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Who Are Some ‘Chris Ballard Guys’ for the Colts in the Upcoming NFL Draft?

Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt

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:

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl Practice Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

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:

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:

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

Reese’s Senior Bowl Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

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:

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:

Reese’s Senior Bowl Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

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’:

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:

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:

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.