INDIANAPOLIS – Soon it will be over.
The speculation, the outright guesses, the mock drafts (versions 1 through 7), the whispers that this guy is slipping because of whatever reason.
We’ll find out Thursday evening – at roughly 8:30, give or take – whether Chris Ballard has finally given the Indianapolis Colts their quarterback of the future or, to the consternation of so many, he didn’t like any of his options at the position when he’s on the clock and added a disruptive edge rusher or left tackle to the roster and the offense is in the hands of Gardner Minshew II.
We vote for the former. But that’s us. This franchise isn’t contending for much of anything until it has a viable quarterback to follow.
That’s why the preoccupation with this year’s deep quarterback class is understandable. Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud, Will Levis, Anthony Richardson and Hendon Hooker represent hope.
That’s also what the 259-selection draft offers.
The Colts hold nine picks in the draft, including No. 4 overall.
Owner Jim Irsay considers the draft picks as “gold.’’ He describes picks in rounds 1-3 as “gold nuggets.’’
Ballard has exhausted every avenue while building the roster: trades (DeForest Buckner), waivers (Kenny Moore II), veteran free agency (Minshew, Matt Gay, Samson Ekubam, Isaiah McKenzie, etc.) and the post-draft signing frenzy (Mo Alie-Cox, Rigoberto Sanchez, Luke Rhodes, Ashton Dulin, etc.).
But all pale in comparison to the draft.
“Our belief and my belief is you build through the draft,’’ Irsay said. “The draft is your pipeline for success or failure.’’
For the past few years, he has advocated drafting and developing a young quarterback. The time might be ideal.
“It’s a good year to have the opportunity to pick the right guy,’’ Irsay said. “Of course, no one knows which guy could be a guy that really is that guy for the next 10 years.’’
The Colts have been in this situation before. They’ve used a top-4 pick on a quarterback six times since 1970.
- 2012: Andrew Luck, No. 1.
- 1998: Peyton Manning, No. 1.
- 1990: Jeff George, No. 1.
- 1983: John Elway, No. 1.
- 1982: Art Schlichter, No. 4.
- 1973: Bert Jones, No. 2.
Despite the team’s debilitating instability at quarterback – it will have a different primary starter for a sixth straight season and a seventh straight different opening-day starter – Ballard and his personnel staff haven’t been aggressive with that position in the draft. The Colts have selected just two in the past decade: Sam Ehlinger (round 6, No. 218, in 2021) and Jacob Eason (round 4, No. 122, in 2020).
“We all know the importance of the position,’’ Ballard said. “People are willing to do about whatever it takes to get their hands on one.
“There’s no guarantee you’re going to be right. You want to be right. You want to feel good about whatever you draft that you’re able to win with that player.’’
Understandably, the bulk of the attention has focused on quarterback. But the draft offers an opportunity to address whatever problems ail a franchise. Along with quarterback, the Colts have obvious needs at cornerback, wide receiver and the offensive line.
Ballard said last week his draft board includes 17 prospects with first-round grades.
“Every year is a little different, and that’s not saying the 18th player is not going to be good, you know?’’ he said. “Or a second-round player isn’t going to be good.
“We’ve all studied the draft enough to know, and we’ve seen it through the years.’’
The Colts have invested 53 players since Ballard’s arrival in 2017. Twenty-five remain on the roster, which includes 17 who are projected starters.
Two of Ballard’s drafts have failed to deliver lasting impact. Linebacker E.J.Speed (round 5) is the only holdover from 2019 while defensive tackle Grover Stewart (round 4) is the only remaining member of the Class of ’17.
It’s worth noting two 2019 draft picks relocated via free agency this offense – wideout Parris Campbell and linebacker Bobby Okereke, both to the New York Giants – while another from that draft (safety Khari Willis) retired to pursue a career in the ministry.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.