INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard on Monday held his annual pre-draft press conference. What were the top takeaways as the Colts head into this week’s 2019 NFL Draft?
» There’s about eight players the team has targeted for the 26th-overall pick: Last year at this time, the Colts were picking No. 6 overall, and there were realistically only a few names the team was going to go with selecting that high up in the first round, eventually taking Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson. But by picking at 26th in the first round this year, there are potentially dozens of possibilities for the team. However, Ballard said the team has narrowed down its board to about eight players it'll choose from at that spot, and at a variety of positions. He acknowledged some of those players will be gone by the time they go on the clock, “but we’re pretty confident one will be there.” Who are those eight players, you ask? Yeah — not a chance.
» There aren’t as many “elite” players at the top of the draft this year, but there are tons of very good second-tier prospects: The 2018 NFL Draft class had the likes of Nelson, Baker Mayfield, Saquon Barkley, Bradley Chubb, Roquan Smith and a few others really considered “elite” players, and while Ballard doesn’t see this year’s class being that deep in terms of top-tier talent, he is impressed with the level of prospects the team could get at the next step down. That’s good for a team that has three picks in the first two rounds (Nos. 26, 34 and 59). Between picks 11 to 15 “all the way to 70, I think it’s a matter of flavor and who you like and who you want,” Ballard said.
» The Colts addressed their major positions of need in free agency, but will continue chipping away after the draft: Entering the offseason, the Colts seemed to have pass rush and wide receiver as two of their more immediate major areas of need. A couple months later, the team signed defensive end Justin Houston and wide receiver Devin Funchess — free agent acquisitions that Ballard says “takes a little pressure” off Indy in those areas. But, as Ballard continues to say, his staff will continue looking for the best outside options beyond the immediate free agency period and the draft, including free agents still available to be signed down the road, as well as those made available during the final cutdown day just before the start of the regular season.
» The Colts’ final draft board will have about 170 players on it: As alluded to by assistant general manager Ed Dodds in the most recent episode of Colts Productions’ “With The Next Pick,” the Colts’ final draft board is going to be much smaller than a lot of other teams’ boards, with about 170 players the team would consider selecting across all seven rounds. Ballard added to that thought process on Monday: “You want to filter out the guys you know just don’t fit.” He said athletic, schematic and character factors can all either help or hurt a certain prospect. Speaking of: Ballard did say there are players that have what could be considered “character risks” on this year’s Colts draft board, but “we’re comfortable with them.”
» The game of balancing shorter-term solutions with more longer-term answers continues to be a critical part of the roster evaluation process this time of year: Take Anthony Castonzo, for example, who has played the best football of his career the last couple seasons. But set to turn 31 years old in August and entering a contract year, the Colts will need to determine what their future is at the left tackle position, regardless of if they decide to offer Castonzo a contract extension. Ballard said the approach “comes down to not forcing anything.” He added: “Are we just going to take a left tackle (in the draft) saying that, ‘If we take this guy, he’s going to be Anthony Castonzo’s replacement?’ I can’t say that.” Ballard said the flow of the draft will determine many of those decisions.