster before the cut to 53, whether it's May, June, July or August.

So if the Colts come out of the 2023 NFL Draft having not addressed certain positions with high draft picks, there will be opportunities to still add to the roster via other avenues. For example, Ballard was asked on Friday about a need at cornerback with Stephon Gilmore traded to the Dallas Cowboys and Brandon Facyson returning to the Las Vegas Raiders in free agency.

"I think it's always a position that you want to have as many cover guys as you can," Ballard said. "That's a position we've got our eye on, both – and we think there's still some free agents out there too that can help us if need be."

Or, offensive line: "We still think there's some players in free agency and in the draft," Ballard said. "It's a good O-line draft."

Ballard said the Colts have 17 players with first-round grades this year, and outside of offensive line mentioned this year's draft being deep for cornerbacks, tight ends and defensive linemen.

"(There are) players that are going to go in spots, fourth, fifth round that are going to play and be really productive, good players," Ballard said.

Highlights from Phase 1 - Day 6 of the Colts' offseason workout program at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.

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