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 one of the weaker positions on the roster in terms of depth — cornerback. What types of corners will Ballard look for in the 2019 draft?
Past Drafted Players
During Ballard’s tenure in Indianapolis and Kansas City, his organizations have drafted nine cornerbacks in six drafts. Ballard seems to throw a ton of draft capital at this position, as 2018 was the only year that he didn’t use a draft pick on the position. Five of the nine draft picks used on corner were with draft picks in the first two days of the draft.
We will examine five of the nine prospects to find common traits. The players that we will be excluding from this piece are Sanders Commings (5th Round, 2013), Eric Murray (4th Round, 2016), D.J White (6th Round, 2016) and Nate Hairston (5th Round, 2017) as they were all day three selections. If there is enough interest, we may come back to these four players and see what trends Ballard seems to like in his day three cornerbacks. For now though, we will just focus on the higher round picks.
Phillip Gaines, CB, Rice (2014)— 3rd Round Pick
6’0” 193 pounds with 31 7/8 inch arms
40 Time: 4.38 seconds / Bench Press: 11 reps / Vertical Jump: 36.5 inches / Broad Jump: 122 inches / 3-Cone: 6.62 seconds
175 total tackles, 11 tackles for a loss, 38 pass deflections, 4 interceptions, and 1 forced fumble
Overview of Pick:
Gaines was a hardworking, productive corner out of Rice. Nolan Nawrocki mentioned how he “can be deployed in zone coverage”, had “good production on the ball”, and is “tough and competitive.” His major concerns coming out of Rice were his durability concerns and his struggles in man coverage. He also had concerns with his underdeveloped technique and play.
Gaines has been an average corner in the NFL as he is now on his third team in five seasons and is about to become an unrestricted free agent.
Marcus Peters, CB, Washington (2015)— 1st Round
6’0” 197 pounds with 31 1/2 inch arms
40 Time: 4.53 seconds / Bench Press: 17 reps / Vertical Jump: 37.5 inches / Broad Jump: 121 inches / 3-Cone: 7.08 seconds
129 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss, 16 pass deflections, 11 interceptions, and 1 forced fumble
Overview of Pick:
Peters was a talented, yet troubled, prospect out of Washington. Lance Zielein noted that he excelled at “contesting catches and often comes away the winner on 50/50 throws” and how he “competes hard out of press-man coverage and tries to intimidate receivers with his physicality.” He also was noted as being “confident and tough” on the football field. His weaknesses were his raw technique and his suspensions leading to his dismissal from Washington.
Peters has had an odd NFL career as he was dominant early for the Chiefs. He was then traded to the Rams this past season due to locker room problems and his play took a big step back from his days with the Chiefs.
Steven Nelson, CB, Oregon State (2015)— 3rd Round
5’10” 197 pounds with 30 5/8 inch arms
40 Time: 4.49 seconds / Bench Press: 19 reps / Vertical Jump: 34.5 inches / Broad Jump: 115 inches / 3-Cone: 6.88 seconds
122 total tackles, 2 tackles for a loss, 16 pass deflections, and 8 interceptions
Overview of Pick:
Nelson was a tough corner who played his way into the Senior Bowl out of Oregon State. Lance Zielein had his strengths “very physical and aggressive for the position” and how he “displays closing burst and ball skills to consistently contest passes.” His biggest weaknesses were his struggles in man coverage and his overall limited athleticism.
Nelson was a bit of a disappointment for the Chiefs before turning in a career year in 2018 where he tallied 4 interceptions for the team.
KeiVarae Russell, CB, Notre Dame (2016)— 3rd Round
5’11” 192 pounds with 31 5/8 inch arms
Measureables (Pro Day):
40 Time: 4.49 seconds / Bench Press: 17 reps / Vertical Jump: 38.5 inches / Broad Jump: 134 inches / 3-Cone: 6.84 seconds
169 total tackles, 7 tackles for a loss, 12 pass deflections, 5 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles
Overview of Pick:
Russell was a very talented yet oft injured corner out of Notre Dame in 2016. Lance Zierlein noted his strengths as “observant from zone and off coverage” and “looks to do it the right way as tackler.” Zierlein also mentioned how Russell had “smooth hips and light feet opening from press.” His biggest weaknesses coming out were his medical concerns and his poor overall ball skills.
Russell was ultimately a disappointment for the Chiefs as they waived him before he ever played a game for the team. He has barely made an impact with the Bengals in three seasons with the team.
Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida (2017)— 2nd Round
6’1” 211 pounds with 32 1/4 inch arms
40 Time: 4.54 seconds / Bench Press: 14 reps / Vertical Jump: 32 inches / Broad Jump: 118 inches / 3-Cone: 6.86 seconds
81 total tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss, 14 pass deflections, 6 interceptions, and 1 forced fumble
Overview of Pick:
Wilson was a talented corner who fell to the Colts in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Lance Zierlein mentioned how he “can maul receivers off line of scrimmage and eliminate them from a route if they don’t get clean release against his press” and how he was “willing to stick his nose in as a tackler.” Zielein also mentioned how Wilson was “very competitive” and “willing to accept challenge of taking on a team’s top wideout.” His biggest weaknesses were his raw technique and below average athleticism.
After a disappointing rookie season, Wilson turned it around in 2018 and was able to fight his way into being a top three corner on the team. He looks to be a good piece going forward.
Here are the common traits that can help us build a rough mold of what Ballard might look for in rookie corners:
- At least 31 inch arms (Nelson the only outlier)
- 3-Cone Drill under 7 seconds (Peters the only outlier)
- Strengths: Tackling, strong in press, good in zone, competitive/ tough
- Weaknesses: Raw technique, on-field athletic concerns, injury concerns
- Ballard Trademark: Team Captain/ Senior Bowl selection
2019 Draft Players Who Fit
1.) Deandre Baker, CB, Georgia
5’11” 185 pounds
116 total tackles, 4 tackles for a loss, 23 pass deflections, 7 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles
Why He Fits:
Baker is exactly the corner that Ballard could look at adding at the end of the first round/ beginning of the second round. Although he is a tad on the smaller side, he has very good length for the position which should measure above 31 inches at the combine. He is very quick and agile which should lead to a 3-cone under 7 seconds. His strengths are his zone and press ability along with being very competitive and tough. His biggest weaknesses are his athletic limitations. He is a super talented player overall though who fits Ballard’s mold along with fitting the style of defense that Matt Eberflus likes to run.
Can't help but get a Tre White vibe when I watch Deandre Baker. pic.twitter.com/Sc5bqkN6cA— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) November 10, 2018
2.) Joejuan Williams, CB, Vanderbilt
6’3” 205 pounds
115 total tackles, 6 tackles for a loss, 25 pass deflections, 4 interceptions, and 1 forced fumble
Why He Fits:
Williams is a very big, talented corner who is a tad underrated in this class. His quickness may not be great and he could measure above a 7 second 3-cone at the combine. However, his length is outstanding and should have no problem hitting the 31 inch arm threshold. His biggest strengths are his press ability, tackling, and competitiveness on the field (which was evident against the Ole Miss receivers in 2018). His weaknesses are his raw technique and below average athleticism. Williams could be a perfect late day two pick to develop behind Quincy Wilson and Pierre Desir next season.
Can't teach length. This is why long corners with Joejuan Williams' traits are so coveted. A smaller corner gets boxed out on this slant route, easy. pic.twitter.com/9L1byupxZK— Jonah Tuls (@JonahTulsNFL) February 9, 2019
3.) Michael Jackson, CB, Miami
6’1” 200 pounds
97 total tackles, 6.5 tackles for a loss, 11 pass deflections, and 4 interceptions
Why He Fits:
Jackson is flying under the radar in this draft class. He is a good enough athlete who should measure under 7 seconds in the 3-cone and should have the length to hit the 31 inch arm threshold. His biggest strengths are how physical and competitive he is along with being above average in zone and press coverage. His biggest weaknesses are his footwork and raw technique in man. With Jackson’s experience in multiple defenses and as a special teamer, I see him as a player who Ballard could really like in this upcoming draft.
Rock Ya-Sin (Temple), Lonnie Johnson Jr. (Kentucky), Isaiah Johnson (Houston), Jordan Brown (South Dakota State), Hamp Cheevers (Boston College), Kyron Brown (Akron)
With GM Chris Ballard’s track record for drafting corners, these prospects stand out as possible targets in the draft. He likes athletically quick players who are good in both press and zone but struggle with long speed and overall athleticism. He places a heavy emphasis on tackling and competitiveness while not worrying as much about technique.
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 disagreed with much of the decisions made during his time with the Chiefs’ organization. Ballard could take a small, man corner 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.