INDIANAPOLIS – Anyone expecting some clarity from Chris Ballard on The Topic was 1) delusional going in, and 2) greatly disappointed coming out.
The general manager of the Indianapolis Colts, along with first-year head coach Shane Steichen, met with the media Wednesday afternoon at the NFL Scouting Combine, and every other question – probably more than that – involved how a quarterback-hungry franchise will look to get fat in the April NFL draft.
As everyone knows, Ballard holds the No. 4 pick. That’s what finishing 4-12-1 and losing seven straight games to close a calamitous season for the first time since 1953 gets you.
“It took a lot of freakin’ pain to get there,’’ Ballard said. “But when you’re there, you need to take advantage of it.’’
And as everyone knows, the draft is rife with intriguing quarterback prospects.
“I think there’s good players,’’ Ballard said. “You know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.’’
Virtually all QB-centric eyes are focused on Alabama’s Bryce Young, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Kentucky’s Will Levis and Florida’s Anthony Richardson.
The notion of the Colts “taking advantage” of their lofty status initially involves doing a deep dive on the quarterback prospects and aligning them accordingly. What are their strengths and, more importantly, limitations? How effective will Steichen be at building his offense around whichever young quarterback is added?
“I think all the guys in this draft have talent,’’ Steichen said. “And then how do you elevate their talent as coaches and put them into positions to succeed? As coaches we have to do a helluva job and put them into a position to succeed.’’
“You fit the offense to what the quarterback can do well,’’ Ballard said. “I think that’s what Shane would and the staff will do.’’
But only after determining if Young, Stroud, Levis or Richardson is worthy of a top-4 pick, or something more.
For the Colts to move up to No. 1 in a trade with the Chicago Bears, they would have to absolutely be convinced that player merited what would be a hefty investment.
“There’s gotta be a guy worthy of it,’’ Ballard said. “Everybody has just automatically stamped that you’ve gotta move up to 1, to get it right. I don’t know if I agree with that. I don’t.
“I don’t know if that’s the right course of business. If when we meet as a staff and we say, ‘OK, this is what we need to do, this is the guy for the next 10 to 15 years,’ and we think he’s the right guy, sure we’ll do it.
“But who’s to say we won’t get one at 4.’’
As we mentioned, zero clarity. They might move up. They might stay put.
Deal with it.
Remember, it’s March 1. The draft is April 27.
After meeting with prospects at the Scouting Combine, the Colts will transition to Pro Days, private workouts and additional interviews.
Steichen reiterated his list of preferred traits for a quarterback.
“Accuracy, decision-making, the ability to create,’’ he said. “And that can come in all different shapes and sizes.’’
That undoubtedly was a reference to Young and whether his size – perhaps 6-foot, 200 pounds – will be a detriment as he transitions from Alabama to the NFL.
“I’ve seen it done,’’ Steichen said of a 6-foot QB excelling. “Drew Brees is a great example.’’
Ballard always has been guided by size metrics at different positions. A 6-foot QB doesn’t fit the mold.
“There’s always exceptions,’’ he said. “I think beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And who do you believe in? Who do you believe you can build an offense around?’’
Ballard’s overriding quality in a quarterback?
“One that wins,’’ he said with a smile.
A quick reminder that reinforces Ballard’s view. Since 1998, the Colts are 194-100 (.660) with 15 playoff appearance with Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck under center. They’re 43-64-1 (.403) with one playoff appearance with 13 other QBs.
Ballard noted the NFL is trending away from pure pocket passers to those who threaten defenses with their legs.
“You’re getting a lot more athletes playing the position,’’ he said. “So, they’re gonna come in different shapes, different sizes, some tall, some short, some athletes, the ability to move, navigate the pocket, escape from the pocket, create plays with your feet.
“All those are things that we’re seeing in our league. Not that we haven’t seem them before, but I think it’s even become more prevalent.’’
History offers a cautionary tale.
Since 2011, 25 quarterbacks have been taken with a top-10 pick. Being generous with careers, it’s been nearly a 50-50 proposition for getting it right.
For every Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Josh Allen, Justin Herbert and Andrew Luck, there’s a Zach Wilson, Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, Josh Rosen and Mitchell Trubisky.
Jacksonville appears to have its quarterback of the future in Trevor Lawrence (No. 1 overall in 2021), but was wrong with Blake Bortles (No. 3 in ’14) and Blaine Gabbert (No. 10 in ’11).
Buffalo nailed it by selecting Allen seventh overall pick in 2018, but Cleveland whiffed that year on Mayfield (No. 1 overall), the Jets missed on Darnold (No. 3) and Arizona was oh-so-wrong with Rosen (No. 10).
The critical part of the evaluation process is determining whether a prospect possesses the intangibles to go along with his physical skills. Does he have “it?’’
To Steichen, “it’’ is tantamount to being obsessed.
“You’ve got to love it,’’ he said. “You’ve got to be obsessed with it. You’ve got to be the first one in, the last one to leave.’’
Steichen worked closely with Jalen Hurts in Philadelphia.
“Jalen was in there at freakin’ 6 o’clock,’’ he said. “He’d be in there until 9:30.
“That’s what ‘it’ looks like. You want to play in this league for a long time and be successful? You’ve got to have that mindset every single day that I’m going to give it everything I’ve got.’’
That’s why the evaluation of a potential franchise QB requires talking with people around him.
“You’ve got to ask every single person that knows this guy, ‘What’s he like? What makes him tick? What’s his office hours? How does he study tape?’’’ Steichen said.
Only then has a team gathered the required information to make a franchise-defining selection.
Until Ballard, Steichen and their support staff have spent countless hours evaluating the next face of the franchise, we’ll get coach-speak and ambiguous answers to specific questions.
That being said, again Ballard offered clarity on what it will take for the Colts to be aggressive and trade up to ensure getting the player they coveted.
“That we were just convicted that this is no freakin’ doubt the guy,’’ he said.
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