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Examining Chris Ballard’s List of ‘Premium Players’ Expanding as Draft Nears

NFL: Combine Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

When Indianapolis Colts GM Chris Ballard relinquished the team’s No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft to trade back to No. 6, he stated that he felt the trade worked for them because they could still get a premium player at that spot. While most Colts fans have been bullish about NC State edge rusher Bradley Chubb if the team would have stayed at No. 3, the reality is that he may not have been available either way.

Ballard, and most of us looking on, sees it likely that at least 3 of the available quarterbacks come off the board in the first 5 selections and they could still nab one of the 3 most desirable non-quarterbacks — Quenton Nelson, Saquon Barkley or Chubb — even if one or two of the them have landed in either Cleveland or New York.

All of these prospects would do work in Indianapolis. The Colts desperately need a stud for the future at all 3 positions, but now there is even more to consider, and it appears as though Ballard and his scouting department have recognized it as well.

The Colts have been a popular trade-back team for months. They’ve done it, but like most of us, Ballard understands that adding even more picks from this talented draft class is a good thing, and they’re possibly looking to trade back a bit further.

There comes a point in the process where a team can take themselves out of contention for difference makers if they trade back too far. Quantity over quality can bite you quickly and wreck a team’s draft haul, just look at the Cleveland Browns over the past several years. Eventually, you have to be happy with where you stand and acquire the highest level of talent possible.

Now that the Colts are open to moving back from No. 6, Ballard has somewhat redefined his top tier of talent in this class. When asked in his pre-draft press conference how many premium players he’s identified, Ballard replied with a number that sounds strange on the surface.

It’s a number that rarely turns out to be true — in terms of how the players are evaluated — as we often find top-10 picks busting, and projected third-round picks becoming good, sustaining players in the NFL.

However, this class does indeed seem different. Ballard’s description of premium, and what they would provide is much like we’d expect it to be as he revealed them to be “A guy that we think makes an impact and a difference for our team on game day. Makes game-winning plays for us. Guys that on Monday and Tuesday, the other team is game planning.”

The most common projected trade partners for the Colts have been the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills who hold the No. 11 and 12 picks respectively. This opens up a whole new list of prospects to consider in these spots.

Roquan Smith, Tremaine Edmunds, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Derwin James, Denzel Ward, maybe Harold Landry and possibly even Mike McGlinchey look to realistically be in play in this position. I think you can make a case for most of them being on Ballard’s premium list. But, we’ve seen crazy things happen in the draft, so gauging the direction of the picks in real-time would be crucial should Ballard decide to move further back on draft day.

Ballard also stated that he’d have to be blown away with an offer to move back, and when you combine that with the ‘8 premium players’ statement, you see that he’s making a call to the Dolphins and Bills without even picking up the phone.

The real intrigue comes from what the Colts can get in addition to swapping first picks with their partners. The Bills offer the 22nd overall pick as well as possible compensation, and in my eyes, that simply has to be on the table to make the move.

Which additional picks come with that will be worked out, but the combination of pulling a premium player as well as one at the top of the next tier of talent in the first round is awful enticing. The player you hold in such high regard that you wouldn’t trade away from would require a massive quantity versus quality evaluation when looking to building the roster.

Would you refuse to trade back further if Chubb is on the board, but in return you could get a combination of Edmunds and Marcus Davenport? Is his projected ability to be a perennial 10-sack player worth more than Edmunds’ versatility in the new defense (coverage, pass rush, pursuit), along with a handful of sacks/pressures/batted balls in Year 1 from Davenport and his long-term projection? I don’t think so.

The Colts have stated that John Simon is a defensive end in the new scheme, as well as Tarell Basham and Jabaal Sheard, but we expected that. The need at linebacker is MASSIVE now with very little in the cupboard, and you could develop a rare talent like Davenport.

Is Nelson too valuable for the combination of Landry and someone like Rashaan Evans considering the return in production that those two would likely bring immediately? That doesn’t make sense to me either.

Roquan Smith has entered the conversation for being a viable pick at No. 6 too as the draft gets closer, but does Ballard see him as a ‘can’t miss’ prospect? And, does he expect him to still be there at 12? A lot for him to think about.

With the expectation that most of the best interior linemen, tackles, and cornerbacks, as well as the majority of the running backs all being available for those early second-round picks, the first-round pull will require a very strategic approach.

In the end, the Bills supply the most in return for the Colts No. 6 pick and without the possibility of gaining an additional first-round pick in this draft, trading away from the talent available where they currently stand doesn’t feel like a smart move for Ballard and the Colts.

However, when given the opportunity to gain multiple positions of need, better combined production and add to the talent of the roster, Ballard wants those teams interested in getting a quarterback to know that the Colts are always open for business.