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 Colts’ biggest positions of need, wide receiver. Will Chris Ballard add a receiver early in the draft?
Notable Past Drafted Players
During Ballard’s tenure in Indianapolis and in Kansas City, his organization has drafted seven wide receivers in seven 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 second round selection in 2019.
We will examine five of the seven prospects to find common traits.
Chris Conley, WR, Georgia (2015)— 3rd Round Pick
6’2” 213 pounds
40 Time: 4.35 seconds / Bench Press: 18 reps / Vertical Jump: 45 inches / Broad Jump: 139 inches / 3-Cone: 7.06 seconds
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.
Tyreek Hill, WR, Oklahoma State (2016)— 5th Round Pick
5’10” 185 pounds
N/A (due to Domestic Violence and assault charges)
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
6’1” 210 pounds
40 Time: 4.46 / Vertical Jump: 42.5 inches / Broad Jump: 134 inches
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 looked promising this preseason before breaking his ankle and missing the entire season.
Deon Cain, WR, Clemson (2018)— 6th Round Pick
6’2” 202 pounds
40 Time: 4.43 / Bench Press: 11 Reps / Vertical Jump: 33.5 inches / Broad Jump: 115 inches / 3-Cone: 6.71 seconds
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. Zerlein 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 was highly coveted by the team coming into 2019 but failed to produce on the field. He was cut and eventually picked up by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Parris Campbell, WR, Ohio State (2019)— 2nd Round Pick
5’11” 205 pounds
40 Time: 4.31 / Bench Press: 11 Reps / Vertical Jump: 40.0 inches / Broad Jump: 135 inches / 3-Cone: N/A
143 catches for 1,786 yards with a yards per catch of 12.4 and 23 touchdowns.
Overview of Pick:
Parris Campbell was a second round pick for the Colts in the 2019 NFL Draft. Kyle Crabbs of The Draft Network described Campbell as having “elite, blue chip speed as a ball carrier” and being a “terrific open field athlete.” The main flaws in his game were his raw route running, inconsistent hands, and his depth of target in college. Campbell was brought in with high expectations for 2019 but couldn’t stay healthy throughout his rookie season.
Changes from last season
Last draft season, I put way too much emphasis on height of these players and where they were drafted. I pegged Campbell as being a likely target as he fit almost every trait perfectly but I excluded him from the article because I thought he would go much higher than where Ballard would take a receiver.
I will also put more of an emphasis on athleticism in this year’s version of this article as I missed a bit on that last year by pegging guys like DeMarkus Lodge and Jalen Hurd as targets when neither hit the athletic threshold.
Here are the common traits that can help us build a rough mold of what Ballard might look for in rookie receivers:
- Well built, 200+ pound players (outside of Hill)
- Strengths: Elite athletes, speed and explosion, vertical threat, ability to adjust to difficult passes, preferably outside receivers
- Weaknesses: Raw route running, drops, struggles beating press
- Leadership/ Team Captaincy (a Ballard trademark with the Colts)
2020 Draft Players Who Fit
Given this rough outline, who might Ballard target in the 2019 NFL Draft?
1.) Brandon Aiyuk, WR, Arizona State
6’0” 201 pounds
98 catches for 1,666 yards with a 17.0 yards per catch average and 11 touchdowns.
Why He Fits:
There may not be a better fit for the Colts in this class at receiver for what Ballard wants than Brandon Aiyuk. He is a tough and physical player who is reportedly an athletic freak. Jim Nagy, the Director of the Senior Bowl, said recently that he “has a wingspan of 81 inches, which which is the equivalent of someone 6’9. Plays like a 4.3 guys too.” With those measurables, his production, and his freaky ability after the catch, Aiyuk should be a Colts’ target. He does have to improve on his route running and beating press coverage but I think Ballard will be a big fan regardless.
2.) Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU
5’11” 200 pounds
148 catches for 2,228 yards with a 15.2 yards per catch average and 22 touchdowns.
Why He Fits:
Speaking of athletic freaks, Reagor may be the second fastest receiver in this entire class behind only Henry Ruggs. Reagor was the Texas State Long Jump Champion in high school but his explosion isn’t even his most impressive trait. He has legit game breaking speed while also being a tank after the catch. He does need to improve his route running and be more consistent with his routine catches but his ability to make difficult catches, his speed, and his explosion should have Ballard excited come draft time.
As @BradKelly17 noted yesterday, Jalen Reagor was a track star (long jump) in high school. That same athleticism is VERY apparent on tape.— Carter Donnick (@CDonnick3) May 11, 2019
Here he literally runs in a perfectly straight line against some super soft coverage and still gets 5 yards of separation.
Quality stuff. pic.twitter.com/b37RKS4ivY
3.) Devin Duvernay, WR, Texas
5’11” 210 pounds
176 catches for 2,468 yards with a 14.0 yards per catch average and 16 touchdowns.
Why He Fits:
If the Colts want more of a middle round receiver— as opposed to the two players above— then Duvernay is a perfect fit all around. He has elite speed and quickness and is excellent after the catch. He was insanely productive as a Senior and caught over 100 passes. He also excelled at making difficult catches as he contorts and twists his body for highlight reel plays. Off the field, he was also an Academic All American and Team Captain at Texas. He has to improve his route running and beating press but if he’s there in round 3 or 4, then I have a tough time seeing Ballard passing him up.
Devin Duvernay is one of the most fun WR prospects I have studied this year. With a RB-like build, legitimate sub 4.4 speed, fantastic YAC ability, and strong hands, he has put himself into the Top 10 WR discussion.— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) January 19, 2020
Here are some of my favorite plays of his against LSU. pic.twitter.com/j3VNE3By5v
- Laviska Shenault, WR, Colorado State: Excellent athlete who is powerful after the catch. Likely goes in the back half of the first round come draft time though.
- Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor: Senior Bowl standout who showcased his ball skills, athleticism, and love of blocking down in Mobile. Could be a great addition on Day two of the draft.
- Quartney Davis, WR, Texas A&M: Quick and twitchy off the line but Davis still has a lot of growing to do. Could be a good upside pick on day three of the draft.
- John Hightower, WR, Boise State: Hands are a big concern but he’s very athletic and separates easily as a result. Another potential day three project.
- Lynn Bowden, WR, Kentucky: Tough eval since he played QB for Kentucky last season but he is so athletic and quick that he should be able to carve a roll in the NFL. Major project with high upside on day three.
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 play-making 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 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.