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Build-A-Ballard: Who the Colts may target at defensive end in the 2020 NFL Draft

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Which defensive ends in the 2020 draft fit Ballard’s preferred mold?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 23 Michigan at Indiana

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 the Colts’ pass rush as we look at the defensive end position. Which defensive ends in this class fit the Ballard mold?


Past Drafted Players

During Ballard’s tenure in Indianapolis and Kansas City, his organizations have drafted seven edge rushers in seven drafts. Although pass rusher hasn’t been the core need in each of those years, Ballard has still elected to use five picks from the first two days of the draft. The top pick used to address the position was a first round selection in 2014.

We will examine six of the seven prospects to find common traits. The sixth player that we will not be including is Mike Catapano, a defensive end taken in the 7th round out of Princeton in 2013. He only lasted four seasons in the NFL and made little to no impact.


Dee Ford, DE, Auburn (2014)— 1st Round Pick

Size:

6’2” 250 pounds

Measurables (Pro Day):

40 Time: 4.59 seconds / 10-yard Split: 1.67 seconds / Bench Press: 29 reps / Vertical Jump: 35.5 inches / Broad Jump: 124 inches / 3-Cone: 7.07 seconds

Career Stats:

93 total tackles, 27.5 tackles for a loss, 20.5 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles

Overview of Pick:

Ford was one of the better pass rushers in the draft and solidified a spot in the first round with a strong Senior Bowl performance. Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com stated that Ford has “very good acceleration and burst to beat blockers off the ball” along with having “outstanding energy and work ethic.” His major concerns were trouble disengaging from blockers, bend around the corner, and injury history.

Ford was one of the better pass rushers in football in 2018 and was traded to the 49ers, where he was a core piece of one of the best defenses in the NFL last year.


Dadi Nicolas, DE, Virginia Tech (2016)— 6th Round

Size:

6’3” 235 pounds

Measurables:

40 Time: 4.74 seconds / 10-yard Split: 1.70 seconds / Bench Press: 14 reps / Vertical Jump: 41 inches / Broad Jump: 116 inches / 3-Cone: 7.04 seconds

Career Stats:

165 total tackles, 35.5 tackles for a loss, 17 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles

Overview of Pick:

Nicolas was one of the twitchiest, most athletic pass rushers in the draft and he displayed that ability at the Senior Bowl in 2016. Lance Zierlein of NFL.com talked about how he “has lightning quick inside moves,­ including spin,­ that can catch slow­-footed tackles sleeping” and “plays with desired upfield burst.” His major concerns were lack of strength (especially in run defense) and inability to disengage from blockers.

Nicolas was waived by multiple teams and is now a member of the Washington Redskins.


Tarell Basham, DE, Ohio (2017)— 3rd Round

Size:

6’4” 269 pounds

Measurables:

40 Time: 4.70 seconds / 10-yard Split: 1.68 seconds / Bench Press: 15 reps / Vertical Jump: 31.5 inches / Broad Jump: 119 inches

Career Stats:

152 total tackles, 38.5 tackles for a loss, 27 sacks, and 5 forced fumbles.

Overview of Pick:

Basham was a productive, athletic small school player who performed well at the Senior Bowl. Lance Zierlein mentioned how Basham “shows flashes of explosive twitch in his attack upfield” and how he “plays with good short area burst to close out running backs and scrambling quarterbacks.” His major concerns coming out were lack of pass rush development and poor bend around the corner.

The Basham pick did not work out as he was cut halfway through his sophomore season and claimed by the Jets.


Kemoko Turay, DE, Rutgers (2018)— 2nd Round

Size:

6’5” 253 pounds

Measurables:

40 Time: 4.65 seconds / 10-yard Split: 1.62 seconds / Bench Press: 18 reps / Vertical Jump: 34 inches / Broad Jump: 119 inches / 3-Cone: 6.84 seconds

Career Stats:

96 total tackles, 19 tackles for a loss, 14.5 sacks, and 4 pass deflections

Overview of Pick:

Turay was perhaps the most athletic edge rusher in the draft and those traits were on display at the Senior Bowl. Lance Zierlein praised the type of athlete he is by stating that he “plays with good closing burst to the ball”, “moves easily and naturally in space”, and is “rangy with good pursuit motor.” His main issues were raw abilities as a pass rusher, struggles as a run defender, and injury concerns.

Turay broke out the first half of the 2019 regular season before his season ended against the Chiefs, as he suffered a broken ankle.


Tyquan Lewis, DE, Ohio State (2018)— 2nd Round

Size:

6’3” 269 pounds

Measureables (Pro Day):

40 Time: 4.69 seconds / 10-yard Split: 1.57 seconds / Bench Press: N/A / Vertical Jump: 35.5 inches / Broad Jump: 127 inches / 3-Cone: 7.2 seconds

Career Stats:

112 total tackles, 37 tackles for a loss, 23.5 sacks, and 5 forced fumbles

Overview of Pick:

Lewis was one of the most athletic defensive linemen in the draft and he destroyed the Senior Bowl. Lance Zierlein stated that Lewis has “knee bend (that) helps him flatten to the quarterback sharply once he gets around the edge” and “plays with good hand strength and quickness.” The main issues with his game were that he was not a “force against the run” and he was a bit inconsistent with his rushes on a play-to-play basis.

He has yet to fully find his role with the Colts as he enters a pivotal year three with the team.


Ben Banogu, DE, TCU (2019)— 2nd Round

Size:

6’3” 250 pounds

Measureables (Pro Day):

40 Time: 4.62 seconds / 10-yard Split: 1.59 seconds / Bench Press: 23 / Vertical Jump: 40 inches / Broad Jump: 134 inches

Career Stats:

156 total tackles, 45 tackles for a loss, 20 sacks, and 7 forced fumbles

Overview of Pick:

Ben Banogu was a second round pick of the Indianapolis Colts in the 2019 NFL Draft. An athletic Senior Bowl pass rusher, the Colts passed on a few trade offers in the second round to take this talented player. Lance Zierlein of NFL.com said Banogu “Has foot quickness and agility to alter rush challenges” and “inside-out move forces tackle to squeeze down, opening tighter outside track.” His biggest flaws were his tweener position label and his lack of a pass rush plan when rushing the passer.

Banogu had a solid rookie year for the Colts as he seemed to improve every week despite limited snaps.


Changes from last season

My biggest miss with this position last offseason was ignoring Ballard’s love of twitchy or bendy prospect and focusing too much on the explosive aspect of his past drafted players. Yes, he does love explosive players but he also values their ability to dip and bend around the corner. I also didn’t value how much he puts into the Senior Bowl for this group. Every defensive end Ballard has ever drafted has been a Senior Bowl participant. If I had kept both of these in mind last offseason, Banogu would have seemed like an obvious choice for the team.


Common Traits

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

  • Senior edge rusher— has only drafted Senior Bowl defensive ends in his career
  • Excellent burst and explosion— every player had a 10 yard split under 1.7 seconds
  • Strengths: Overall athleticism, bend, great tackling, and burst
  • Weaknesses: Run defense and raw pass rush move set
  • Motor and tenacity— each player had a knack for playing until the whistle
  • Bonus-> Length as a rusher

2020 Draft Players Who Fit

Given this rough outline, who might Ballard target in the 2020 NFL Draft?


1.) Josh Uche, Michigan

Size:

6’1” 245 pounds with 33.625” arm length

Measurables:

N/A (Injury held him out of the Combine)

Career Stats:

52 tackles, 19.5 tackles for a loss, 15.5 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles.

Why He Fits:

Uche is by far and away the best fit at defensive end for the Colts in this class. He has insane quickness and bend off the edge as he was near dominant as a Senior. He was one of the best overall players at the Senior Bowl as he put on a show in the game at the end of the week. He is still growing as a player and is pretty undersized as a true defensive end but he could be a perfect fit for that hybrid defensive end/linebacker role that the Colts envisioned for Ben Banogu going into last season. I think Ballard will fall in love with Uche’s versatility, bend, and overall athleticism on tape.


2.) Jabari Zuniga, Florida

Size:

6’3” 264 pounds with 31.25” arm length

Measurables:

40 Time: 4.64 seconds / 10-yard Split: 1.62 seconds / Bench Press: 29 / Vertical Jump: 33 inches / Broad Jump: 127 inches

Career Stats:

116 tackles, 33 tackles for a loss, 18.5 sacks, and 1 forced fumble.

Why He Fits:

Zuniga is a bit of a risk in this draft class. He has had his struggles with injuries and consistencies in his college career. Where he is intriguing as a prospect though is what he could be. He has excellent athleticism and the flashes he showed in college were first round level. He has all the tools to be a top tier defensive end in the league, he just needs development. This fits exactly with what Ballard looks for in his defensive ends and if Zuniga begins to slip in the draft, I bet Ballard gets interested in his upside.


3.) Terrell Lewis, Alabama

Size:

6’5” 262 pounds with 33.875” arm length

Measurables:

Vertical Jump: 37 inches / Broad Jump: 124 inches

Career Stats:

47 tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss, and 7 sacks.

Why He Fits:

Talking about high talent high risk players, nobody fits that description better than Terrell Lewis. He has suffered quite a few major injuries in his college career and it got to the point where Alabama was scared to even have him practice as a Senior. That being said, his talent is unreal. He is really explosive and the injuries over the years don’t seem to have taken that away from him. He is nuanced and strong with his rushes and wins so easily at the point of attack. While he is a major risk who could certainly not pan out in the NFL, his upside is so high that he is hard to fully ignore.


Honorable Mentions:

  • Jonathan Greenard, Florida: Explosive defensive end who wins with good hands and strength. Team Captain at Louisville too before transferring to Florida.
  • Alex Highsmith, Charlotte: Violent pass rusher with good explosiveness and decent bend. Insanely tough to block one on one. Impressed at the Shrine Game.
  • Alton Robinson, Syracuse: Raw, twitched up pass rusher. Flashes are apparent on film. Needs more development but he’s a fun watch.
  • D.J Wonnum, South Carolina: Lengthy, explosive, and quick. Another day three type project but he could develop into a solid player.
  • Derrek Tuszka, North Dakota State: Hit the coveted sub-7.00 3 cone at the combine. That bend and athleticism is evident on film as well.

Conclusion

GM Chris Ballard clearly has a type at defensive end. He likes the explosive and bendy projects that he can mold into really good players. It worked to success with Dee Ford and looked like it was working last year with Kemoko Turay as well. Time will tell how Banogu and Turay ultimately develop, but Ballard likes his high risk, high reward players at defensive end.

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 defensive end position. For all I know, Ballard could take a stiff run defender 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.