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Build-A-Ballard: Who the Colts may target at wide receiver in the 2019 NFL Draft

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Which wide receivers in the 2019 draft fit Ballard’s preferred mold?

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Mississippi Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Colts fans are moving into the acceptance phase of the early NFL off-season, one that lasts far too long. At Stampede Blue, we will do our best investigative work to determine how Chris Ballard might approach free agency and the draft. In this series, we will look back at Ballard’s past drafts with the Colts and with the Chiefs— where he was the Director of Player Personnel or Director of Football Operations from 2013 to 2016— and try to find common themes or traits that he may look for.

We already know Ballard covets athleticism and leadership on and off the field but this series hopes to shed more light on traits he is looking for and help to uncover some of the players he may target in the draft.

The focus today will be on what is arguably the Colts’ position of greatest need, wide receiver. Will Chris Ballard add a receiver early in the draft?


Past Drafted Players

During Ballard’s tenure in Indianapolis and in Kansas City, his organization has drafted six wide receivers in six drafts. In each of those seasons, wide receiver was a core need for his team but very little draft capital was used to address the need. The top pick used to address the position over that time-frame was a third round selection in 2015.

We will examine five of the six prospects to find common traits.


Chris Conley, WR, Georgia (2015)— 3rd Round Pick

Size:

6’2” 213 pounds

Measurables:

40 Time: 4.35 seconds / Bench Press: 18 reps / Vertical Jump: 45 inches / Broad Jump: 139 inches / 3-Cone: 7.06 seconds

Career Stats:

117 catches for 1,938 yards with a 16.6 yards per catch average and 20 touchdowns.

Overview of Pick:

Chris Conley was a third round pick for the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2015 NFL Draft. He was known as one of the most athletic players in the draft and his combine showed it. He was billed as a deep ball receiver with all the athletic tools in the book. Lance Zierlein of NFL.com noted how Conley “accelerates through deep balls” and how he is “quick to find ball in flight and make adjustments to seal the deal.” The main flaws in his game were his untimely drops and raw route running, which caused him to drop to the third round. He was a bit of a project and has not really panned out, so far.


Demarcus Robinson, WR, Florida (2016)— 4th Round Pick

Size:

6’1” 203 pounds

Measurables (Pro Day):

40 Time: 4.59 / Bench Press: 9 Reps / Vertical Jump: 33.5 inches / Broad Jump: 123 inches / 3-Cone: 6.69 seconds

Career Stats:

10 catches for 1,353 yards with 12.9 yards per catch and 9 touchdowns.

Overview of Pick:

Demarcus Robinson was a fourth round pick for the Chiefs in the 2016 NFL Draft. He was billed as a deep threat with tons of potential despite multiple suspensions at Florida. Lance Zierlein of NFL.com said that Robinson was an “electric vertical talent that can make cornerbacks re­think their coverage plans” and “has ability to hit the home run after the catch.” His biggest flaws were related to his suspensions, lazy, unrefined routes and a really high drop rate. Robinson hasn’t really panned out.


Tyreek Hill, WR, Oklahoma State (2016)— 5th Round Pick

Size:

5’10” 185 pounds

Measurables:

N/A (due to Domestic Violence and assault charges)

Career Stats:

133 touches for 815 yards with an average of 6.1 yards per touch and 2 touchdowns.

Overview of Pick:

Wide Receiver/ Return Specialist Tyreek Hill was a fifth round for the Chiefs in the 2016 NFL Draft. Hill is a bit of an outlier in terms of traits Ballard looks for in his players but he does share some similarities. He was profiled as having “ridiculous play speed” and as having “the ability to turn one missed tackle into a touchdown” according to Lance Zierlein. His biggest flaws were his poor hands in traffic and raw play as a receiver. The Chiefs have benefited from this gamble as Hill has turned into an All-Pro and one of the most dangerous receivers in the NFL.


Daurice Fountain, WR, Northern Iowa (2018)— 5th Round

Size:

6’1” 210 pounds

Measurables:

40 Time: 4.46 / Vertical Jump: 42.5 inches / Broad Jump: 134 inches

Career Stats:

150 catches for 2,077 yards with a yards per catch average of 13.8 and 23 touchdowns.

Overview of Pick:

Daurice Fountain was a fifth round pick for the Indianapolis Colts in the 2018 NFL Draft. He was an intriguing project out of small school Northern Iowa after a dominant Shrine Game. Lance Zierlein mentioned Fountain being an “explosive athlete” who “flashed physical ability to make acrobatic finishes” and is a “capable playmaker after the catch.” His main struggles were how raw he was as a route runner and level of competition concerns coming out of the FCS. Fountain has yet to make an impact for the Colts.


Deon Cain, WR, Clemson (2018)— 6th Round Pick

Size:

6’2” 202 pounds

Measurables:

40 Time: 4.43 / Bench Press: 11 Reps / Vertical Jump: 33.5 inches / Broad Jump: 115 inches / 3-Cone: 6.71 seconds

Career Stats:

130 catches for 2,040 yards with a yards per catch of 15.7 and 20 touchdowns.

Overview of Pick:

Deon Cain was a sixth round pick for the Colts in the 2018 NFL Draft. He was a solid playmaker for Clemson in his college career. Zielein described Cain as a “legit deep target with jet gear to get vertical once he clears defender’s edge” and as “talented after the catch.” The main flaws in his game were his raw route running and his high drop rate. Cain still has lofty expectations despite missing his rookie year due to a torn ACL.


Common Traits

Here are the common traits that can help us build a rough mold of what Ballard might look for in rookie receivers:

  • Drafted past the first round
  • Over 6’0 tall (Hill being the lone outlier)
  • Strengths: Outside receiver, speed, good after the catch, ability to adjust to tough passes
  • Weaknesses: Raw route running and drops
  • Leadership/ Team Captaincy (a Ballard trademark with the Colts)

2019 Draft Players Who Fit

Given this rough outline, who might Ballard target in the 2019 NFL Draft?


1.) Terry McLaurin, WR, Ohio State

Size:

6’0” 205 pounds

Career Stats:

75 catches for 1,251 yards with a 16.7 yards per catch average and 19 touchdowns.

Why He Fits:

If any player fits the Ballard mold in the 2019 class, its Terry McLaurin. A true speed demon for Ohio State, McLaurin was used as the team’s primary deep threat in 2018. He has the size Ballard likes and will likely fall to round 2 or 3. His strengths include being strong after the catch and his pure speed. He is also surprisingly good at catching contested passes as well. His biggest weaknesses are concentration related drops and raw route running ability (Ohio State didn’t ask much of him here). Throw in that he was a team captain and key special teams player the last two seasons, and I think Ballard will love McLaurin.


2.) DaMarkus Lodge, WR, Ole Miss

Size:

6’2” 190 pounds

Career Stats:

106 catches for 1,575 yards with a yards per catch of 14.9 and 11 touchdowns.

Why He Fits:

DaMarkus Lodge is a big, strong receiver who was used as a vertical threat for Ole Miss. He has optimal height and will likely go in rounds 3-5. He excels in the vertical passing game and gets downfield quickly. He is excellent after the catch and is one of the best at catching difficult passes and at adjusting in the air. He needs to eliminate occasional drops and clean up his route running to be a great pro. Throw in his exceptional run blocking and I think Lodge is a great fit for Ballard’s vision at receiver.


3.) Anthony Ratliff- Williams, WR, North Carolina

Size:

6’1” 205 pounds

Career Stats:

80 catches for 1,340 yards with a yards per catch of 16.8 and 8 touchdowns.

Why He Fits:

Former quarterback Anthony Ratliff- Williams is still learning the wide receiver position but he fits what Ballard looks for in a receiver. He is a speedy, special teams player who can make plays all over the field. He fits the height target and will likely go sometime on day three of the draft. He excels after the catch and is explosive in the deep passing game. He needs to work on running cleaner routes and fix his drops. He fits everything that Ballard likes and would be a solid day three pick.


Honorable Mentions:

Gary Jennings (WVU), Emanuel Hall (Missouri), Dionte Johnson (Toledo), and Jalen Hurd (Baylor).


Conclusion

With GM Chris Ballard’s track record for drafting receivers, these are the prospects who might stand out for him during the draft. He tends to like raw players with an All-Pro ceiling who have yet to put it all together. He places a heavy emphasis on speed and playmaking while not worrying as much about drops or route running.

It is important to note that this analysis could be entirely wrong as it relies heavily on his time in Kansas City. It is entirely possible that Ballard could disagreed with much of the decisions made during his time with the Chiefs’ organization at the receiver position. For all I know, Ballard could take a 5’9” slot receiver in round one. Who knows? However, this series should give some kind of insight into who Chris Ballard may want to target based on his past.