Chris Ballard on Wednesday summed up the challenge in the coming weeks and months as the Colts decide A) If they're going to pick a quarterback in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft, B) Which quarterback that would be and C) If they can draft that quarterback with the fourth overall pick or need to trade up to get him.
"It's a difficult position to evaluate," Ballard said, "it's a difficult position to find."
Such is the nature of being in the market for the most prized asset in the NFL. But with the evaluation process hitting a March sprint with the NFL Combine and pro days, Ballard and head coach Shane Steichen on Wednesday laid out a few things they'll look for from the top quarterbacks, who are all assembled here in downtown Indianapolis for the NFL Combine this week.
Accuracy, decision-making and the ability to create: These are the three traits Steichen laid out at his introductory press conference two weeks ago. Ballard on Wednesday re-enforced those.
"You want a guy who's got a fast mind and who's accurate," Ballard said. "We get caught up in arm strength, but guys that are accurate. And then who makes plays when the game is on the line?"
Notable here: Steichen mentioned that accuracy can be taught and improved through mechanics and scheme. So while accuracy is important in the evaluation process, it can also be projected to grow while that quarterback is in the NFL.
"I think you gotta see the future," Steichen said. "Sometimes that's one of the hardest jobs, is predicting the future of these young guys. But what can they be, what their capabilities are — I think all these guys in this draft have talent. And then how do you evaluate their talent as coaches and put them in the best position to succeed? As coaches, we got to do a hell of a job evaluating that and see what they could be."
How much does size matter? Ballard said the Colts are still "stringent" about certain measurables with draft prospects.
"But," Ballard said, "there's always exceptions."
The question for the Colts, and for any other team that might have a toe dipped in the quarterback pool in the 2023 draft, is if Alabama's Bryce Young will succeed if he winds up as an exception. Young's weigh-in feels like one of the highest-stakes height/weight measurements in NFL Combine history, at least based on the unending discussions on banter-based TV shows over the last few weeks.
"You're getting a lot more athletes playing the position, so they're going to come in different shapes, different sizes, some tall, some short, some athletes," Ballard said. "The ability to move, navigate the pocket, escape the pocket, make plays with your feet — those are all things that we're seeing in our league. Not that we haven't seen them before, but I think it's even become more prevalent."
Ballard and Steichen, of course, didn't divulge if there's a certain size threshold the Colts have when evaluating quarterbacks. But it's not just about what numbers will be spit out during quarterback weigh-ins this week. There's much more to playing the position that the Colts – and every other team evaluating the position – will consider.
"The physical traits, guys come in different shapes and sizes," Steichen said. "We've seen Hall of Famers who are 6-foot, we've seen Hall of Famers who are 6-5. It's that 'it' factor.
"... It's the obsession. Some of these guys — you gotta love it. You gotta be obsessed with it. You gotta be the first one in, last one to leave. The guys in Philly know — Jalen (Hurts) was in there at freakin' 6 o'clock, he'd be in there until 9:30. That's what it looks like. You want to play in this league a long time and be successful, you got to have the mindset every single day that I'mg gonna give it everything I got and be the best I can."
A peek at the vetting process. Steichen was the Los Angeles Chargers' offensive coordinator in 2020 when the team snagged Justin Herbert with the No. 6 overall pick in that year's draft. Through early-pandemic Zoom interviews and deep dives into the tape, Steichen and the Chargers saw a player who "loves football, is a perfectionist and wants it to be right," he said.
"(Herbert) did a hell of a job in that interview process, gave him some information to study — he studied it, he nailed it," Steichen continued. "And then went to his tape, and just how we talked about the game and his preparation throughout the week Sunday through Friday to get ready for his games in college football.
"In the vetting process of talking to so many different people to find out what his mental makeup was, because a lot of the guys are going to be talented, they're going to be able to throw it, they're going to be able to run, they're going to be able to make plays, but what's that edge? What's that edge that separates them?"
Finding that separating edge from this year's group of prospects – led by Young, Kentucky's Will Levis, Florida's Anthony Richardson and Ohio State's C.J. Stroud, all of whom have been mocked several times by various experts to the Colts – will be critical for the team in the coming evaluative grind. The Colts will exhaustively talk to not only those quarterbacks – be it at the NFL Combine, pro days and/or top-30 visits to 56th Street – but everyone in the orbits of those players to have as much information as possible when the calendar hits April 27 for the start of the 2023 NFL Draft.
"I think beauty is in the eye of the beholder," Ballard said. "Who do you believe in? Who do you believe you can build an offense around? I do know this — you fit the offense to what the quarterback can do well. I think that's what Shane and his staff will do."
So once the Colts have made it through the vetting and evaluating process, where will they pick – No. 4 overall? Higher? Lower? Check out how Ballard answered those questions here.