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 a position that will have to be addressed rather soon: offensive tackle. Will Chris Ballard add a tackle early in the draft?
Notable Past Drafted Players
During Ballard’s tenure in Indianapolis and in Kansas City, his organization has drafted four offensive tackles in seven drafts. The top pick used to address the position over that time-frame was a first round selection in 2013.
We will examine all four of the prospects to find common traits.
Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan (2013)— 1st Round Pick
6’7” 306 pounds with 34.5 inch arms
40 Time: 5.05 seconds / Bench Press: 27 reps / Vertical Jump: 28.5 inches / Broad Jump: 116 inches / 3-Cone: 7.59 seconds
Overview of Pick:
Eric Fisher was the first overall selection by the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2013 NFL Draft. Fisher was an athletic freak who killed the offseason during his draft eligible year. Lance Zierlein of NFL.com described him as a “Natural athlete with bend and foot quickness off the snap, can mirror quick ends around the pocket, staying engaged even with tilted shoulders and often finishing the block with a shove” and “Flashes nastiness as a drive blocker, latching on and churning his legs to push his man back a few yards.” The biggest concerns with him were his overall strength and consistency in pass blocking.
Fisher has churned out a nice career up to this point as he is the reliable right tackle of the defending Superbowl Champion Chiefs.
Zach Banner, OT, USC (2017)— 4th Round Pick
6’8” 353 pounds with 34.875 inch arms
40 Time: 5.58 seconds / Bench Press: 22 reps / Vertical Jump: 23.5 inches / Broad Jump: 92 inches / 3-Cone: 8.31 seconds
Overview of Pick:
Zach Banner was a fourth round selection by the Indianapolis Colts in the 2017 NFL Draft. Lance Zierlein of NFL.com described him as a “Massive man with good upper-body strength” and “Powerful road-grader who blasts holes open as down-blocker and generates movement with his base blocks.” The biggest concerns with him were his weight, lack of athleticism, and overall ability in pass protection.
After being cut by the Colts, Banner has found a nice role with the Steelers as their swing tackle/sixth lineman on certain run plays.
Braden Smith, OG/OT, Auburn (2018)— 2nd Round Pick
6’6” 315 pounds with 32.25 inch arms
40 Time: 5.2 seconds / Bench Press: 35 reps / Vertical Jump: 33.5 inches / Broad Jump: 113 inches / 3-Cone: 7.81 seconds
Overview of Pick:
Braden Smith was a second round selection by the Indianapolis Colts in the 2018 NFL Draft. Originally drafted as a guard, Smith moved to tackle during his rookie season and has been a successful starter since. Lance Zierlein of NFL.com described him as a “Mauler with power at the point of attack” and “Has strong hands and can lock on for the long haul when he gets a strong initial grab.” The biggest concerns with him were his initial transition to tackle and struggles moving laterally in pass protection.
Smith has made the successful transition to offensive tackle and is among the league’s best young right tackles.
Jackson Barton, OT, Utah (2019)— 7th Round Pick
6’7” 310 pounds with 34 inch arms
40 Time: 5.18 seconds / Bench Press: 25 reps / Vertical Jump: 27 inches / Broad Jump: 109 inches / 3-Cone: 7.85 seconds
Overview of Pick:
Jackson Barton was a seventh round selection by the Indianapolis Colts in the 2019 NFL Draft. Lance Zierlein of NFL.com described him as having a “Finisher’s demeanor when he gets his shots” and having “Effective use of arm length to redirect second-level targets.” The biggest concerns with him were his pad level in pass protection and his lack of bend on the outside.
Barton was cut by the Colts but found a roster spot with the Chiefs late in the year as a depth tackle.
Here are the common traits from this relatively small sample size on which offensive tackles Ballard may like:
- Huge players 6’6” or above and 310+ pounds
- Strengths: Stout run blockers, excellent strength and power, maulers, and elite athleticism (outside of the Banner pick)
- Weaknesses: Technical issues in pass protection, pad level due to height, and struggles with speed on the outside
- +++ Players who excel in jump sets/aggressive blocking (Strausser’s type of offensive lineman)
2020 Draft Players Who Fit
Given this rough outline, who might Ballard target in the 2019 NFL Draft?
1.) Matt Peart, OT, UConn
6’6” 318 pounds with 36.625” arms
40 Time: 5.06 / Bench Press: 26 / Vertical Jump: 30 inches / Broad Jump: 113 inches / 3-Cone: 8.01
Why He Fits:
The Colts are looking for a developmental tackle in this class and Peart is the best overall fit for the team. An excellent run blocker, he is a mauler in the open field as he finishes blocks with ease. He is a people mover and already has a great baseline with his athleticism and proficiency in run blocking. The struggles come in pass protection as he needs to develop a bit more and refine his technique in that area. The Colts should fall in love with his demeanor, long arms, and Senior Bowl appearance to go along with his already translatable traits. If the Colts go tackle on day two, I expect Peart to be high on their radar.
2.) Ezra Cleveland, OT, Boise State
6’6” 311 pounds with 33.375” arms
40 Time: 4.93 / Bench Press: 30 / Vertical Jump: 30 inches / Broad Jump: 111 inches / 3-Cone: 7.26
Why He Fits:
One player with so many ties to the Colts in this class is Ezra Cleveland. To start, though, he is a very technical tackle who does everything right on the outside. He is a good run blocker and his technique in pass protection is very sound all around. He shows excellent ability as an athlete on tape when he has to reach the second level in the run game. The connections come from the fact that both Chris Strausser and Klayton Adams (Colts Assistant Offensive Line Coach) have strong ties to Boise State. So, with an elite athlete tackle prospect that Strausser and Adams have likely heard about for years, you should expect Cleveland to be on the team’s radar come draft time.
Ezra Cleveland, OT, Boise State:— Jordan Reid (@JReidNFL) March 3, 2020
• Testing athleticism matches up
• Patient + Poised pass sets (++)
• Calculated second level climbs
• Efficient punch w/either hand
• Above average anchor strength (+)
• Excellent zone-scheme fit
• Trial and error early NFL starter pic.twitter.com/Ol8OZbXGeJ
3.) Ben Bartch, OT, St. Johns
6’5” 309 pounds with 32.875” arms
Why He Fits:
Ben Bartch is a super intriguing tackle to keep an eye on for the Colts. Coming from a small school in St. Johns, he had little hype until a great week at the Senior Bowl. He fits that mauler mentality the Colts like, as he is an excellent run blocker with a great mentality. When you add in that he told me down in Mobile that he loves aggressive pass sets and angle sets, then I think he could really fit this team well.
St. John’s (MN) OT Ben Bartch (LT #78) has already accepted his invitation to the Senior Bowl. He stands out exactly like you want a Division III prospect to on film.— Jordan Reid (@JReidNFL) November 14, 2019
- Austin Jackson, USC: Elite athlete who has some impressive nuances on film. Needs a lot of technical work in pass pro and needs to gain weight to be an effective pro.
- Jack Driscoll, Auburn: Smart, strong player who comes from a good school for offensive line play. Elite athlete at the Combine as well.
- Lucas Niang, TCU: Injured his entire Senior year but his 2018 film was elite stuff. May slip a bit due to the injury but he is a talented tackle.
- Terence Steele, Texas Tech: Inconsistent footwork and anchor but his hands and strength are good building blocks. Another elite athlete as well.
- Trey Adams/Jared Hilbers, Washington: Neither fit the athletic mold but both are big, smart players who played under Chris Strausser in college.
With GM Chris Ballard’s track record for drafting tackles, or lack thereof, these are the prospects who might stand out for him during the draft. This is a bit of an incomplete projection as there is little data in his draft history for this position. What we do know is that he likes athletes, outside of Zach Banner, who can develop as pass blockers and are already good run blockers.
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 tackle position. For all I know, Ballard could take an unathletic tackle in round two. Who knows? However, this series should give some kind of insight into who Chris Ballard may want to target based on his past.