INDIANAPOLIS — It's Feb. 1, and the Indianapolis Colts' scouting and coaching staffs have just returned from the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., where they got an up-close-and-personal look at some of the best prospects in the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft.
With snow still on the ground at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, Colts general manager Chris Ballard kicks off what will be 17 days of nonstop meetings with his scouting staff inside the team's draft room to now officially build the board, which will continue to be tweaked over the coming days and weeks.
He has a message for his guys.
"All we control is us. We can't control what the outside world thinks, we can't control anything that happens to us. All we can control is what we do, OK?" Ballard says. "You've been scouting your asses off here for the last year. It's our players. You gotta take your ego out of play here, alright? 'Cause you've done all this work on this one guy; now you've gotta be able to objectively say who is the best person for the Colts?
"The character of the player — we talk about this, but I'm going to put a big emphasis even more: toughness, mental toughness, physical toughness. If they're not those three, they're out," Ballard continues. "I'm very proud of what we've done here. I don't ever want anybody to think that … I am extremely proud of where we're at and where we're going. Now let's take it to another level. Bad circumstances, failures, allow you to really grow, one, and also do special things. Alright — let's roll."
And with that, Season 2/Episode 2 of Colts Productions' "With The Next Pick" is off and running.
You can catch the entire episode here, with some highlights below:
» Once again, viewers are treated to exclusive access inside the draft room as the Colts' scouting staff begins to really break down its board and the best fits for the team. And the environment in the room isn't always one of total agreement — which is the point. Pride can be on the line for scouts who want to battle for the guys from their areas that they've been keeping tabs on for months, sometimes longer, but it can be tough when the entire room doesn't quite agree with their line of thinking on a specific prospect.
"We have to be able to challenge each other's thinking," Ballard said. "If we're all thinking alike, then we're not thinking."
» Along those same lines, you get a little taste of some healthy banter back and forth between Ballard and Anthony Coughlan, the team's College Scouting Coordinator. Ballard likes what he sees on film from a particular prospect, but Coughlan isn't quite sold.
Ballard: "Well you can't ignore … don't be stubborn now. You can't ignore what we just watched. That's a talented dude."
Coughlan: "I agree. I'm just saying. That was … that was the best ---- all year."
Ballard: "That guy's going in the second round. He's gonna be a good pro. …"
Coughlan: "That's fine. I hope he does."
Ballard: "Don't be stubborn. That guy's a talent — he is a real talent."
It might be daunting to some when the general manager wants to challenge your line of thinking, but Ballard wants guys on his staff who aren't scared to state their case, even if they don't necessarily agree with the point he's trying to get across.
As assistant general manager Ed Dodds says, "You might not agree with what they say, but it gets you thinking."
» Fast forward to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, where the top prospects meet each year to work out on the Lucas Oil Stadium turf, to be interviewed by teams and to undergo significant medical testing.
"You want to see just how they're gonna handle the showing up, after the stress of the week — the interviews and all of the medical and everything that's going on — and then have to perform," Ballard said. "That's a lot of what we look for."
As Morocco Brown, the team's Director of College Scouting, says: "Those guys are stressed, they're tired, they're up all day. Are you gonna rise to the top?"
Says Dodds, who never minces words: "And if a guy shows up to the Combine and he's, like, in horrible shape, and he just has a horrible workout, I mean, he's kind of telling you something."
» For Colts head coach Frank Reich, the advantage of the Combine "from a physical standpoint is getting to see them against their peers back-to-back-to-back-to-back."
"They're up against more of their peers," Reich continues. "More tight ends, more quarterbacks, more offensive and defensive linemen … you're comparing, 'These five guys moved especially well in that one particular drill. Hey, these guys didn't move so well in that drill.'"
» But for the Colts, the biggest aspect they take away from the Combine is the medical testing.
"What the city of Indianapolis is able to do, being able to get over 250 athletes checked out medically — MRIs, X-rays, every doctor looking at 'em — they have it down to a science," Ballard said. "That's the No. 1 priority that we get out of the Combine. It's a valuable, valuable piece for us."
"The medical piece is huge," Brown said. "I mean, you don't wanna buy damaged goods."
» Now back in the draft room, the staff is going over various prospects' "football character," which Ballard said is "essential" each and every year.
"Talent gives you the ceiling, but their character determines their floor," Ballard said. "If they lack character — personal or football — you might not know where the floor is.
"When they have football character, I know they're gonna reach and be the best that they can be," he continued. "Their ceiling might not be quite as high as some of the other players, but I know that that kid's going to be able to do everything he can do, and take all the resources that we're giving him, to hit his ceiling as a player."
That doesn't mean the Colts don't consider taking a few risks from time to time, which is where a player's elite talent can come into play.
"You gotta find out where the give-and-take is there," Reich said. "Talent and character, that's two really important variables. But there's more, you know? So it's a sliding scale of maybe 10 things, or 15 things. … You've gotta sometimes take a little bit of a risk. But you don't wanna take too many risks."
» Now things get a little silly, as we hear some sort of flatulence machine set up in the back corner of the draft room. Mike Bluem, the Director of Football Administration, is quick to point out John Park, Manager of Football Research & Strategy, as the culprit.
Ballard, with his shirt over his nose, shaking because of laughter, says: "Y'all gotta go. Who's doing that? What is wrong with y'all? You have ruined the room."
The Colts' scouting staff certainly knows how to find talent — and then it also knows how to have its fun, too.
» This episode wraps up with start of the new league year in mid-March, and the team is active from the get-go, trading its first-round (13th-overall) pick to the San Francisco 49ers for DeForest Buckner, one of the top, young defensive tackles in the league.
Taking a look back at his end-of-season press conference, Ballard says: "Any time we have a chance to acquire a player that makes us better … we'll do it. When we get opportunities to acquire players that we like, we'll do it."
The Colts clearly believe Buckner is their guy.
"He's a unique, physical talent," Ballard said. "It is a high motor, all the time, playing as fast as he can and hard as he can. And that's infectious to a defense — that's infectious to a team.
"We just saw a unique opportunity," Ballard continues. "The 13th pick was a lot. When you have an opportunity to acquire what you think is an elite player at a premium position, who's a unique physical talent plus a unique individual in terms of his character, we thought he was a great move for us. … Adding DeForest just adds another young, talented player with high character that we want to build this thing on. … What he's going to bring to our locker room warranted the 13th pick of the draft."