The Indianapolis Colts currently have 250 players on their draft board with just over a week remaining until the start of the NFL Draft.
Right now, the Colts are busy trying to set that board. As Chris Ballard said today, the “cement’s not dry until draft day,” meaning that they’re still evaluating prospects and finalizing their board. But once draft day comes, Ballard plans to focus on the player they’re drafting (as ranked on their board) rather than plugging holes.
“The one thing I want you to understand,” Ballard explained today in his pre-draft presser, “I think teams make big mistakes in the draft, and look I’ve been a part, Lord knows I haven’t been perfect in the teams I’ve been on, we’ve all made mistakes. But I don’t ever want to pass up a really good player that I think has a long career in this league that fits our criteria of what we want. So we’ll always be looking to add, if there’s a player in a round that we identify and we say, ‘ok, this is a guy we think will be a good Colt, fits our criteria,’ we won’t pass that guy up.”
What Ballard was describing was an approach to the draft that is known as ‘BPA’ or ‘best player available,’ where a team focuses on taking the highest-rated prospect remaining on their board. And that’s what Ballard will focus on in the upcoming draft.
“Best player. Best talent. Yeah, absolutely,” he said. “Now, if it’s even, we’ll go with the need. But look, we put them through an exhausting process. I mean, we take each player and from the tape, from the film, it all matters. Everything matters. I always laugh when people say the workouts don’t matter; why do we work them out? Absolutely they matter. But the workout has to match the tape. So every level of the evaluation matters, from the tape, to the workout, to the interviews, to the research you do on the player, to the medical, it all matters. And then they’ve got to fit. And look, if there’s one thing we will not do, is if there is a player in the round, even if we’re loaded at the position, we’ll still take the player. I mean, I take Dee Ford as an example. We had Tamba Hali and Justin Houston that were humming, but we saw a player that we liked in Kansas City that could rush the passer, and that’s who we ended up choosing.”
One thing Ballard mentioned elsewhere in his press conference is that he’s willing to take the daggers (from the media, public, fans, etc.) if he’s convinced that a pick is the right one. He seems totally willing to take a player at an already loaded position (not that the Colts really have many of those, if any) if they really love the player. It’s all about the evaluation process before the draft, which is going on right now. When it comes to draft day, then, it’s not about debating about which player is better, because they’ve already ranked their board.
“No, we’ll have the collaboration before,” Ballard explained. “Look, we’ll have them stacked and ranked before we get [to draft day], when we get to draft day the cement’s dry. Those discussions are happening right now. Ultimately, the pick’s on me. If the guy doesn’t work out, then that’s my fault. That’s on me for not making sure we did everything we could to make that player successful. If we get it right, then that’s for us. We as a group got it right.”
Ballard is certainly a fan of the defensive depth in this class. He said that it’s exciting to see the defensive talent and added that it’s a strong class at pass rusher and cornerback, also saying that it’s as deep of a safety and tight end class as he’s seen. But while talking about the defensive depth, he also made sure to mention that there are good offensive players too. Again, the Colts will focus on talent, not on need.
If it’s close between a couple of players, of course the Colts will go with the position of need, and Ballard even said that 5-10 spots on their board normally isn’t that much of a difference. So the Colts aren’t ignoring need, but they’re focusing first and foremost on talent.
Ballard gave the example of Dee Ford, but I think of another (more controversial one) from Ryan Grigson’s tenure with the Colts: the selection of Phillip Dorsett in the first round in 2015. The Colts added a player to a position that wasn’t really viewed as a need, and they were criticized for it (including by me). But looking back on the pick, the problem was not so much in the strategy of taking the BPA even at a position that wasn’t a need. The problem was with the way the draft board was ranked so that Dorsett was the BPA at that spot.
That’s what makes this pre-draft evaluation process so critical. That’s the process that Chris Ballard and the scouts and personnel people and coaches are currently going through. And that’s the process that, on draft day, they hope will enable them to come away with the most talent and best players possible. And if it happens to address positions of need, then that’s even better.