One of my favorite and most successful series with Stampede Blue is back for another run in 2020. Yes, it’s the return of the Build-A-Ballard series where we look at common themes and traits in past Chris Ballard draft picks and see which players for the upcoming NFL Draft fit the mold for the Colts.
The goal is to use Ballard’s time in Kansas City— where he was the the Director of Player Personnel or Director of Football Operations from 2013 to 2016— and his time in Indy to figure out who he may covet come draft time.
We already know Ballard loves 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 positions that Ballard addresses in every draft; cornerback. Will Chris Ballard add a corner early in the draft?
Past Drafted Players
During Ballard’s tenure in Indianapolis and Kansas City, his organizations have drafted eleven cornerbacks in seven 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. Six of the eleven draft picks used on corner were with draft picks in the first two days of the draft.
We will examine six of the eleven 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), Nate Hairston (5th Round, 2017), and Marvell Tell (5th Round, 2019) but all five of these players fit the same general mold that we will look at today.
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 fourth team in six 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 Zierlein 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 Los Angeles Rams in 2018 then again traded to the Baltimore Ravens in 2019 just a year later. He has maintained his high level of play despite the multiple trades.
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 Zierlein 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. He is currently a lock down corner for the Steelers and one of the better players on that talented defense.
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 barely made an impact with the Bengals in three seasons with the team and is currently a free agent.
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 then took a step back in 2019 with the Colts as he was a healthy scratch for a majority of the games. His future with the team is currently in doubt.
Rock Ya-Sin, CB, Temple (2019)— 2nd Round
5’11” 192 pounds with 32 inch arms
40 Time: 4.51 seconds / Bench Press: 18 reps / Vertical Jump: 39.5 inches / Broad Jump: 120 inches / 3-Cone: 7.31 seconds
Career Stats (one season at Temple):
47 total tackles, 2 tackles for a loss, 12 pass deflections, and 2 interceptions
Overview of Pick:
Ya-Sin was a Senior Bowl standout that the Colts took in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Despite only playing one college season at a Division I school, Ya-Sin flew up draft boards and went 34th overall due to his play. The Draft Network’s Kyle Crabbs described Ya-Sin as “super physical” and “offers goo tackling skills.” Press man coverage and competitiveness were seen as major strengths. His weaknesses were generally viewed as his below average athleticism and his one year of FBS experience.
Ya-Sin was a bit up and down as a rookie but finished the year strong. He was one of the more physical corners in the league as a rookie and finishing the year strong was big for his development.
Changes from last season
Overall I think this was one of my better predictions last draft season as I listed Rock Ya-Sin as a possible option for the Colts in the draft. I did say though that Ballard typically looks to draft corners with a three cone drill under 7.00 until that was proven wrong by Ya-Sin and Wilson both running higher than that mark. I also failed to note the struggles in off man to a degree as Ballard typically does not care too much if a corner he drafts struggles in off man coverage. Overall though, I feel like I did a fairly good job with this position last season.
Here are the common traits that can help us build a rough mold of what Ballard might look for in rookie corners:
- Typically likes 6’0”+ height for his corners (will make exceptions if a shorter corner is lengthy)
- At least 31 inch arms (Nelson the only outlier)
- Strengths: Tackling, strong in press, good in zone, competitive/ tough
- Weaknesses: Struggles in off-man, on-field athletic concerns, injury concerns
- Ballard Trademark: Team Captain/ Senior Bowl selection
2020 Draft Players Who Fit
1a.) Damon Arnette, CB, Ohio State
6’0” 195 pounds
140 total tackles, 4 tackles for a loss, 22 pass deflections, 5 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles
Why He Fits:
Arnette would be a perfect fit on the Colts’ defense in 2020. He possesses excellent press man coverage ability as he is an absolute bully at the line of scrimmage. He is a stout run defender and insanely difficult for receivers to block one on one. He has also flashed a bit in zone coverage as he made a few big plays this last season in zone. He is the ultimate competitor and tough as nails which is evident by him playing most of last season with a cast on one of his hands. He also fits Chris Ballard’s love for Ohio State as well. Overall, if Arnette wasn’t projected to go so high, this would be one of the easiest picks to predict in the draft.
Damon Arnette is one of my favorite players in this class. A great press corner with top notch closing speed, I was impressed by his ability to make plays on the ball despite typically being in press man. There is so much to like about this corner. More tomorrow over @Cover_1_ pic.twitter.com/XiQV2ngcvX— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) February 8, 2020
1b.) Bryce Hall, CB, Virginia
6’1” 200 pounds
154 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss, 4 sacks, 38 pass deflections, 5 interceptions, and 3 forced fumbles
Why He Fits:
Hall is a bit of a forgotten man in this draft class due to a leg injury that cost him the last half of his Senior season. Make no mistake though, Hall is a real good prospect in this class. He is physical and powerful in press as he moves receivers with ease at the line of scrimmage. He is very willing and able in run defense too as his size and physicality are very evident on film. He also excels in zone and has great ball skills as evident by his astounding 38 career pass deflections. He has struggled in his career in off man and with decent athleticism but those are two things that Ballard has tended to ignore in the past. Overall, Hall checks just about every box for Chris Ballard and what he likes.
Looking at Daniel Jones' game against Virginia but continually seeing CB Bryce Hall make plays. Shame he went back to school. Looks like a superstar and has great production. pic.twitter.com/CUqYqJm9vD— Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) January 23, 2019
3.) Michael Ojemudia, CB, Iowa
6’1” 200 pounds
125 total tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss, 17 pass deflections, and 6 interceptions
Why He Fits:
A bit of an underrated name in this class, Ojemudia fits a lot of what Ballard likes. A Senior Bowl guy, he has real solid technique in press man as he effortlessly reroutes players at the line of scrimmage. He is excellent in zone coverage as he has a great feel for when he needs to break on routes. He is strong and willing in run defense as well. His athleticism is underwhelming and may hurt him in off man but Ojemudia fits a lot of what Ballard likes. My boss at the other site I work for, Erik Turner of Cover 1, also spoke to him at the Senior Bowl and said he was an insanely smart player off the field as well. Checks a lot of boxes for Ballard.
Two things DB coaches are going to love about Iowa senior cornerback Michael Ojemudia (6'1, 200 lbs) :— Jonah Tuls (@JonahTulsNFL) January 2, 2020
1) One of the best run defending CBs in the draft
2) Excellent zone eyes pic.twitter.com/OtBepjinjW
- Cameron Dantzler, CB, Mississippi State: Sticky in coverage and a physical and willing tackler. If he was better in press man, he would have made this list. Another guy I could see Ballard like very much.
- Darnay Holmes, CB, UCLA: A bit smaller than the typical mold but he is feisty and physical. Has a lot of breakdowns in coverage but could be a high upside day three guy like Marvell Tell last year.
- A.J Green, CB, Oklahoma State: Long, lengthy, and really solid in press man. Green quietly had a good week at the Senior Bowl and could be an under the radar late pick for Ballard
- Stanford Samuels III, CB, Florida State: Lengthy player still growing into his body a bit. Could be another day three developmental type player for Ballard.
- Jaron Bryant, CB, Fresno State: Similar to Samuels mentioned above as Bryant is lengthy and still has room to grow as a player. Good in zone and makes some very opportunistic plays in coverage.
With GM Chris Ballard’s track record for drafting corners, these are the prospects who might stand out for him during the draft. He tends to like physical corners who can play the run and excel in press and zone. He places a heavy emphasis on physicality and press ability while not worrying as much about athleticism or off man ability.
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 at the receiver position. For all I know, Ballard could take a 5’9” 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.