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Indianapolis Colts

NFL Combine Notebook: Colts GM Chris Ballard on Gardner Minshew, wide receivers, tight ends, Jonathan Taylor, Kenny Moore II

Colts general manager Chris Ballard discussed a wide range of topics during his media availability on Wednesday at the NFL Combine. 


Emptying the notebook from Chris Ballard's media availability on Wednesday at the Indiana Convention Center, during which he talked about more than Michael Pittman Jr. and Anthony Richardson...

What about the backup QB?

For the first time in a few years, the Colts have their starting quarterback situation settled here at the NFL Combine. Who will back up Richardson, though, is a question. 

Gardner Minshew II, who quarterbacked the Colts to nine wins in 15 games he started or played the majority of snaps in, is set to become an unrestricted free agent in two weeks. The Colts signed Minshew a year ago to give them options on what to do with a potential rookie quarterback, pointing to his competitiveness and relationship with head coach Shane Steichen. 

When Minshew joined the Colts, they didn't know Richardson – a player with a different athletic profile and skillset – would be their QB1 in 2023. With Minshew set to become a free agent in 2024, the Colts have an opportunity to bring in a backup quarterback with a skillset more similar to Richardson, but Ballard said that's not necessarily the most important thing when it comes to the Colts' QB2. 

"That's what's so great about Gardner — you're able to pull out more wins than most," Ballard said. "When the backup quarterback goes in, usually it's disaster time. So that's not necessarily the same skillset, but a guy your staff feels like you can win with. That to me is the key. I think Gardner did about as well as you could do coming in. And give Shane and his staff credit, and give Gardner a lot of credit for coming in and playing winning football. That's not an easy task.

"We think the world of Gardner. He is highly competitive. And he sees himself, and I wouldn't want it any other way from Gardner. He bleeds confidence, that's who he is and that's what I love about him."

Free Agent Preview Podcast: Gardner Minshew (Apple Podcasts | Spotify)

Going deep with the 2024 receiver class

The Colts are still in the early stages of evaluating this year's draft class – getting medicals and face time with prospects this week at the Combine is a key marker in the process – but Ballard sees an exceptionally talented and deep crop of wide receivers who will be available in April. 

"It's a really strong class," Ballard said. "I don't know if you see them as strong as this, but I compare it almost like when Pitt came out — that year was really good with (Justin) Jefferson and (Brandon) Aiyuk and Pitt, and then the upper part of the draft, CeeDee Lamb was in that draft. It's comparable."

Pittman in 2020 was the No. 34 overall pick and the eighth wide receiver drafted, and is one of eight wide receivers drafted that year to amass over 2,500 receiving yards over three NFL seasons.

Table inside Article
Player Overall Draft Pick Team Receiving Yards
Justin Jefferson 22 MIN 5,899
CeeDee Lamb 17 DAL 5,145
Brandon Aiyuk 25 SF 3,931
Tee Higgins 33 CIN 3,864
Michael Pittman Jr. 34 IND 3,662
Jerry Jeudy 15 DEN 3,053
Gabriel Davis 128 BUF 2,730
Darnell Mooney 173 CHI 2,593

Where things stand at tight end

While the Colts may not have a top-of-the-league tight end, their position group as a whole largely ranked among the top half of the NFL's tight end units:

Table inside Article
Stat # NFL Rank
Receptions 70 22nd
Yards 883 13th
Touchdowns 13 13th
First downs 47 11th
Yards/reception 12.6 3rd
PFF run block grade 58.6 9th

So as the Colts look to build around Richardson, could that mean adding to that tight end room? 

"I think their skill sets are all different," Ballard said. "Do we have an elite tight end like a (Travis) Kelce, no, but what we have is a good room with some pretty good players that all have a different skillset from Mo Alie-Cox to what (Kylen) Granson brings, we thought (Will) Mallory really offered something different. Not having Jelani Woods, who we had big hopes for with him being hurt all year, this new staff really doesn't even know who he is, they haven't had a chance to work with him. We think he has some upside. We like the room, we like what it has to offer, they're all a little different.

"... You want to have a guy. The hardest guy to find is the blocker. I know we all pay attention to the F and you want the dynamic playmaker. But the hardest one to find is a guy that can block on the edge."

Explosiveness from within

Back in January, Ballard said one of the Colts' biggest offseason needs is to become more explosive as an offense. Part of that goal, potentially, could be accomplished by pairing a healthy Richardson with a healthy Jonathan Taylor, after that duo was on the field for just two snaps in 2023. 

Taylor, who underwent a procedure on his ankle last offseason and sustained a thumb injury late in the 2023 season, is healthy heading into the 2024 offseason, Ballard said. 

"JT's good. It's great for him," Ballard said. "He's in a great spot. He's healthy, which I think is gonna make for a big year. I'm expecting a big year out of him."

Taylor set a career lows in rushing attempts (169), rushing yards (761) and rushing yards per attempt (4.4) in 2023, but finished the season with the second-most rushing yards he's had in a game over his four year career (188 on 30 carries vs. Houston). It was a reminder of the explosiveness Taylor possesses, and a possible hint at what he can be alongside Richardson in 2024. 

"I thought as the season went on, you saw him getting stronger and stronger," Ballard said, "and I thought he ended really well against Houston."

Other quick hits

  • One of Ballard's most successful roster moves during his first year as Colts GM – along with drafting defensive tackle Grover Stewart, another impending free agent – was claiming cornerback Kenny Moore II off waivers from the New England Patriots. Moore blossomed into a Pro Bowler and one of the Colts' most important defensive players over his seven seasons with the team, and is set to become an unrestricted free agent in March. "He's a special human being," Ballard said. "He had a really good year. I thought a bounce back year from a year ago. What he does as the nickel, it is valuable. And it's valuable to us. We'll see how it works out. I mean, love to have him back. I think he knows that. But we'll work through it."
  • Right tackle Braden Smith underwent a procedure on his knee, Ballard said, after he battled through injuries to it that limited him to 10 games in 2023. When Smith did play, though, he was among the league's better tackles: Smith was second in PFF run blocking grade (90.1) and was one of two tackles to allow zero sacks (along with 49ers All-Pro Trent Williams).
  • Ballard hinted cornerback may not be as red-line, pressing of a need as some prognosticators – especially mock draft'ers – have made it out to be. "They're gonna live through their lumps and that's part of it. I thought they both advanced really well. I thought (Jaylon) Jones — look, Jones, all he did was get out there and battle each and every week. And then with **JuJu (Brents)**, it's about staying healthy. JuJu's got to remain healthy.

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