In the time since the Indianapolis Colts hired Chris Ballard, one thing has become very clear about him: when he tells you what he is planning to do, it is not generally a mind game. The guy is surprisingly genuine about how he plans to proceed. He doesn’t go into specifics about things and he always keeps options open, but when he says that they’ll be cautious in free agency it shouldn’t surprise you that they don’t make a lot of big splashes, as was the case this offseason.
So, when Ballard talks about the defense, you can take it as a pretty serious look at what he views as important going forward. Here is what he had to say with regard to the personnel changes going forward:
“This defense is predicated on athleticism and speed. We are going to have a little bit more work to do defensively (personnel wise) to get that done. In Chicago and in Dallas, where they are really playing that scheme and then with (Tony) Dungy, primarily most of those players were drafted and then developed within the system. It’s predicated on speed and athleticism. Going forward, that’s what we are going to be coveting.”
In other words, call him “Maverick”, because he has a need for speed. This isn’t the first we’re hearing of this either. Stephen Holder mentioned it in a tweet and has not been that subtle about the fact that he speaks with Ballard with regularity, so it is fair to take it pretty seriously.
Just a side note on Colts/Roquan Smith or any other possible Indy pick: Their defensive selections will skew heavily toward speed. I cannot emphasize this enough. Trust me.— Stephen Holder (@HolderStephen) April 3, 2018
The message has been consistent since the new coaching staff signed on. In fact, you hear very similar statements from new defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus when talking about the kinds of changes to expect with regard to defensive personnel in the new scheme.
“Really the major shift is that we want athletic, speed players that possess quickness, instincts and striking ability. And you should see that on the field. So you’re going to see more speed, more quickness, more athletic ability, and those are the guys that we’re going to want to acquire through the draft, through free agency, and those will be the type of players that we have on our team. So that’s the major shift that you’ll see.”
So which players might fit that profile through the draft? There are obvious candidates early on like linebacker Roquan Smith and edge rusher Harold Landry. Both players could be worthy of the Colts’ first pick if their preferred top players are off the board and decide to trade back. But beyond that, you might be less familiar with some of the names.
In the middle rounds, Matt Danely suggested that they could look at players like Hercules Mata’afa or Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, both players who lack the size of dominant NFL pass rushers but have the speed and motor to potentially thrive in this new defensive system. Always betting on the underdog is not the best move, but Colts fans can appreciate as much as anyone how much success an undersized guy can have at the next level if they are willing to put the work in, as Robert Mathis can attest.
On the defensive line, Stephen Reed points to guys like Nathan Shepherd who has the raw athleticism to make a great prospect with the right coaching, and guys like Kentavius Street and Kendrick Norton as possible late-round players that could come off the board for the Colts to fill out the new look of the defensive line.
As for the mid-round linebackers, it would be impossible to talk about speed and athleticism and not mention Shaquem Griffin. The guy killed it at the Combine and has played at a high level, winning the AAC Defensive Player of the Year in 2017 despite not having a left hand. Jake Arthur broke down the off-ball linebackers and thinks Griffin, along with Darius Leonard, Skai Moore and Fred Warner fit the bill and are all in the mix to be picked by the Colts.
The theme has been clear, the Colts intend to get faster and more athletic through the draft. While that doesn’t exactly telegraph who they’ll take, it certainly lets us zero-in a bit more on the types of guys Ballard values and how they might be used.
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