INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – This much we know: the rampant speculation fueling the NFL draft ends shortly after 8 this evening when commissioner Roger Goodell steps behind a podium at JerryWorld and informs everyone which (latest) quarterback will lead the Cleveland Browns out of the darkness.
After that, sit back, grab a bucket of popcorn and enjoy the uncertainty.
“That first couple of hours is going to be fascinating,’’ Chris Ballard said, “just to see how the quarterbacks peel off.’’
Ballard is overseeing his second draft as the Indianapolis Colts’ general manager, and it’s not hyperbole to suggest it’s a defining moment for the franchise, rivaling 1998 (welcome to Indy, Peyton Manning) and 2012 (ditto, Andrew Luck).
The Colts possess nine total picks, including the 6th overall. That’s a good thing since glaring needs are everywhere, save quarterback and special teams. The fragility of the roster is most evident because there’s debate over which position is most dire. Linebacker? Receiver? Offensive line? Secondary? Running back?
“We’ve got areas that we need to fill holes,’’ Ballard conceded.
Those areas will be addressed, but only after the top end of the draft sorts itself out. And that’s where things are going to be, as Ballard noted, fascinating.
The ideal situation for the Colts is for four quarterbacks to be taken among the top 5 picks. The more QBs that come off the board ahead of the Colts, the more “premium’’ non-QBs that slide to them. Consider the possible scenarios:
- Among the top 5, the Browns, New York Giants (2nd overall), New York Jets (3rd overall following their March trade with the Colts) and Denver (5th) could opt for a QB. That’s the perfect situation for Indy, and leaves either premier edge rusher Bradley Chubb of N.C. State or running back Penn State Saquon Barkley on the board.
“Everyone in the room knows how important the position is,’’ Ballard said. “So when you have a belief in the player and you think he can be a franchise guy, you take him.’’
- The Giants resist the temptation to acquire the successor to 37-year old Eli Manning and select Barkley or Chubb. That would eliminate one of Ballard’s eight premium prospects, perhaps leaving him to decide between Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson or linebackers Roquan Smith of Georgia or Tremaine Edmunds of Virginia Tech.
- A team below the Colts in the pecking order – Miami (11th overall), Buffalo (12th) or even Arizona (15th) – makes an upward move to get its quarterback of the future. A trade-up could involve the Browns at No. 4, Denver at No. 5 or the Colts.
“When you want a guy and you have a belief in him,’’ Ballard said, “you’ll do about whatever it takes to go get him. The price to get up is high.’’
Another trade-down by the Colts would have to make sense.
“The compensation will be very important, number one, and then, number two, we’ve got to make sure that we have the right guys identified in the right area that we still think can give us the same thing that that top player at 6 would give us,’’ Ballard said.
- Everybody ahead of the Colts stand pat, no one offers the appropriate package to move back, two or three QBs are chosen and Ballard decides which of the available prospects is most attractive.
“You take the best player in your mind regardless of position,’’ he said. “Who’s going to make the biggest difference in your mind regardless of position.’’
Nelson seems to be the consensus pick among the zillion mock drafts dotting the NFL landscape. We understand the rationale – protecting Luck must be priority 1 – but in one regard, he doesn’t fit Ballard’s description of a premium player. Opposing teams aren’t going to spend the week game-planning for a guard, no matter how good, great or awesome he might be.
The Colts have a slew of good mid-level players, but they lack difference-makers, game-changers. Aside from Luck and T.Y Hilton, they lack talent capable of making those three or four plays that determine outcomes.
That’s why Chubb is the ideal choice for a team missing a legitimate pass rusher.
And that’s why, if Chubb is out of the mix when the Colts are on the clock, we’d opt for Smith or Edmunds. The defensive transition to a 4-3 requires a playmaker at linebacker.
During his pre-draft press conference last week, Ballard mentioned the impact of Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs during his days with the Chicago Bears, and Derrick Johnson in Kansas City.
Ballard described Smith and Edmunds as “unique talents.’’
That’s good enough for us.