Colts’ Chris Ballard willing to move back again in draft, but there’s a limit

Colts GM Chris Ballard

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Chris Ballard isn’t averse to sliding back in the NFL draft if the right situation presents itself.

Remember his March 17 trade with the New York Jets? Of course you do.

Ballard sent a shockwave across the NFL landscape when he traded the 3rd overall pick in next Thursday’s draft to the New York Jets. In return, the Indianapolis Colts slid back to the No. 6 slot in the first round while also picking up from the Jets two second-rounders in next week’s draft along with a 2019 second-rounder.

One quick, rather-significant note on that blockbuster deal. It spoke volumes on the Colts’ confidence regarding quarterback Andrew Luck completing his rehab from right shoulder surgery and being ready for training camp, and the upcoming season.

“We traded the third pick of the draft to move back to six,’’ Ballard said during Friday’s pre-draft press conference. “I thought that said we’re pretty confident about where he’s at.’’

With Ballard’s second draft as the Colts’ general manager looming, we need to keep one thing in mind: he’s moved back before, and he’s liable to do it again.

“Are we open to it?’’ he asked. “Yes, we’re open to it. Will we do it? I think it just depends on how far we’d be willing to move.’’

When Ballard pulled the trigger on the trade-down with the Jets, he did so believing it was necessary to remain in the top-10 in order for the Colts to have the opportunity to select a “premium’’ player. At the time, he and his personnel staff had identified four non-quarterback prospects that were a cut above the rest.

Additional evaluation has expanded that list to eight. A premium player is one who, in Ballard’s estimation, “makes an impact and a difference for our team on game day. Makes game-winning plays for us. Guys that on Monday and Tuesday, the other team is game-planning (for).’’

Not surprisingly, Ballard declined to share his list of top-level talent. There seems to be a consensus among most draft analysts on the top three non-quarterbacks: Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb and Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson. Included in the group a tick below are Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith, Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward and Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea.

As Ballard and his staff expanded their list of premium players, they also increased possible depth of a second trade-back. Their comfort level might be the 12th overall pick – do the math; eight premium players, four premium QBs – which brings the Buffalo Bills into the picture.

Buffalo sits on the No. 12 rung and is one of a handful of teams in need of a franchise quarterback. The Bills might be interested in moving up to the 6th spot if, as expected, there is an early run on quarterbacks.

Everything, Ballard insisted, hinges on the QBs. Cleveland, the New York Giants and Jets hold the first three picks, and each could opt for its QB of the future. Or not.

“I don’t think anybody knows right now, other than (John) Dorsey,’’ Ballard said, referring to Browns general manager John Dorsey. “John probably in his mind knows which direction he’s going.

“That first couple of hours is going to be fascinating . . . just to see how the quarterbacks peel off.’’

And just to see how Ballard deals with the 6th overall selection. Stay put and get one of those premium players, or trade back a few spots and not only still get one of the remaining premium players, but another draft pick or two as well.

As it stands, the Colts hold nine overall draft picks, including four in the top 49 and five in the top 67.

“Just depends on who’s there for us and do we want to stay or do we feel like we can move back and still get a player that we covet and we like,’’ Ballard said. “If we get the opportunity to move back, it’s gotta make sense and we’ve still got to get one of those premium players.’’

Notes:

While discussing his draft philosophy and possible draft-day options, Ballard also touched on other Colts-related issues. Including:

  •  It’s possible the Colts will hold a joint practice with a yet-to-be-named team during training camp at Grand Park in Westfield. Last summer, they shared practice time with the Detroit Lions, their opponent in their preseason opener.

“We might,’’ Ballard said. “We haven’t finished any details on that.’’

The Colts open the preseason Aug. 9 at Seattle.

  •  Linebacker most certainly is a position of need in the draft. John Simon, an outside linebacker in last year’s 3-4 defense, will work at defensive end in the new 4-3. He joins Jabaal Sheard and Tarell Basham at defensive end.