With the NFL Draft a week away, the Indianapolis Colts are armed with both the 34th and 44th overall picks in the early second round among their other selections.
Since arriving in Indianapolis in 2017, Colts general manager Chris Ballard has placed a heavy emphasis on prospects who were very productive, participated in the Senior Bowl, are highly athletic, and/or were team captains (displayed leadership).
Keeping that in mind, here are four top offensive prospects who could be ‘Chris Ballard Guys’ for the Colts in this year’s NFL Draft:
Michael Pittman Jr., Wide Receiver, USC
The senior captain caught fire for the Trojans in 2019, catching 101 receptions for 1,275 receiving yards (12.6 ypr. avg.) and 11 touchdown receptions in 13 starts—earning 1st-Team All-Pac 12 and 2nd-Team AP All-American honors respectively.
Perhaps most impressively, Pittman only had 5 drops in 176 career catchable passes (2.8% drop rate)—which should be music to any Colts’ fans ears given what we’ve gone through in recent seasons.
He also was a former special teams standout for USC—showing his versatility and willingness to help his team win games in whatever capacity he can.
Pittman impressed in Senior Bowl practices before suffering a foot injury, which unfortunately kept him out of the actual game:
USC WR Michael Pittman Jr. with the quick feet pic.twitter.com/J39nK7flxi— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) January 21, 2020
At 6’4”, 223 pounds, Pittman followed his strong Senior Bowl showing up by posting a surprising 4.52 forty time—as well as a 36.5 inch vertical and 121.0 inch broad jump—showing that the big wideout can move a little bit.
Those measurables helped Pittman record a SPARQ rating (which measures overall athleticism) of 85.7% NFL percentile (good for 9th best among his wide receiver draft class).
Pittman is the type of big bodied wideout that could help complement Pro Bowler T.Y. Hilton on the other side of the offense—while providing veteran starter Philip Rivers a tall target downfield and another reliable red zone threat.
Pittman is one of the more polished wideout prospects in this year’s draft class, as an all-around player (including run blocking)—who can contribute immediately.
While Pittman’s not the most explosive athlete—and doesn’t always clearly separate, he uses his big frame, positioning, body control, and exceptional hands to make highly contested catches—with a huge catch radius. He’s the type of big bodied wideout that can go up and consistently win 50-50 jumpballs downfield (which is the type of receiver that Rivers has historically excelled throwing to).
As the son of longtime NFL running back Michael Pittman Sr., the younger Pittman has been lauded for his leadership and toughness—having grown up around the game, which is something that should really stand out for Ballard.
Here’s what some draft experts have said on the former Trojans star:
Michael Pittman, Jr., WR, USC:— Jordan Reid (@JReidNFL) March 15, 2020
• NFL DNA (+)
• Has a GPS on the ball in the air (++)
• Easy releases off of the LOS
• Higher elevator levels than others
• Contested catch monster
• Added branches to route tree in 2019pic.twitter.com/ZJ3Szk173s
Lots of love out there for USC WR Michael Pittman, Jr. Wherever he's slotted in your rankings, push him up. Glowing reviews for him all-around. Football DNA, multi-time special teams player of year, and only getting better.— Jordan Reid (@JReidNFL) April 11, 2020
Watching #USC WR Michael Pittman vs. Utah...— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) March 27, 2020
• 10 receptions, 232 yards, 1 TD
• 4 receptions of 25+ yards
• Quick game (speed out, slant, hitch)
• Works back to the ball on curl routes
• Verticals from the slot
6-foot-4, 223, 4.52 40@NFLMatchup pic.twitter.com/nzAGGgv3Nb
Thanks Ralph! Yeah Pittman is a baller. Doesn’t have that crazy upside but he’s not just a possession guy either https://t.co/lKefdLNW0b— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) April 6, 2020
Writing players always results in movement because you're forced to put all your notes in one place. And you realize which guys you really like.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) March 18, 2020
Chase Claypool and Michael Pittman won't be top WRs for me, but I love how both play. Would want either on my team.
Brandon Aiyuk. Or Michael Pittman https://t.co/uMAbfc7bOu— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) November 25, 2019
"Michael Pittman Jr. is a 1st round talent"— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) April 15, 2020
Let me give you the name of a WR that I like A LOT. Michael. Pittman. Jr. #USC https://t.co/6H6OKvSN1u— Louis Riddick (@LRiddickESPN) January 23, 2020
Let's look at 2 big wide receivers today - Michael Pittman and Tee Higgins. I am particularly fascinated to see where bigger WR will go in the Draft, how the NFL sees them. There are a good number of them in this draft class. pic.twitter.com/i2040OfHcc— Greg Cosell (@gregcosell) March 26, 2020
#USC WR Michael Pittman seems like he would've been in 1st-round conversation in most years but is getting pushed down by depth of WR class.— Evan Silva (@evansilva) April 7, 2020
* 6'4/223 & plays like it
* 86th-percentile athlete
* Elite ball skillshttps://t.co/02iGlfnxPQ
Jalen Hurts, Quarterback, Oklahoma
The 6’1”, 222 pound senior captain quarterback completed 237 of 340 passes (69.7%) for 3,851 passing yards, 32 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions in 14 starts during 2019—as well as rushed for 1,298 rushing yards on 233 carries (5.6 ypc. avg.) and 20 rushing touchdowns. (Hurts even caught a touchdown reception on the season too).
With the Sooners this past season, Hurts became the Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year, First-Team All-Big 12 member, a Big 12 Champion, and was the Heisman Trophy Runner-Up.
Hurts had a strong showing at the Senior Bowl, and for what it’s worth, he was Pro Football Focus’ highest rated quarterback in the actual game:
Jalen Hurts with an absolutely perfect ball for touchdown pass in the Senior Bowl.— Sooner Gridiron (@soonergridiron) January 25, 2020
Hurts finished the day 6-13 for 58 passing yards, one TD pass and one interception.#OUDNA | #BoomerSoonerpic.twitter.com/Jd9avIf69y
As expected, Hurts demonstrated impressive physical measurables at the NFL Combine—with a 4.59 forty time, 35.0 inch vertical, and 125.0 inch broad jump. His SPARQ rating is 95.6% (which was the best among the quarterbacks in his draft class who tested).
However, where Hurts surprised is in his development as a passer in the combine’s drills:
Jalen Hurts crushed the #NFLCombine. Clean drops, powerful transfer, fluid action, all natural, confident & rare in today’s QB play. Scouts should be extremely impressed w/ @JalenHurts 2 yr development.— Clint Stoerner (@ClintStoerner) February 28, 2020
As an impressive athlete, Hurts is a dynamic playmaker at the next level—with his ability to both throw and run at a high level.
While Hurts could improve his accuracy, getting rid of the football faster, and his timing/anticipation of open reads, he has a strong arm, impressive pocket presence, and has shown continued development as a young passer.
In fact, he’s a better passer than he’s been widely given credit for:
Highest completion % outside the numbers last season among top QB prospects in the 2020 draft:— Cameron Wolfe (@CameronWolfe) April 15, 2020
Joe Burrow 71.1%
Tua Tagovailoa 70.0%
Jalen Hurts 68.5%
Justin Herbert 60.5%
Anthony Gordon 57.5%
Jordan Love 57.3%
The one stat that would terrify me if I'm considering draft Justin Herbert or Jordan Love is this...— Mike Renner (@PFF_Mike) April 13, 2020
% of uncatchably off-target throws targeting when an OPEN receiver 5-18 yards downfield in 2019:
As a coach’s son, Hurts has been highly regarded for his leadership, hard work, and being the consummate teammate—even during a difficult quarterback demotion at Alabama, handling the tumultuous transition with class and dignity (when he was benched in favor of projected Top 10 pick Tua Tagovailoa previously).
His teams with both the Sooners and Crimson Tide have gone a combined 38-4 with him as a starting quarterback—as he’s been a winner wherever he’s been.
As a lead signal caller, he’s incredibly poised with a calming demeanor and seems to have “the IT factor”—with the total package of intangibles and the ability to make big plays in critical in-game situations:
Oklahoma has its Pro Day today. I personally think Jalen Hurts will be an absolute stud on the next level. Has that dynamic “it” factor, he’ll outwork the world, lead others to be better, think he’ll work hard to improve, I’m a believer same way i was on Watson, Wentz and Jackson— Jay Glazer (@JayGlazer) March 11, 2020
Of course, the Colts could use a long-term answer at the quarterback position as veteran starter Philip Rivers is 38 years old and is merely a stopgap.
Hurts could very well be that developmental franchise quarterback of the future.
Hurts may not be ready to contribute from ‘Day 1’—as he could use some further refinement as a developing passer. However, he could ‘redshirt’ behind Rivers for a year—maybe two, before fully taking over the starting job as early as 2021.
Much like the Baltimore Ravens previously did with dual-threat, reigning MVP Lamar Jackson, Colts head coach Frank Reich is a gifted offensive playcaller, who could tailor his offense towards Hurts—to enable RPO’s, bootlegs, misdirection, and play-action to further maximize Hurts’ dynamic running ability and keep him comfortable as a passer.
From an intangibles standpoint, Hurts seems like a ‘Ballard guy’ in every sense of the phrase. His stock is definitely rising on draft boards and is considered by some draft experts as a Top 50 overall prospect.
Here’s what others are saying on Hurts:
Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma:— Jordan Reid (@JReidNFL) March 11, 2020
• Unshakable Poise (++)
• “It” Factor/Character
• Ultimate Leader (+)
• Short-to-Intermediate velocity
• Continued growth as a passer (+)
• Off-script creations
• Mobility/Designed run threat pic.twitter.com/68eK2uairj
OU QB Jalen Hurts is a fun player to study. He’s a playmaker. His feet don’t always follow his eyes in the pocket & he needs to improve his anticipation. However, he does some incredibly athletic things in every game. https://t.co/nMorGe0fp0— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) February 11, 2020
I have my concerns about Hurts as a passer, but there's no doubt about the mental toughness. Regardless of a win or loss, big play or mistake, he shows the same locked-in demeanor. https://t.co/tfvJUCgqRu— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) December 7, 2019
That 1st half was a snapshot of my concerns about Jalen Hurts' NFL transition.— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) December 7, 2019
Tends to hold the ball too long, doesn't anticipate and telegraphs his throws, allowing defenders to get a beat and make a play. The concerns out-weigh the highlights right now.
I even think Jalen Hurts is athletic enough that you could do some Taysom Hill-like things with him as a runner.— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) February 6, 2020
I don't think that's why you draft him, but that certainly doesn't hurt.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I really struggle to understand why saying Jalen Hurts is a top 3 QB in this draft is met with such opposition. IMO, he's easily one of the top QBs. He's a legit playmaker.— TURRON DAVENPORT (@TDavenport_NFL) February 29, 2020
You hear that Jalen Hurts can't make the throws, but this one was a dart to an out-breaking route. Looks pretty accurate and deeper out-breaking routes on the run are what I'd consider to be NFL throws. pic.twitter.com/NSGMOz7731— TURRON DAVENPORT (@TDavenport_NFL) March 31, 2020
Top 5 Hidden Gems— Bucky Brooks (@BuckyBrooks) March 31, 2020
1. Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma
2. James Lynch, DL, Baylor
3. Van Jefferson, WR, Florida
4. Darnay Holmes, CB (Nickel), UCLA
5. Zach Moss, RB, Utah #NFLDraft #Top5
J. Hurts composure and mental toughness off the charts. For real. ✊ #OUvsBAY— Louis Riddick (@LRiddickESPN) November 17, 2019
In 2019, Jalen Hurts became 1 of 4 players in CFB with 30+ pass TD & 20+ rush TD in a season since 2000 (Lamar Jackson, Cam Newton & Tim Tebow)— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) February 28, 2020
In fact, his 2020 NFL Combine performance compares favorably to 3-time Pro Bowl RB Le’Veon Bell@JalenHurts pic.twitter.com/PMtU2misYk
Jalen Hurts was a walking highlight reel for @OU_football all season long pic.twitter.com/CNNHe2BOdJ— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) April 12, 2020
Let's look at 2 more QBs - Jalen Hurts and Jake Luton. Hurts will be a fascinating evaluation as NFL coaches look to transition and project him to the league. My guess is smart reasonable people will have totally divergent views. I cannot wait to see where Hurts gets drafted. pic.twitter.com/jk7CKGD7ri— Greg Cosell (@gregcosell) April 13, 2020
"I have definitely been told by several teams that [Jalen Hurts] will not get out of round two."@MelKiperESPN has Hurts going to the Steelers in his latest mock draft. pic.twitter.com/sdBcJmGL8u— Get Up (@GetUpESPN) April 14, 2020
Something about Jalen Hurts that is not talked about enough - His intelligence as a ball carrier. Highly advanced understanding of defenders responsibilities & where open lanes will be based on coverage, rushers etc. Amazing to watch really. Special— Quarterback Film Room (@QBFilmRoom) April 13, 2020
Will Jalen Hurts be a starting QB in 2020? pic.twitter.com/8eXpUSSNOJ— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) March 25, 2020
Thread on Jalen Hurts pic.twitter.com/MRN0lEbRzr— NFL Film Review (@NFLFilmReview) April 16, 2020
Denzel Mims, Wide Receiver, Baylor
The senior wideout caught 66 receptions for 1,020 receiving yards (15.5 ypr. avg.) and 12 touchdown receptions in 13 starts this past season—earning First-Team All-Big 12 honors.
Mims was dominant at this year’s Senior Bowl:
Denzel Mims— PFF (@PFF) March 4, 2020
4.38 40-yard dash
6.66s 3-cone drill
Made plays all week at the Senior Bowlpic.twitter.com/6Lmrbidjrr
As noted, the 6’3”, 207 pound wideout only helped himself at the NFL Combine by posting a 4.38 forty time, 38.5 vertical jump, and a 131.0 inch broad jump. That showing placed the former track standout in the 94.6% NFL percentile (which is 4th best among his wide receiver draft class).
While still a big bodied target like Pittman, Mims is less of a pure possession, big bodied bruiser and has more speed elements and downfield separation to his receiving game.
As a potential first round pick, Mims may be the least likely of any prospect here listed to actually be available for the Colts with the 34th overall pick.
Mims is a rare combination of size, athleticism, and proven production.
He has the size and speed to consistently separate from defensive backs, but is still a wideout that can win 50-50 jumpballs downfield at the point of attack. He’s incredibly fluid in his route-running, body control, and has the ability to extend to consistently make highly contested catches.
However, Mims does need to get better at playing through contact as it relates to winning against press coverage and at the catch point. His route tree was also somewhat limited at Baylor, and he should continue to grow and develop as a route-runner when given more variety and exposure at the next level.
Mims had been described as ‘the ultimate team player’ and a ‘hard worker’—which are intangible qualities that should really impress Ballard.
Here’s the latest buzz on Mims:
Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks): Thinks that Baylor WR Denzel Mims has a chance to be the best WR in the draft. Thinks that he’s very smooth, athletic, and acrobatic. Can also be had a “round or so” later than some other bigger names.— Jordan Reid (@JReidNFL) February 21, 2020
Mims is a contested catch highlight reel pic.twitter.com/Yop2FtEgdi— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) January 23, 2020
Hamler has worst drop rate, but problem with Mims is that he lets so many CBs bully him at catch point at times, I’m not sure how many go down as drops but they are missed opportunities. https://t.co/BBuwpoQDj3— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) April 4, 2020
Walking out of Lucas Oil, a few quick thoughts:— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) February 28, 2020
- QB3 battle (Herbert/Love) still alive and well
- WR Justin Jefferson had the best night
- However high you have WR Denzel Mims, it’s probably not high enough
- Lamb still WR1
Writing a full recap tonight. #NFLCombine
Writing #NFLDraft400 profiles for the wide receivers and compared Denzel Mims to D.K. Metcalf.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) March 18, 2020
Both explosive, both raw, both excellent athletes. Mims, like Metcalf, will have to develop his route tree while playing in the NFL.
We will stay with WR today. Yesterday it was Pittman and HIggins. Today it's Denzel Mims and Justin Jefferson. It's a deep WR class. Different sizes, different traits, different ways to transition to the NFL. pic.twitter.com/P7292B627Z— Greg Cosell (@gregcosell) March 27, 2020
I don't think Mims is underrated. I have him as a second-round pick, but I know some teams that think of him higher. Henderson is a quiet guy, so if he's overrated it's not coming from him. https://t.co/M0gmcKDtgX— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) April 3, 2020
Continuing to buy Denzel Mims stock as a top 20 talent if you see any out there— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) April 13, 2020
Former Baylor wide receiver Denzel Mims (@_zel15) is one of the best contested pass catchers in the draft this year. He uses his size and speed to his advantage and could be a solid addition to an NFL roster. pic.twitter.com/vFxuXRGG12— Jared Barsness NFL (@JaredBarsNFL) April 9, 2020
Denzel Mims' body control is fantastic. He makes these type of catches look routine. pic.twitter.com/wn0edylteN— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) April 9, 2020
Just freaky stuff from Denzel Mims. pic.twitter.com/OZ97nizWXE— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) April 9, 2020
#Baylor WR Denzel Mims is a fun watch— Evan Silva (@evansilva) March 12, 2020
* High-aDOT specialist, not screen-pass WR
* 2nd-most contested catches in CFB in 2019
* 12 TDs on 66 grabs (18%)
* Extremely frustrating QB play
* Played through injury vs Oklahoma
* Reminds of Courtland Sutton
Chase Claypool, Wide Receiver, Notre Dame
The senior Fighting Irish wideout caught a team-high 66 receptions for 1,037 receiving yards (15.7 ypr. avg.) and 13 touchdown receptions in 13 starts.
Like the others in this piece, Claypool was a strong performer at the Senior Bowl—including a touchdown reception in the actual game.
At 6’4”, 238 pounds, the former basketball standout is an absolute ‘athletic freak’, as he recorded a 4.42 forty time, vertical jump of 40.5 inches, and a broad jump of 126.0 inches at the NFL Combine.
Those measurements helped him achieve a SPARQ rating of ~98% NFL percentile (third best in his entire wide receiver draft class).
Simply put, Claypool’s measurables are ‘out of this world’:
#NotreDame receiver, Chase Claypool, tested at the 80th percentile or better in the forty, vertical, and broad jump at 238 pounds.— Context Matters (@dwainmcfarland) March 3, 2020
Since 2005, only Matt Jones, Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones, D.K. Metcalf, and Miles Boykin have accomplished those marks at 220 plus. #NFLCombine pic.twitter.com/eBt6k8lfmD
Notre Dame wide receiver Chase Claypool was one of the biggest winners of the day, finishing with a 97 Athleticism Score per the Next Gen Stats Draft Model.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) February 28, 2020
At 6'4, 238 lbs, Claypool ran a 4.42 40-yard dash, the only WR over 230 lbs to break 4.45 since Calvin Johnson (2007). pic.twitter.com/piL2rydCV9
Chase Claypool at the 2020 NFL Combine— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) February 28, 2020
• Bigger than Cameron Wake
• Faster than Odell Beckham Jr.
• Stronger than Jared Allen
• Jumps higher than Julio Jones
• More explosive than Devin Hester@ChaseClaypool @NDFootball pic.twitter.com/4fLbNWInHv
Due to his size, strength, and athleticism, there’s been some chatter among league circles that Claypool could transition to a hybrid receiving tight end at the next level.
Whether he plays at wide receiver or tight end shouldn’t matter that much for the Colts because they could really use immediate help at either position.
Like Pittman Jr., Claypool is the type of big bodied wideout that the Colts could pair on the other side of Hilton (as a huge downfield threat for Rivers), or he could take on departed Pro Bowl tight end Eric Ebron’s role as a receiving tight end (who wasn’t called on to block much in the first place)—as a dynamic mismatch nightmare in the slot—working over the middle of the field and as a big target down in the red zone.
The Colts could then let fellow tight ends Jack Doyle and Mo Alie-Cox handle the majority of the in-line blocking—if Claypool is actually deployed as a hybrid receiving tight end.
Claypool has the size, strength, and athleticism to be a big receiver threat for the Colts wherever he lines up.
He has reliable hands, can win 50-50 jumpballs downfield, and uses his body control/positioning to make highly contested catches—having a huge catch radius.
He’s also incredibly competitive and seems to seek out extra contact after the catch and excels as a run blocker—as a very physical receiver:
Notre Dame WR Chase Claypool on what he believes separates him from other WRs in this draft class: "My physicality. All of these guys are super good athletes, but I think I have a physical mindset." #SeniorBowl— Sal Capaccio (@SalSports) January 21, 2020
It’s no secret then why Claypool has also been a standout special teams performer with the Fighting Irish as well with his speed, strength, and willingness to mix it up.
These are all ideal qualities that should stand out for Ballard:
Still, Claypool isn’t as explosive as he tests and is more ‘straight-line speed’ fast. He could withstand to improve his fluidity and wiggle when running in-and-out of routes too. His hands are also pretty good, but not necessarily great (although that’s nitpicking).
Here’s what some draft experts are currently saying on Claypool:
My hope is a team drafts Claypool to catch the football and then finds the best fit for him weekly to be a problem for the defense. https://t.co/z1sCCHtGQO— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) April 6, 2020
No need to “move” Chase Claypool to TE. Doesn’t matter what you call him. U can align him wherever you want to take advantage of what he does best. If you think that is putting his hand down on the LOS as a traditional Y so you can call him a TE then ...whatever. I like him!— Louis Riddick (@LRiddickESPN) April 3, 2020
Position doesn’t matter with Chase Claypool. TE or WR. He is a weapon. He is physical. And a freak.— Chris Simms (@CSimmsQB) February 28, 2020
WR’s continued to shine today at @seniorbowl practice. Denzel Mims/Baylor was a beast. Antonio Gandy-Golden/Liberty is a ridiculously good athlete, KJ Hill/Ohio State has crazy good hands, and Chase Claypool/Notre Dame is a physical freak! #nfl— Louis Riddick (@LRiddickESPN) January 24, 2020
A less dramatic/misleading, more realistic comp to Chase Claypool's workout results than Megatron (who was much faster) would be Vincent Jackson: https://t.co/GPp9XaRA2D— Mike Tanier (@MikeTanier) February 28, 2020
Was lots of talk about #NotreDame WR Chase Claypool moving to tight end early in draft process.— Evan Silva (@evansilva) April 7, 2020
Claypool's athletic measurables & tape suggest he'll be just fine staying at WR in a Vincent Jacksonian role.https://t.co/RRXU7u4ks7
I'd want to draft Chase Claypool for his special teams skills alone. Future Patriot, probably— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) December 28, 2019
#NotreDame WR Chase Claypool is now up to 6 TDs over the past 3 weeks. He’s a name that we’ll be talking about a lot at the Senior Bowl as well. pic.twitter.com/0UIWQKRoJM— Jordan Reid (@JReidNFL) November 30, 2019
When it comes to proven productivity, standing out at the Senior Bowl, possessing elite athleticism, and their overall leadership, all four of these highly touted prospects seem like they could very well be “Chris Ballard guys” come draft day for the Colts.