The early response to the hiring of GM Chris Ballard has been positive but there hasn’t been a lot of discussion about his time in Kansas City. While he wasn’t making the final decisions for the Chiefs, we can look at the results and get a hint of what type of GM he might be in Indianapolis.
He started out in Chicago, working for the Bears as an area scout, then as director of pro scouting. From 2013-2014, Ballard was the director of player personnel for the Chiefs and from 2015-2016 he was the director of football operations and then GM John Dorsey’s right-hand man. Seeing as he was more heavily in charge of the pro scouting in Chicago, I decided to go back and focus on the drafts he was a part of as a Kansas City front office member.
I started to label each pick as a ‘hit’ or a ‘miss’. However, as I started to do this, these qualifications seemed a bit arbitrary, so I decided to at least define what a hit is, and though some may disagree with these definitions, it at least gives a hint of what I’m looking for in each prospect:
Round 1: Key cog of the roster
Round 2: Significant contributor as a starter
Round 3: Contributing role player as a starter/backup
Round 4-5: Role players as spot starters/backups
Round 6-7: Consistent back-up on any team
Along with these criteria, any player that had an available SPARQ score, by NFL % (which is only presented from 2015-2017) from the lovely 3sigmathlete.com, I provided. This was to see if there was a specific level of athlete the Chiefs front office, including Ballard, was looking for.
A SPARQ score blends together an athlete’s weight, 40 time, 10-yard split, short shuttle, 3 cone drill, bench press, vertical jump and broad jump per the Three Sigma Athlete website.
But enough chit chat, let’s get to the draft picks:
* = High impact players
Round 1: OT Eric Fisher – Miss
Round 3: TE Travis Kelce – Hit*
Round 3: HB Knile Davis – Miss
Round 4: LB Nico Johnson – Miss
Round 5: DB Sanders Commings – Miss
Round 6: C Eric Kush – Hit
Round 6: FB Braden Wilson – Miss
Round 7: DL Mike Catapano – Hit
Hit %: 37.5%
Offensive players drafted: 5
Defensive players drafted: 3
Yes, Eric Fisher recently signed a contract extension with the Chiefs, and is the starting left tackle protecting Alex Smith’s blindside (for now), he isn’t necessarily a player that would devastate the team if he was to be pulled from the lineup.
He’s a solid starting left tackle that was drafted a bit too high as the number 1 overall pick.
Kush and Catapano are considered hits because they are competent role players that are competing for starting spots, even if they are no longer in Kansas City, it’s an impressive feat to recognize that kind of talent late in the draft. And who knows, Ballard wasn’t making the final decisions on the roster, so he could have potentially really believed in these guys, even after they got cut.
Kelce was a huge steal for this front office and is still paying dividends as their superstar tight end in Andy Reid’s offense.
With all that said, year 1 was a low hit rate when compared to their other drafts, but this was a newly minted administration catching up on their homework. So, let’s look a little further down the road.
Round 1: EDGE Dee Ford – Hit*
Round 3: DB Phillip Gaines – Hit
Round 4: HB/WR De’Anthony Thomas – Hit
Round 5: QB Aaron Murray – Miss
Round 6: OL Zach Fulton – Hit
Round 6: OL Laurent Duvernay-Tardif – Hit
Hit %: 83%
Offensive players drafted: 4
Defensive players drafted: 2
Ford is a good example of why you shouldn’t give up on a prospect too soon. He had a slow start to his career, but he really shined last season, notching 10 sacks.
Gaines has been an inconsistent starter at corner, but a significant contributor nonetheless, so he’s tentatively considered a hit here.
Thomas was used as a decoy early on in his career, and he’s bounced from the backfield to the wide receiver position, without too much production. Nevertheless, he’s been a decent enough role player for the Chiefs offense, and that’s why he’s given the thumbs up at this point.
Fulton and Duvernay-Tardif are either starters, or fighting for a starting spot along the offensive line.
The 2014 drafted was a well-rounded crew, with one potential star in the making.
Round 1: DB Marcus Peters – Hit*, SPARQ = 49%
Round 2: OL Mitch Morse – Hit*, SPARQ = 84.7%
Round 3: WR Chris Conley – Hit, SPARQ = 98.8%
Round 3: DB Steve Nelson – Hit, SPARQ = 44.4%
Round 4: LB Ramik Wilson – Hit, SPARQ = 20.9%
Round 5: LB D.J. Alexander – Hit, SPARQ = 72.8%
Round 6: TE James O’Shaughnessy – Miss, SPARQ = 45%
Round 6: DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches – Hit, SPARQ = N/A
Round 7: WR Da’Ron Brown – Miss, SPARQ = 57.5%
Hit %: 78%
Offensive players drafted: 4
Defensive players drafted: 5
SPARQ average: 59%
This is the first draft that consisted of more defensive players than offensive, but was still balanced on both sides of the ball.
Peters is an absolute stud, Morse is a mainstay on the offensive line, and Conley is an athletic freak who will have an opportunity to shine this year with Maclin’s departure.
Alexander being considered a positive pick may seem odd, but he found himself on a pro bowl roster in 2016 as a special teamer, before he was traded to the Seattle Seahawks for Kevin Pierre-Louis.
There isn’t much to discuss with this draft, it was a well-executed day in the war room for Kansas City, and it’s reflected on the way these prospects have contributed to the roster.
Round 2: DL Chris Jones – Hit*, SPARQ = 62.3%
Round 3: DB KeiVarae Russell – Miss, SPARQ = 92.7%
Round 4: OL Parker Ehinger – Hit, SPARQ = 17.0%
Round 4: DB Eric Murray – Hit, SPARQ = 87.1%
Round 4: WR Demarcus Robinson – Miss, SPARQ = 55.2%
Round 5: QB Kevin Hogan – Miss, SPARQ = N/A
Round 5: WR Tyreek Hill – Hit*, SPARQ = 97.9%
Round 6: DB D.J. White – Hit, SPARQ = 38.4%
Round 6: EDGE Dadi Nicolas – Miss, SPARQ = N/A
Hit %: 55%
Offensive players drafted: 4
Defensive players drafted: 5
SPARQ average: 64%
I know, it’s hard to call a player a hit or a miss after one season, but for the sake of painting a broad picture for Ballard’s tenure I decided to try anyways.
It looks like the Chiefs have 2 potential home runs in Chris Jones and the infamous Tyreek Hill. Hill may have fallen due to off-field issues, but the pick was still a stroke of genius once the benefits outweighed the risks, at least that’s been the case so far.
Outside of that, Russell was one of the biggest draft busts in recent memory, seeing that he didn’t even see the second year of his rookie contract.
With Nicolas, it’s tough to say he’s much of a miss, especially as a 7th rounder, but he didn’t record a single stat in his rookie season, and therefore, will be considered a whiffed opportunity here.
Overall, this is another well put together group, with a lot of potential contributors and spot starters sprinkled throughout the 53-man collection.
Overall Hit %: 63%
Total offensive players drafted: 17
Total defensive players drafted: 15
Overall SPARQ % average: 61.5%
Again, I understand that these numbers may mean nothing at this point, especially since there isn’t anything to compare it to. But as I said earlier, I wanted to get a look at the landscape of Ballard’s past dealings, and see what that could mean for the future.
We also don’t know what picks Ballard was for or against, to the best of my knowledge he was a key part in the Marcus Peters and Chris Jones’ picks, but there is no way to verify how pivotal he was in those instances.
I was also surprised by the fact that the Chiefs invested more offensively than they had defensively, though a plausible explanation is because this regime did inherit a lot of defensive cornerstones before they arrived on campus.
The SPARQ score was around average, though a lot of their early picks were quite the athletes, it was still eye opening to see that they didn’t necessarily go for underwear champions throughout the majority of the draft process.
Overall, the Chiefs seemed to do a respectable job of using the drafts to at least fill out their roster with some depth and competition, something former GM Ryan Grigson didn’t do too often. And speaking of Grigson, it only makes sense to go back and see how well he performed on the same scale in Indianapolis, and assess what kind of an improvement we can expect with Ballard and company.
Here are Grigson’s numbers from his tenure in Indianapolis (2012-2016):
Overall hit %: 52%
Offensive players drafted: 21
Defensive players drafted: 17
Overall SPARQ % average: 54%
It may seem that Grigson drafted a balanced core through the draft, just as we thought Ballard and company had done, but when you take a closer look you see a clear divide between the two philosophies.
10 out of the 17 (59%) defensive players Grigson drafted were selected in the 5th round or later, whereas 10 out of 21 (48%) offensive players were chosen in the first 3 rounds. On the contrary, the Chiefs drafted only 6 out of its 15 (40%) defensive players in the 5th round or later whereas a lowly 4 out of 17 (23%) offensive prospects were taken in the 3rd round or earlier during the Ballard period.
To put it simply, Ballard’s team invested heavily on the defensive side of the ball, while the Grigson dictatorship tilted in favor of the offensive unit.
Let’s go a little deeper, and take a look at the group of high impact players from both sides.
Colts: Luck, T.Y. Hilton, Jack Mewhort, Henry Anderson, Ryan Kelly
Chiefs: Kelce, Ford, Peters, Morse, Jones, Hill
Sure, the Colts side has a solid collection of players (I realize Moncrief is not on this list, and though I’m tempted to add him, he needs to post a healthy productive season before that’s possible), but outside of Luck, the Chiefs conglomerate has a much higher ceiling in terms of making a significant dent in the NFL. As well as having more potential superstars in less drafts.
Oh, and let’s not forget Grigson’s 2013 draft class, where Kerwynn Williams is the only player on an NFL roster today.
Now, let’s get creative for a second, and imagine a world where Luck has a GM that selects blue chip type players at a higher frequency, increases the overall hit rate he’s had in the past by 11% and invests heavily on the defensive side of the ball, where Luck has gotten a minimal amount of help.
If this was true back in 2012, we might not have had to witness the tragic way the horseshoe organization wasted away the first 5 years of Andrew Luck’s career.
So, what does this mean for the Colts moving forward?
If history repeats itself, we can expect a well-rounded team with at least 1 and maybe 2 superstars from each draft. The first 2 years of Ballard’s tenure in Kansas City, they obtained 2 potential blue chip players, and the following 2 seasons they acquired 4 more.
It is also relieving to know the flexibility that Ballard possesses in recognizing what his roster needs.
This is apparent due to the balance between offense and defense the Kansas City front office had when looking at the drafts as a whole, during Ballard’s ride there, and how defense heavy he went in 2017 in Indianapolis.
And speaking directly about the 2017 Colts draft class, going by the overall hit %, we would expect to see 5 players become at least glue guys that contribute to the roster as starters or backups.
On top of the 1 or 2 true impact players we can expect from the class, it would be a nice fresh start for this Colts roster that desperately needs it.
Now, I will speculate on who these players will be in a future article, so this analysis isn’t all for naught, but right now I just wanted to view the entire spectrum of the Ballard experience thus far.
No one knows what’s in store for the Colts down the road, but going on this journey with Ballard rather than further enduring the Grigson roller coaster will most likely be quite a change-up.
And the prospects look promising.