INDIANAPOLIS —The only real positive to come out of a disappointing season in the National Football League is the opportunity to quickly turn things around with a top pick in upcoming NFL Draft.
For the Indianapolis Colts, a 4-12 performance in 2017 has resulted in the No. 3 pick in the April's draft. Second-year general manager Chris Ballard has said that while he doesn't ever want to be in the position of picking so high up again, the team must take advantage of the opportunity it has in front of it to pick up an instant game-changer.
So just who will that game-changer be, though? We'll obviously have to wait until April 26 to officially find that one out, but Lance Zierlein has some ideas.
Zierlein is the man behind many of the prospect profiles you read each year on NFL.com (he already has a head start on a good number of the 2018 profiles), and spends countless numbers of hours researching, watching film and talking to coaches, scouts and team personnel to get as accurate a projection and grade as possible on each player.
Colts.com sat down with Zierlein last week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., where he discussed several topics, including the possible draft haul for the Colts, his thoughts on quarterback Jacoby Brissett's development, and much more:
On the importance of the Senior Bowl for prospects and talent evaluators:
"I think it's two-fold: No. 1, obviously, you want to compete against other like-talents. That's one of the things that I struggle with when I watch on tape is the level of competition can be so vastly different from player to player, conference to conference. And this kind of normalizes the process for you, and so I think that really helps these players, sometimes from smaller schools, realize, 'Hey, I can compete against higher-level competition,' or at least higher-level in terms of where they've played. And the other thing it's a chance for these players to let the teams get to know them a little bit as people, as well. And so it's very important, because it's a job interview on the field turf here, but then it's a job interview behind the scenes as well. So I think, really, in some ways it's kind of a first impression for guys like Chris Ballard, because Chris may not have gone in like he was when he was a scout and got to know these guys, but this is his first impression of a lot of these players."On what all goes into his prospect profiles on NFL.com:
"So, it's a comprehensive process. I will Google a guy and find out as much as I can through open-source information. I'll talk at times to scouts and personnel people and try to get a feel; sometimes I'll talk to coaches or people who are in the building. I'll look at their statistics, as well. I'll look at in-depth data to get a feel for what their player profile is. And then, I'll go match it up to the tape, and the tape ultimately speaks. But I want to know kind of who the guy is before I go watch them on tape, if I can, and then I go watch them on tape and I try to give them a good sample size — at least three games against good competition; if it's a receiver, I want to see every target, if it's a quarterback, I want to see every throw. So even after that, where I've written scouting reports on these guys, there will be changes afterwards because it's a process for me, too, and so I may find that I was too hard on a guy in one area, or maybe not hard enough on an area, and I'll change grades and maybe change some of the verbiage in the scouting report, as well, to match what I saw out here."On what will be available to the Colts when they are on the clock with the No. 3-overall pick in April's NFL Draft:
"I mean, I think really good talent. We're talking about Saquon (Barkley) is a special running back. I think Bradley Chubb went (back) to school and got a lot better. I thought it was a good move for him to go back to school; I watched him last year, I thought he was coming out, so I actually wrote him up, and I thought he really improved a lot on the areas he needed to. I think Quenton Nelson, the guard out of Notre Dame, is a future All-Pro and one of the best I've ever studied at guard, and I'm not saying that guards (are) usually a No. 3-type pick, but I think this is a really, really good football player. And then there's a linebacker out of Virginia Tech that I think is going to get an early look, as well: Tremaine Edmonds, who is 6-5, 250, and at the Combine you're going to see him run about 4.5 40(-yard dash). So those are special, physical traits; I mean, he was really productive there, as well. So I think you have some high-end talent — and I'm obviously not mentioning quarterbacks — but you have some high-end talent that Chris Ballard the Colts will have to choose from."On if there are any unique position groups to watch in this year's NFL Draft:
"I think you have three guards that are going to be really, really good guards in Isaiah Wynn, Will Hernandez — both of these guys are out here at the Senior Bowl — and then Quenton Nelson, as I just mentioned. I think you have three first-round inside linebackers in Rashaan Evans from Alabama, who had to drop out of this game, Tremaine Edmonds and Roquan Smith from Georgia. So, for example, this is the best inside linebackers since I've been writing for NFL.com back in 2014-2015; really impressive crop, and it also includes Darius Leonard who is out here from South Carolina State. So when you talk about depth of a draft class, to me, you always have to go position-by-position, because it's not really fair, 'What kind of draft class is this?' Ask me what type of running back class it is, or what type of guard class, or what type of cornerback class, because it's not a great cornerback class, it is a good running back draft, it's a good inside linebacker draft, it's a good guard draft, not a great tackle draft. I think depth, you have to go position-by-position to truly find depth."On how he viewed Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett coming out of college, and how he felt Brissett did in his first year in Indy:
"I had a good grade on him. I really liked him. One of the things I really liked about him is that I loved his size, but the fact that his offensive line, it wasn't great, and yet he was able to make plays under duress, and I saw good arm strength under duress, as well. I thought he was going to be an eventual starter, is what I wrote him up (as) my grade, and I really liked him. I liked his toughness, I liked his size, I liked his arm, but I like his ability to make things happen when things weren't perfect around him. Because the fact is in the NFL, rarely is it going to be perfect; you're not always going to have your receivers, you're not always going to have a great offensive line, you're not always going to have a running game. So for a quarterback, I want a quarterback who has a chance to — and the same thing about running backs, you've got to make yardage for yourself — well, sometimes for a quarterback, you've got to make opportunities for yourself, and I think that's what Jacoby Brissett was able to do coming out of North Carolina State, and I think we saw some of the same things with the Colts this year. So I felt kind of vindicated when I saw him come in and play pretty well for the Colts, because he played like I evaluated him, and I was pleased with myself on that one because I missed with Dak Prescott the year before. So, it happens. … Let's let it keep playing out. Dak: good first year, drop a little second year, and this is the third year; I'm a big believer (that the) third year is where you have to counter the counter. The defensive coordinators counter quarterbacks after their rookie years — Deshaun Watson's going to see that next year for the Texans, so how does he handle (it); we saw Marcus Mariota have some issues. So how do you handle when defensive coordinators have a full year of tape on you?"On if that's why Andrew Luck was able to lead the Colts to the AFC Championship Game in his third season:
"It's a big season. The third year is where should all kind of come together, and you start your process of being in your prime."
——————————More 2018 #ColtsDraft coverage:*
*• Chris Ballard On Senior Bowl, Draft Preparation, Coaching Search
• 2018 Senior Bowl: Chris Ballard 1-on-1
• 2018 Senior Bowl: Day 2 Practice Observations
• How Do The Colts Approach Building Diverse Position Groups?
• 2018 Senior Bowl: Rex Hogan Talks Scouting, Building Position Groups
• 2018 Senior Bowl: Purdue, Notre Dame Products Enjoying Experience
• 2018 Senior Bowl: Day 3 Practice Observations
• Scheme Fit A Top Priority For Colts In 2018 NFL Draft
• 2018 Senior Bowl: Ed Dodds On Player Evaluations, Scheme Fitting
• Purdue's Ja'Whaun Bentley Taking Senior Bowl Experience In Stride
• Notre Dame's Durham Smythe Shows Off Versatility At Senior Bowl
• Who Stood Out In The 2018 Reese's Senior Bowl?
• 2018 Senior Bowl: Seven Standout Prospects