INDIANAPOLIS — Chris Ballard isn't prone to throwing out meaningless hyperbole. When it comes to acquiring players, whether through free agency or the draft, Ballard says what he means, and means what he says.
So on Friday, when Ballard held his annual pre-draft press conference, the fifth-year Indianapolis Colts general manager made quite the statement, even for him, when asked about the offensive line depth in this year's NFL Draft class.
"It's as good as I've seen in a while," Ballard said.
Ballard and the Colts will likely hope to benefit from that depth in next week's 2021 NFL Draft, starting with their first-round (21st-overall) pick on Thursday night all the way through their sixth and final selection in the seventh round (248th overall) on Saturday — barring any moves between now and then, of course.
The Colts' offensive line needs heading into the draft are notable for two primary reasons; first, due the January retirement of longtime starting left tackle Anthony Castonzo, and secondly, due to the March acquisition of a new starting quarterback in Carson Wentz.
Indianapolis has had one of the league's top offensive line units the past two-plus seasons in Castonzo (left tackle), Quenton Nelson (left guard), Ryan Kelly (center), Mark Glowinski (right guard) and Braden Smith (right tackle). With Castonzo now out of the picture, Ballard gave some insight into what his scouts are looking for in their potential left tackle of the future.
Perhaps not surprisingly, strength and athleticism are right up there at the top of the list.
"You want guys that are athletic, that have strength that can play on the offensive line," Ballard said. "With all the zone blocking and pulls and in pass pro, and then blocking the athletic freaks across from them, they have to have a certain amount of athleticism."
There could be plenty of options for the Colts throughout the draft to add competition at the left tackle position with the likes of Sam Tevi and Julién Davenport — two veteran free agents signed this offseason — as well as Will Holden, Carter O'Donnell, Casey Tucker and Jake Benzinger.
Oregon's Penei Sewell and Northwestern's Rashawn Slater are likely considered the cream of the crop at the tackle position in this year's NFL Draft class, but other top prospects — such as Virginia Tech's Christian Darrisaw, Oklahoma State's Teven Jenkins, Alabama's Alex Leatherwood, Notre Dame's Liam Eichenberg, Texas' Sam Cosmi, or Florida's Stone Forsythe — could possibly be there for the picking for the Colts within the first two days of the draft.
Then there's position fit and flexibility, as not all top college prospects at left tackle are necessarily considered ideal fits at that position at the NFL level. On the other end of the spectrum, Ballard said the Colts aren't against the idea of moving a college right tackle over to left tackle if they believe he has the traits and the build to get the job done, a la Jedrick Wills Jr., who excelled in that switch for the Cleveland Browns as a rookie last season.
"He's gotta have the athletic traits to do it," Ballard said of moving a college right tackle over to left tackle. "If they have enough athletic ability and instincts, they can make the move."