INDIANAPOLIS —Chris Ballard knows better than to judge a book by its cover, but he's human and these things just happen sometimes.
So when he first met Rashaan Melvin in 2013, Ballard — then the Director of Pro Scouting for the Chicago Bears — said he didn't get the best first impression from Melvin, who had by that time wrapped up his collegiate career at Northern Illinois and was hoping to be picked in that year's NFL Draft.
"We brought him in on a pre-draft visit — kind of rubbed me the wrong way," Ballard said. "And I kind of never got it out of my head."
Three years later, by the time Ballard had been hired as the general manager of the Indianapolis Colts, those feelings about Melvin — who by this time had found himself a role within the Indy secondary — had not dissolved.
"And I was wrong," Ballard said he quickly realized. "I mean, I was *dead *wrong."
As it turned out, Melvin had quite the chip on his shoulder after first going unselected in the 2013 NFL Draft and then having to work through some injury issues the first few years of his professional career.
But by 2016, with injuries ravaging the cornerback position early in the season, the Colts took a flyer on the free agent Melvin, and he didn't disappoint, playing in 15 games with nine starts and totaling 52 tackles with seven passes defensed and two forced fumbles.
By the time Ballard took the Colts' GM job in late January 2017, however, Melvin was already a man possessed. Not only did he want to return to the Colts and be a playmaker, but he wanted to be the best cornerback on the team; no, he wanted to be the best cornerback in the entire league.
It didn't take long for Ballard to see that.
"He is a great kid," Ballard said. "He battles, he works, he loves football."
Melvin saw the fruits of his labor through the first 12 weeks of the 2017 season. He had not only ascended up the depth chart to be the Colts' No. 1 cornerback, but he was playing about as well as any corner in the NFL, getting his hands on tons of throws, picking off passes and constantly finding himself in position to make plays.
Despite suffering a season-ending hand injury Week 12 against the Tennessee Titans — on a play in which he intercepted quarterback Marcus Mariota, no less — Melvin had set himself up well for an impending offseason in which he was set to once again become an unrestricted free agent, finishing with 36 tackles, a career-best three interceptions and 13 passes defensed.
Both sides have expressed a desire to see Melvin back in Indianapolis in 2018, but Ballard said the team will likely let the corner test the free agent market versus trying to work out an extension before the 4 p.m. ET March 14 league new year.
"Would we like to get Melvin back? Yes," Ballard told reporters Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indy. "Will we for sure? Eh, we'll see. We'll see (how) the market pans out."
That wait-and-see approach paid off for Ballard and the Colts for another key member of the secondary last offseason, when the team allowed cornerback/safety Darius Butler to test the free agent market, and then signed him to a new deal about a week after the start of the new league year.
For his part, Melvin said last week in an interview on SIRIUS XM radio that he was "waiting to see exactly where (the Colts and I) stand."
"I know it's all positive," Melvin said. "They told me they want me to be back. That's where my career blossomed, so I wouldn't mind going back there. There's a lot of potential there."
With Melvin and other key members of the secondary injured down the stretch last season, the Colts were forced to go young at the cornerback position. That experience could very well pay off moving forward for guys like Quincy Wilson, Kenny Moore II, Chris Milton and D.J. White, while Nate Hairston played solid as the team's primary nickel cornerback his entire rookie season.
But there's no doubt that having a bonafide No. 1 guy at the position is going to be a priority for Indianapolis and new defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus moving forward.
"I think you'd like to re-sign every guy you have, but we know that's not realistic," Ballard said of the Colts' 13 unrestricted free agents-to-be, one of which is also another cornerback, Pierre Desir. "So, what we'll do is we'll wait, and we'll have some discussions. Getting the staff in place, letting them evaluate – they're getting caught up right now evaluating the roster, and then we'll have some more discussions during the Combine and after the Combine. And then we'll see where it takes us."