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Build-A-Ballard: Who the Colts may target at defensive tackle in the 2019 NFL Draft

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

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama Matthew Emmons-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 the deepest position in the NFL Draft, defensive tackle. Will Chris Ballard add a talented defensive tackle early in the draft?

Past Drafted Players

During Ballard’s tenure in Indianapolis and in Kansas City, his organization has drafted three defensive tackles in six drafts. In each of those seasons, defense wasn’t really a major need for the team or he was focusing on other aspects of team building. The top pick used to address the position over that time-frame was a second round selection in 2016.

We will examine all three of these players to find common traits as well as his top two free agent signings— Al Woods and Johnathan Hankins.

Rakeem Nunez-Roches, DT, Southern Miss (2015)— Round 6


6’2” 307 pounds with 32 5/8” arms


40 Time: 5.02 / Bench Press: 26 Reps / Vertical Jump: 34 inches / Broad Jump: 114 inches / 3-Cone: 7.67 seconds

Career Stats (College):

108 total tackles, 21.5 tackles for a loss, 5 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles.

Overview of Pick:

Nunez-Roches was a late round project pick who had a couple of good years in Kansas City. Lance Zierein of NFL.Com mentioned that Nunez- Roches “fires out of starting blocks at the snap”, “plays on his feet and uses low center of gravity and leg drive to maintain his leverage against single blocks”, and “gives good effort each snap out despite playing for a struggling team.” His major concerns were his lack of bulk and size along with struggles to disengage from blockers.

He has been a solid NFL player throughout his career as a depth piece for the Chiefs and Buccaneers.

Chris Jones, DT, Mississippi State (2016)— Round 2


6’6” 310 pounds with 34 1/2” arms


40 Time: 5.03 / Bench Press: 26 Reps / Vertical Jump: 24.5 inches / Broad Jump: 106 inches / 3-Cone: 7.44 seconds

Career Stats (College):

102 total tackles, 18 tackles for a loss, 8.5 sacks, and 10 pass deflections.

Overview of Pick:

Jones has certainly panned out in the NFL after questions coming out of Miss State. Zierlein noted that Jones “plays with tremendous natural power”, “Jones has the quickness off the snap to disrupt in the gaps”, and “flashes some occasional ‘quick win’ hand work as pass rusher.” His weaknesses were his inconsistent motor and effort along with poor pad level that led to him being controlled by too many one-on-one blocks.

Jones has developed excellently for the Chiefs and churned out an All-Pro season in 2018.

Grover Stewart, DT, Albany State (2017)— Round 4


6’5” 295 pounds

Measurables (Pro Day):

40 Time: 5.14 / Bench Press: 30 Reps / Vertical Jump: 26 inches / Broad Jump: 106 inches / 3-Cone: 7.71 seconds

Career Stats (College):

152 total tackles, 27 sacks, and 5 pass deflections.

Overview of Pick:

Stewart was a behemoth of a prospect with excellent college production. Zierlein mentioned how he has a “powerful, NFL-ready frame with thick lower half and evenly displaced weight throughout”, “bull-rush specialist able to create some pocket cave once he starts rolling downhill”, and “Jolts opponents with good initial pop that can knock blockers off their spots.” His weaknesses were his high pad level, inconsistent ability to shed one-on-one blocks, and overall raw ability.

He has provided solid depth for the Colts over his two-year NFL career.

Notable Free Agent Signings

Due to Ballard only drafting three defensive tackles in his career with the Chiefs and Colts, we will add two of his bigger free agent signings to this list in order to make the data more relevant and more accurate.

In 2017, the Colts signed Al Woods to a two year 4 million dollar contract. Also in 2017, the Colts signed Johnathan Hankins to a three year 27 million dollar deal to be the starting defensive tackle.

Margus Hunt and Denico Autry were excluded because they were signed as defensive ends originally.

Al Woods, DT, LSU (2010)— Round 4


6’4” 309 pounds with 36” arms


40 Time: 5.20 / Bench Press: 23 Reps / Vertical Jump: 37 inches / Broad Jump: 109 inches / 3-Cone: 7.45 seconds

Career Stats (College):

73 total tackles, 8 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, and 2 pass deflections

Career Stats (Pro):

172 total tackles, 16 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, and 3 pass deflections

Overview of Signing:

Woods was a one-year starter for LSU before entering the draft. His strengths were his power and strong hands at the point of attack combined with his long arms that could shed blockers. His weaknesses were his poor pad level and raw pass rush technique.

This signing worked out decently for the Colts. Woods has been a quality depth player for the Colts the last two seasons who did an excellent job as a run stuffer. He enters free agency again this season.

Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State (2013)— Round 2


6’3” 320 pounds with 33” arms


40 Time: 5.31 / Vertical Jump: 26 inches / Broad Jump: 104 inches / 3-Cone: 7.59 seconds

Career Stats (College):

138 total tackles, 16.5 tackles for a loss, and 5 sacks

Career Stats (Pro):

220 total tackles, 27 tackles for a loss, 12 sacks, and 7 pass deflections

Overview of Pick:

Hankins was a big, impressive run stuffing lineman out of Ohio State. His strengths were his high football character, ability to stop the run, and ability to control blockers at the line of scrimmage. His weaknesses were his high pad level, struggles as a pass rusher, and injury concerns.

Although Hankins was solid in 2017 for the Colts, he was cut in 2018 due to a 4-3 scheme change. He spent last season with the Raiders and is a free agent again in 2019.

Common Traits (Separated by Early Rounders vs Late Rounders)

Here are the common traits that can help us build a rough mold of what Ballard might look for in early round defensive tackles:

  • 32 inch arms minimum, needs excellent length
  • Strengths: Power/ Strong hands, one gap ability, quick off the snap
  • Weaknesses: Inconsistent in run defense, pad level issues, one-on-one block shedding inconsistencies
  • Needs Pass Rush upside
  • Bonus--> Team Leader/ High Character guy

Here are the common traits that can help us build a rough mold of what Ballard might look for in late round/ free agent defensive tackles:

  • Length is key, 32 inch arms minimum still
  • Strengths: Power/ Strong hands, controls one-on-one blocks, controls gaps
  • Weaknesses: Lack of pass rush upside, raw technique, pad level issues
  • Mostly a run stuffer
  • Bonus--> Team Leader/ High Character guy

2019 Draft Players Who Fit—> Early Round DT’s

1.) Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson


6’4” 300 pounds with 32 1/2” arms

Career Stats:

192 total tackles, 40.5 tackles for a loss, 16 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles

Why He Fits:

One of the best fits in this draft is Christian Wilkins. He has decent length and has upside as a pass rusher. His strengths are his effort/ motor, his ability to one gap and be disruptive, his pass rush upside, and his quick burst off of the line of scrimmage. His weaknesses are his inconsistencies in run defense and struggles outside of being a one-gapping DT. On top of that he is one of the best leaders/ locker room guys in this entire draft class.

2.) Khalen Saunders, DT, Western Illinois


6’0” 324 pounds with 32 1/4” arms

Career Stats:

172 total tackles and 14 sacks.

Why He Fits:

Saunders has quickly flown up draft boards and should be in consideration for the Colts’ late second round pick this year. Saunders’ strengths are his crazy athleticism for a player his size, his pass rush ability, his exceptional quickness to one gap, and his tireless motor. His weaknesses are his inconsistent technique and occasional struggles in controlling at the point of attack in run defense. To go with this upside, he also is a great person off the field— anyone at the Senior Bowl will attest to this— and meets every measurable requirement.

Early Round Honorable Mentions

Jerry Tillery (ND), Kingsley Keke (TAMU), Jeffrey Simmons (MSST), Dre’Mont Jones (OHST)

2019 Draft Players Who Fit—> Late Round DT’s

1.) Demarcus Christmas, DT, Florida State


6’4” 308 pounds with 32 3/4” arms

Career Stats:

106 total tackles, 11.5 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, and 1 forced fumble

Why He Fits:

Christmas is a solid day three lineman who turned some heads at the Senior Bowl this year. He has solid arm length and anchor to be a good run defender in the NFL. His strengths are his excellent run defense, strong hands/ power, and his ability to control gaps. His weaknesses are his raw pass rush ability and inconsistent pad level. Overall though he fits the run stuffing mold the Colts need from a depth defensive lineman on day 3.

2.) Dontavius Russell, DT, Auburn


6’2” 319 pounds with 32” arms

Career Stats:

153 total tackles, 17 tackles for a loss, 6 sacks, and 1 forced fumble

Why He Fits:

Russell fits the run stuffing mold the Colts could look for on day three of the draft. He is a big body player with shorter arms that just hit the minimum. His strengths are his power at the point of attack, excellent run defense, and ability to control gaps. He struggles with his pad level at times and doesn’t offer much as a pass rusher. He would be a great add on day three to fill the hole potentially left by Al Woods in free agency.

Late Round Honorable Mentions:

Terry Beckner Jr (Mizzou), Michael Dogbe (TEMP), Ricky Walker (VT), Marquise Copeland (Cinci)


The Colts may need two defensive tackles— at least— this offseason with both Al Woods and Margus Hunt potentially departing in free agency. Ballard likes his early round tackles to be high upside pass rushers who excel in one-gapping. For later round guys, he likes run stuffing big bodied guys who can clog up the inside. It will be interesting to see what he decides to do though with this deep draft class.

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 run stuffing DT 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.