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Should the Colts Roll the Dice on Antonio Callaway?

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Antonio Callaway has a checkered past but is determined to better himself moving forward.

SEC Championship - Alabama v Florida Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

When general manager Chris Ballard was hired by the Indianapolis Colts last year, he brought with him a reputation for vetting and taking chances on NFL Draft picks who had character concerns.

Before Ballard’s time with the Colts, while with the Kansas City Chiefs, they selected Marcus Peters in the first round in 2015 (issues with temper, kicked off Washington football team in 2014), KeiVarae Russell in the third in 2016 (academic suspension at Notre Dame for all of 2014) and Tyreek Hill in the fifth in 2016 (domestic assault charge in 2014).

Under Ballard’s predecessor, Ryan Grigson, the Colts didn’t often take chances in the draft on guys with red flags, especially before Day 3. Sometimes, that’s not the way to go because you can bypass some really good players just over a misconception about them, or a mistake they made when they were a dumb 19 or 20 year-old. Not that people shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions, but they’ve often already paid the price and have matured into adulthood.

Ballard sees things differently than Grigson.

ANTONIO CALLAWAY

Ballard didn’t take any character red flag players in his first draft as a GM last year with the Colts, but that could change this year. One big-time player in this draft who has a tainted past is former Florida Gators wide receiver and return specialist Antonio Callaway.

Here’s a quick rundown on Callaway’s past:

  • Following his freshman season at UF, he was accused and investigated for sexual assault. He was cleared of any wrongdoing.
  • About a year after he was cleared of the sexual assault accusation, Callaway received a misdemeanor charge for possession of marijuana after a car he was a passenger in was pulled over.
  • Last year, Callaway and eight other teammates were caught up in a credit card fraud scheme where approximately $15,000 collectively was charged. The nine players were suspended for the entire 2017 season. The Gators went 4-7 in 2017, and head coach Jim McElwain was fired. Rather than return to the team and a completely new coaching staff, Callaway declared for the 2018 draft.

Callaway spoke at the Scouting Combine in February, making his first public comments to the open media since his tumultuous end in Gainesville. He took blame for how the Gators’ 2017 season crumbled, stating, “To see the program go down like that and Coach Mac lose his job? That hurt me because I know it was basically because of me. I know I could’ve made a big difference. I made a mistake. I was young.”

MOVING FORWARD

Whenever someone gets into trouble, especially in a high-profile case or if they are well known themselves, they tend to talk about how they will better themselves moving forward. Callaway spoke to that as well, citing the birth of his newborn daughter especially.

“It’s bigger than me. It ain’t about me. I got a little girl. I just had her three weeks ago. I’ve got four little sisters. A single mom. I got to make it happen. I can’t be out here making mistakes and throwing myself in bad situations.”

Count Ballard and the Colts among the teams willing to kick the tires on Callaway to see if he’s worth a draft pick. On Tuesday, Gainesville-area sports reporter Scott LaPeer tweeted that Colts scouts were in town this week to visit with Callaway (his pro day is also this week), and that the team is considering using one of their three selections in the second round of the draft on him.

Callaway also spoke at his pro day and talked about his public perception. “They think I’m just this wild person,” Callaway said. “I ain’t no wild person... Like I said, I don’t cry over spilled milk. It happened. I wish I would have never put myself in those position but it happened. I can’t go back and and change nothing, just move forward.”

“Whoever take a shot with me, I’m giving it everything I’ve got. They ain’t going to be disappointed.”

Callaway can’t control what happened in the past, but he can control what he does moving forward. He will no doubt be grilled by teams about what happened, how he has matured since then and how he plans to conduct himself moving forward. The Colts were actually spotted chatting with Callaway for a while at his pro day.

Teams will not only be speaking with Callaway directly, but they’ll also be doing their own investigating. I have been told that the Colts are doing their due diligence to find out as much as they can about Callaway and that part of why they were in Gainesville was to meet with his attorney, Huntley Johnson.

CALLAWAY, AND HOW HE FITS WITH THE COLTS

Now that we’ve gone through Callaway’s story, we can actually address Callaway the player.

The reason the Colts would be willing to use a second-round pick — or any pick — on Callaway is because he is an absolute stud on the field. He’s the type of player who’s got first-round talent and free agent baggage, as they say.

The Colts aren’t very deep at wide receiver right now. It may actually be their most shallow position group. Outside of a known commodity in T.Y. Hilton, Ryan Grant and Chester Rogers are the only other Colts receivers of note. Grant has been solid in his career, and Rogers is still relatively unproven. The team needs help at receiver.

Callaway is known for making big plays, but he is actually closer to being a well-rounded, every-down player than just a guy who uses pure athleticism to pick up big chunks of yardage occasionally.

ROUTE RUNNING

We can see that Callaway is a quality route runner, which leads to him getting huge separation at times. It’s arguably the most important ability that any good receiver can have.

Callaway leaves Florida State safety Derwin James in the dust by faking inside and then curling around the traffic to the outside. James is widely considered a top-15 pick in this draft. The overthrow to Callaway is something you see almost constantly from UF’s quarterbacks.

If James isn’t your top defensive back in this draft, then Minkah Fitzpatrick probably is. Callaway had his way with him as well. Callaway gave Fitzpatrick fits throughout this game, but here, he shakes him and is able to get inside enough for the quarterback to fit the ball in for the touchdown.

The stutter/fake comeback makes the defender freeze as Callaway takes off for yards after the catch.

He drops the pass, but Callaway sells his route well and uses his hands, then immediately turns back, giving himself a few yards of cushion.

BIG PLAY ABILITY

The explosive quality in a receiver can be the difference between guys like Jarvis Landry and Julian Edelman averaging 10 yards per catch, and guys like Hilton and Antonio Brown averaging 13-16 yards per catch after you factor in all their downfield plays by season’s end. Being able to stretch the field makes a receiver more unpredictable to defenses and often requires an extra defender to monitor downfield.

Callaway shakes the corner to get his footing off before turning on the jets and getting under the deep ball.

It looks so easy for Callaway as he gets the corner ready while destroying the cushion, then he fakes in with his inside foot before bursting outside and downfield. Another overthrow.

RUN AFTER THE CATCH

Gaining yards after the catch is nice, but it’s often just icing on the cake. Certain receivers basically flip on a running back’s mentality with the ball in their hands and either try and shake defenders or run through them in order to pick up extra yardage.

Callaway obviously knows the first down is within reach here on 3rd-and-5, and he does everything to make sure that he stays upright and balanced enough to move the chains.

Florida did quick throws like this with Callaway quite often in order to get him in the open field with blockers in front of him. It’s part of what made Demaryius Thomas so effective with Peyton Manning, and the type of stuff that the Colts have tried but never been able to successfully do with Hilton in the past.

Callaway was already too close to the sideline for this to result in much, but this displays his ability to suddenly change direction which can have defenders falling by his feet. If he would have been just a few feet closer to the inside of the field, this could have been a big gain.

RETURN GAME ABILITY

The more that a player can do, the less expendable they are. Any player that has the ability to stay in for whole drives and then exert maximum effort on special teams while returning the ball is more likely to carve out a roster spot.

This clip is in Vine form (R.I.P.) so you don’t get the full effect, but Callaway weaves through traffic in the middle of the field on this punt return and takes it to the house.

Just another example of Callaway’s agility and ability to make people miss. In watching his film, you see many punters doing these rugby-style kicks against him in order to buy their coverage team more time to try and stop Callaway.

DRAFT WEEKEND

I asked Florida alum and Tampa Bay Buccaneers/NFL Draft writer Trevor Sikkema if he thinks Callaway is worth a draft pick, even a second-rounder.

“Yes. Best player on UF’s offense every year he played,” Sikkema said. “Natural deep threat. Very good after the catch. Exceptional athlete overall. If he gets out of Florida, away from his old crew, he can stay out of trouble.”

That, of course, is the biggest factor. Will Callaway be able to walk the straight and narrow when he gets to the NFL and has more resources to make bad decisions? If the Colts select him, especially as early as Day 2, then you can mark that as Ballard — and maybe even owner Jim Irsay — having full faith that Callaway will be fine.

The Colts’ needs at receiver and Callaway’s attributes on the field may be enough to make this a perfect match come April 26-28.